You’d be hard pressed to meet anyone with a more upbeat personality than Siobhan Heaney. The musical director of the Long Tower choir and founder of the unique singing therapy group Singtonicity, Siobhan believes that ultimately, singing makes you happy.
The living proof of her own theory, the mother of five has had no problem packing out classes in Derry and beyond and would love to see her ‘stress relief and self discovery through song’ philosophy go global.
The daughter of well known Creggan shopkeeper Kevin Barr, Siobhan says it was her father’s love of music all those years ago which first instilled an appreciation of song in her.
“My father enjoyed all sorts of music and listened to Late Date on RTE and Tommy O’Brien’s classical music. I suppose those were my first memories of music really and my interest started from there.”
Siobhan grew up in Marlborough Street and was a pupil at St Eugene’s Primary School before moving on to Thornhill College.
“I know it probably sounds sad but I absolutely loved my schooldays,” she laughs.
“Even now, hearing the Angelus Bells from St Eugene’s Cathedral takes me right back. School really was great and going to Thornhill was really going to school in the country in those days,it was just lovely.”
Siobhan didn’t travel straight down the musical career route after leaving school and instead made her way to the then ‘new’ University of Ulster at Coleraine where she studied psychology.
While it’s now a relatively unheard of situation, she moved straight into a job at Derry’s Northlands Independent Treatment Centre after graduating. In a role which saw her working primarily in the community in places like schools and youthclubs, Siobhan was doing what she loved best - working with people.
“I loved working with Northlands and it was fantastic to be there at the very beginning when the centre had just opened. It was so exciting and innovative. I covered the whole area of the Western Board at that time and got to meet some fantastic people,” she says.
In 1977, Siobhan left her role with Northlands to devote herself entirely as a mum to son Conor, who was followed by four other siblings, Niall, Megan, Kevin and Shaun. Happily married to husband Gerry, the pair now also have three grandchildren, Molly, Cara and George.
For many years singing was put on the back burner while a busy family life took precedence for Siobhan. However it was the tragic illness and subsequent death of her sister Mary P which saw her find refuge in song and planted the first seeds for the idea behind Singtonicity.
“My husband Gerry had known for some time that I wanted to get involved in singing in some way but I never had the courage to put myself forward because I suppose I was always thinking about what everyone else would think of me! In the end Gerry bought me a gift of singing lessons so I went along.
“When Mary P became ill and I was caring for her, I still went along to my singing lessons every week and it was almost like therapy. I soon discovered that you can’t worry and sing at the same time and it really really helped me through that time.
“When Mary P died and things had settled down, it was then that I began to think about how much singing had helped me and I thought if it was able to do that in that situation, it could definitely do the same for others. That was really when Singtonicity was born,” says Siobhan.
Since then, Siobhan has seen the idea grow into a sought after service and has worked with groups as well as taking on corporate clients for team building.
“One of the most meaningful sessions I’ve had was a bereaved by suicide group,” she says,
“I’ve worked a lot with the public health organisations and from all the work I’ve done with these groups and others I believe more than ever that music touches everybody.”
A self described ‘woman on a mission’ the energetic 55-year-old wants as many people as possible to experience the benefits of Singtonicity.
“I want it to go global!” she says. “I’m passionate about people believing in themselves and I really love seeing how much people gain from the sessions,” she adds.
When she’s not busy with her own classes, Siobhan puts on her teacher’s hat for her weekly practice with the Long Tower choir, where she’s Musical Director.
“I love my time with the choir,” she says.
“I started with them seven years ago and although it’s a lot of work it’s great fun. We have around 25 members ranging in age from 17 to 83 and we sing every Sunday after 12 o’ clock mass in the beautiful surroundings of the Long Tower. It’s a challenge but always enjoyable and we’re always looking for new members!” she says.
When it comes to the people and things which inspire her to stay so positive, Siobhan doesn’t take her influence from any lofty personalities or celebrities.
“Generally, I’m inspired by people who I meet who have a sunny disposition,” she says.
“When I see people who have a ‘can do’ attitude I really think we can gain inspiration from them. Recently, at a session in Lisnaskea I met a wonderful man in his eighties and his face shone the whole way through the class and when things like that happen you can’t help but take inspiration.”
With a busy time ahead with Singtonicity and her role with the Long Tower, Siobhan spends her spare time enjoying time with her grandchildren and fits in occasional visits to England, where three of her children now live.
Recently, on the Candy Devine show on Downtown Radio, she was asked to pick her desert island discs.
One of those was the Queen hit ‘Don’t stop me now.’
That, she says, is exactly how she feels at the moment as she drives forward with her plans to help everyone discover the hidden power of song.
If you’d like to gain similar rejuvenation visit singtonicity.com or contact Siobhan at 43, Clarendon Street, Derry BT48 7ER by telephone on 077 4336 5971 or by emailing email@example.com