It’s hard to argue with Gabrielle Deans when she explains why she decided to start up the ‘Singing for Fun’ group at U3A in Gransha Park.
Gabrielle, originally from Creggan, is a 72 year-old retired library services worker and has been a U3A (University of the Third Age) member for the last ten years.
“Singing definitely lifts your soul and it’s almost impossible to be in bad form after you’ve spent an hour and a half singing with a few friends - it’s great fun,” says Gabrielle.
Gabrielle’s enthusiasm for the U3A singing group is unquestionable. The paperwork pertaining to the group is kept in a plastic folder; it’s in meticulous order and despite question after question Gabrielle is able to consult her folder and answer in great detail.
The U3A ‘Singing for Fun’ group was founded by Gabrielle 18 months ago and although the members are extremely talented the consensus is to keep the ethos of the group as relaxed and as informal as possible.
“I think when I first joined U3A there was a choir but it didn’t last too long and eventually it stopped.
“I thought to myself a few years ago that with Derry being the City of Song and especially with it being the City of Culture too, U3A needed to form a singing group,” says Gabrielle.
“We had a lot of people interested but we needed direction and that’s when Jim Goodman got on board. Jim has been amazing and he’s a big reason why the group are still going.
“We have about 25 to 30 at singing practice every time we meet up - there’s a real passion for singing here.
“We haven’t performed a lot - we don’t want anyone in the group to feel under pressure to perform so that’s why we have only done a handful of events,” explains Gabrielle.
The U3A ‘Singing for Fun’ group might be a little wary of taking to the stage but apprehension was dispelled on Thursday afternoon when they impressed with an often emotive lunchtime concert at Christ Church in Infirmary Road.
Brian Brownlee is a 65 year-old retired sales representative and has been a member of U3A for five years.
Brian, who is one of only a handful of men in the singing group, is originally from Armagh but has been living in Derry for more than 20 years.
“The last time I did any singing was when I was a boy soprano in the cathedral in Armagh,” quips Brian.
“There are some great singers in the group but I think everyone would agree with me when I say that what we love most about it is the fun we have - I always leave singing practice with a smile on my face.”
Margaret Millar is a 73 year-old retired primary school teacher and has been a member of the singing group since it was formed in 2011.
A smile appears on Margaret’s face when she quizzed on why she decided to join the group.
“The great thing about U3A is that I can try things out before deciding what I want to do.
“I used to do a bit of singing at church but I have never done anything like this before - it’s great fun.
“The thing I love about it the most is that I get to sing with my friends and it’s so relaxing.”
Pearl Mowbray is a 70 year-old retired Altnagelvin hospital secretary. Pearl, like Margaret, says she enjoys the diverse songs they sing and explains that there are social benefits to taking part too.
“I’ve known Gabrielle for a good while now but there are people in the group I’d never met before - we are all friends now.
“We sing a combination of pop songs, classical and even a few religious hymns too - it’s just great fun.”
Last year the U3A ‘Singing for Fun’ group travelled to Enniskillen where they took part in the national ‘U3A Singfest’. To show their support for Derry’s year as City of Culture the local U3A branch will host this year’s ‘Singfest’ in Derry in October.
“The important thing to remember is that it’s not a competition,” says Brian.
“It’s about each singing group standing up for 15 minutes and singing. It’s going to be a lot of fun - we have groups coming from all over Northern Ireland.”
‘Singing for Fun’ has no plans to turn professional just yet but Gabrielle says that as long as everyone is happy and smiling they’ll continue to sing.
“Like I said, singing lifts the soul and leaves you feeling good and happy - what’s not to like about that?
“The plans are to take a break over the summer and then get back into practice for ‘Singfest’ in October - it’s going to be great.”
She continued: “We are also hosting a lunchtime concert next Thursday at U3A. We are not actually performing at it but the Percy French Society will be. There’ll be plenty of song and poetry - it’ll be a great day.”
For more information on U3A contact the group at Pascal McDonald House on 028 71860123. The Percy French Society will perform at U3A Foyle next Thursday afternoon, May 9th from 1pm-2pm; tickets cost £2 per person (including refreshments) and everyone is welcome.