We are all aware of Little Belters, the amazing children’s choir that recently appeared on Dragons’ Den. Sisters Claire and Tina O’Brien, both classically trained singers, are the driving force behind the children’s choir and behind Absolute Belters – the Altrincham community choir for mums.
Claire and Tina were born in Wythenshawe and are the two youngest in a family of seven. The household was full of music but Claire and Tina are the only ones who have gone on to have a career as professional singers. Tina followed the operatic route, singing at Glyndebourne, and Claire became a choral singer working with, amongst others, The Joyful Company of Singers. As with all singers, the sisters combined performing with teaching although Claire’s CV also includes a stint as the Head of Development at the Lowry Theatre.
After returning to Manchester, Tina and Claire looked for something to do that allowed them to use their talents and spend time with their young families. Their first involvement with organising choirs was the Music Matters project supported by Waitrose. This generated four choirs involving workers, mums, senior citizens and teenagers. The project culminated in a performance of ‘The Story of Altrincham’ – an ambitious presentation of the history of Altrincham that Claire devised. The local mothers involved in the choir enjoyed it so much that they wanted to carry on and Absolute Belters was born.
So Altrincham caught up with Claire at the Little Deli Company on Stamford Park Road. We started by discussing the way that singing in a choir has suddenly become so popular and even the subject of a successful TV series. Claire reckons that there has always been a strong choral tradition and love of singing in this country. Everyone has sung in school choirs, on the football terraces, and of course, we all love Christmas carols. Gareth Malone’s TV work has shone a light on something that was always there and made it more mainstream.
At the same time, the psychological and physical benefits of singing are becoming more recognised. The physical process itself encourages regular and deep breathing and the process of singing in a group produces endorphins and lifts the mood. Claire explains that when people sing together the heart beats of the singers synchronise – its powerful stuff! There is also a massive shared sense of achievement when the choir has worked towards a performance and then performed it successfully. Claire remembers the euphoria felt by the choir after their flash mob performance in Altrincham Market a couple of years ago. Have a look at the video.
Absolute Belters Flash Mob Performance in Altrincham Market House in December 2014
As well as their performances in Altrincham at Goose Green and the Market and at Manchester Cathedral, Absolute Belters are currently featuring on Spanish TV between programmes singing ‘Nuestra Navidad’ after a Spanish choir member sent a tape to a Spanish TV station.
Claire believes that everyone can sing. Her own favourite popular singers include Kate Bush and Laura Marling. Neither of them are technically perfect singers but she admires the emotion that they project in their performances. The music that the Absolute Belters perform is eclectic, popular and upbeat – as Claire puts it ‘nothing dreary’! Favourites include ‘ Hold Back the River’ by James Bay, ‘Do you hear the people sing?’ from Les Miserables and even Ibiza Dance hits like Calvin Harris' "how Deep is your Love?”
Claire is keen to stress that you don’t have to be a great singer to join Absolute Belters. There is no audition and you won’t have to sing alone. If you get a buzz from singing, then you are very welcome. Claire and Tina also realise that life can get in the way of attending regular classes. Even if you are worried that you won’t be able to attend every class , don’t be put off. Come as much as you can and you will still enjoy it. Lessons are structured, with half of the session being a singing lesson covering technical aspects and the other half choir practice. The choir is always working towards a performance – they will be performing at Easter at an event for a homeless charity.
Absolute Belters practise every Thursday from 8.30 until 9.30 at The Hub in Altrincham. Classes cost £6 a week with a discount if paying for a whole half term. Have a look at the Facebook page here or email Claire firstname.lastname@example.org for more details.