Even as a young child, Katie O’Donohue was always singing. Her father’s love of classical music had imbedded in her a deep passion for music and for the human voice. Despite this love, it took years of dedication, hard work and tuition for the Fanore woman to realise that singing was not just something she loved, it was something that she could build her life around. She spoke with Andrew Hamilton.
In some walks of live, talent is just a starting point. To excel in the arts, you must not simply practice your discipline, you must become it – live it, breathe it, make you and it one and the same. Such was the way for Fanore singer, Katie O’Donohue.
As she prepares to complete her long musical education at the Royal Irish Academy in Dublin, this love of music still burns brightly.
“It has always been there, it’s never lessened at all. If you are doing this [becoming a professional singer] you need to have that. When you get to college level, singing takes up all of your time,” she says.
“It’s not like being in regular college, you can’t afford to come in the next day and not have something done. There are a million other talented people, so unless you are completely dedicated and willing to put in 110 per cent, there is no point. It takes so much drive, so you have to be completely dedicated to it.
“That [drive and passion] is the difference between two performers. If someone is really inhabiting the song and acting out what the song is about, that might be the difference between getting and not getting a part. It’s not just about singing.
“You have to live and breathe the song. Whether we are looking at a German song, a French song or an English song, we have to have researched everything about the song and know everything about the poem that it is based on. You need to know what the poet meant when he was writing it and you need to have your own meaning that you can take out of it. It’s all to allow you to express as much and as well as you can.
“It can be draining, it is a lot of work. A lot has to be done in research, learning the words and pronunciation before I ever sit down at a piano to learn the song. But it’s worth it.”
Katie’s journey as a singer began with her father’s love of music and, like so many other talented Clare singers, she was helped on her path by Lisdoonvarna’s Scotsman, Archie Simpson.
“I was eight years old when I started singing. He [Archie] had gotten the choir going a few years before that and had been teaching my cousin Peter. My parents suggested that I could go to him too, because, as a child, I was always singing,” she said.
“My Dad was very into classical music. So if we were going somewhere in the car or just hanging around the house he would always have classical music on. I would just start singing along with it – I remember singing along to something in Italian, I think it was ‘Time to say goodbye’ and just learning the words for myself. That’s when my parents suggested that I should go and get lessons with Archie.
“Archie made the lessons so much fun. Everything we did, we did it because we loved it. We would listen to a song and decide what I wanted to do. As you transition into the teenage years and decide that this [singing] is something you might want to do in college, it can get more serious. But with Archie, even as I was preparing for exams or auditions to get into college, it was always so much fun. It’s all about the love of it.”
The next leg of Katie’s musical journey will see her complete her Masters at the Royal Academy in Dublin and then travel to the great music houses of Germany, Austria and Italy, looking for a position.
“My plan is to audition for opera studios around Europe next year and then hopefully to have gotten into one for the following year. There will be a lot of auditions and a lot of work to be done next year alongside my college work,” she says.
“You have opera companies in Wexford and you have the Irish National Opera but that’s all there is in Ireland. When you compare Ireland to Germany, who have the largest number of opera houses in he world, there are so many opportunities there. Here, everyone is fighting for the same few jobs.
“It also presents me with a great chance to learn. Even just going out to these countries and learning to speak the languages, that will be a massive help to me.
“No matter how much you love it, every once and awhile there is that uncertainty there. It’s not an easy path. You’re not guaranteed that you will have a job, you’re not guaranteed that you will have a steady income. For me, the thing that makes me keep going is this love for it. I just love it so much. There is nothing else I’d rather do. Maybe it’s harder, maybe there is this uncertainty about it, but I love it.
“For any young person starting out singing or with music, I’d advice them to just enjoy it and follow your passion. If you decide that this is something that you want to do, if you get excited every time you get up on the stage, you should follow it. You shouldn’t be afraid of not taking the typical path. Would you rather do something you love, even though it’s not the usual path, or look back in 20 years and say, why didn’t I give it a go?”
This Friday, June 15, Katie O’Donohoe and fellow soloists Kate Daly, Ben Escorcio and Peter O’Donohue will will join The Lismorahuan Singers for a very special concert at St Columba’s Church on Bindon Street in Ennis from 8pm. Tickets are available from The Russell Gallery in New Quay, Jordon’s in Lisdoonvarna and from Mulqueen’s in Ennis.