The music man

Maurice with the members of Allegri.
Maurice with the members of Allegri.

If there is a more modest man in the music world in Derry - I’ve yet to meet him.

Maurice Kelly has a lot to crow about. He is at the top of his game as a performer, a teacher, an innovator and, latterly, as the director of his choir.

But he cuts a shy figure as we sit down over a cup of tea to discuss what drives him - because for Maurice Kelly a love for music simply is an integral part of his person and he couldn’t imagine it being any other way.

“It was always going to be that,” he said. “Music was always going to be a part of my life.”

Indeed from an early age Maurice and his seven siblings, encouraged by his parents Julia and Maurice, were all encouraged to develop their musical talents - at first through learning the piano before moving on to other instruments.

Along with this unending support at home, Maurice said he landed on his feet when he attended Hollybush Primary School where his talents were also nurtured. And towards the end of his years at Hollybush he first encountered Donal Doherty, who was Head of Music at St. Columb’s College, where Maurice would complete his secondary education.

Maurice describes Donal as his “piano tutor and choral mentor” and he makes no apologies for crediting Donal with helping to shape his career.

“Yes we are very close.” Maurice said. “There is a great understanding between the two of us and I’m very privileged that he has some respect for me too.

“The man works tirelessly for music and always has done over the last three decades in Derry and even further beyond.”

Under Donal’s tutelage Maurice joined the St. Eugene’s Cathedral Boys Choir - which would set the scene for his progression to Derry’s civic choir, Codetta - who have been synonymous with quality choral music in Derry and throughout the island of Ireland.

Indeed Maurice was, along with several of his contemporaries from the boys’ choir at St. Eugene’s, a founding member of Codetta and continues to sing with the choir to this day.

“I am very proud to be a member of such a class act,” Maurice said. “Every time I stand up to perform with Codetta I feel privileged.

2013, and the City of Culture year in Derry was, understandably, a huge year then for Maurice and Codetta.

“It was a fantastically busy year with Codetta. It was a very demanding year but I feel we were at the top of their game. We sang in the Albert Hall at the Proms - where do you go from there?

“But that said, the experiences we had in the city were equal to that. This choir’s heart lies in Derry - even though the members have been scattered throughout the UK.”

But singing with Codetta is only one part of Maurice’s musical dream. He is hugely passionate about the Musical Pathways to Learning - one of the lynchpins of Derry’s Culture year. Once again he found himself working under his mentor Donal Doherty to help deliver the programme to Derry schools.

Part of the Music Promise, the Musical Pathways to Learning Programme is a scheme which enables children to develop through music using progressive programmes and stimulating activities, including songs, rhymes and games.

Maurice explained: “The programme was based very much on the much Kodaly method of introducing music to the classroom. Kodaly was an Hungarian composer. Donal and others had been to Hungary and had seen it action. They could see children as young as nursery level and primary one doing amazing things - they saw them do things musically, with their voices which are just remarkable.”

As a very proud father himself to three year old Francesca, Maurice said the benefits of such a programme are undeniable.

“It’s more about life than music,” he said. “The child just takes on what they are doing and they go with it. They don’t even realise they are learning, but it just hits every side of the brain.

“We have adopted that approach at home with Francesca, and music just is a part of her - but it’s not a formal learning process.

“We don’t have a piano at home, which some people find incredible. But we sing, she sings, her mum sings and sometimes we sing together.”

“Music is alive and well in our house and I hope it will be ever thus.”

Having just recently turn 40, the past 12 months have been remarkable for Maurice. In April of this year he married his long term girlfriend Margaret McPhillips - a day he describes as “the happiest of his life”.

The relationship between Maurice and Margaret extends beyond their home life though - and last year Margaret, along with her friend Rachel Tennis ‘badgered’ Maurice into taking on one of the biggest challenges of his career - setting up his own choir.

Last October Maurice took on the role of musical director of Allegri - a female only vocal group whose name is the translation of ‘cheerful’. The choir have hit the ground running.

“We did our first public performance after 10 weeks, with ‘Mulled Wine and Musicals ’ at the Everglades, who have been hugely supportive to us.”

This was followed by a performance at Stormont, being part of the launch event for the Jazz Festival, performing at three different gigs over the jazz weekend and there is a lot more to come, including the City of Derry Choral Festival in October.

“I work with a bunch of people that I couldn’t praise highly enough - those girls in Allegri who give of their time so freely and with such dedication.

“They give 100% each time, every time and that makes my job so much easier.

“I couldn’t even consider competing in the choral festival unless I had faith in the girls in front of me. I trust them to deliver to a high standard and to actively compete in the female voice competition.”

Allegri will be performing ‘Summer Songs and Spritzers’ in the Everglades on 14th June at 8.30pm.