It is a sunny Saturday afternoon when The Irish Catholic arrives at the green door of the Capuchin Day Centre on Dublin’s Bow Street and an orderly queue has formed on the pavement as people wait for the doors to open for lunch at 1pm.
Inside the centre the corridors and kitchen are a hive of activity as a group of busy volunteers, many of whom are teenagers, prepare to serve meals to the homeless and marginalised waiting outside. Meanwhile, floating down the stairs above this hustle and bustle is the serene sound of a religious hymn being sung to the accompaniment of a guitar.
This is a rehearsal of the Brother Kevin Singers, as they prepared to perform at Mass in the Dominican church in Newry last weekend.
This was the group’s third public performance since they formed over a year ago and excitement was building among the 20 or so members.
“We are a group of singers and musicians, half are volunteers at the centre and the other half are clients,” says Bro. George Whyte, a De La Salle brother who volunteers at the centre and co-founded the group with Rowan Hand.
Part of the inspiration for the group was the success of the High Hopes Choir – Ireland’s first choir for homeless people set up by David Brophy, the former conductor of the RTÉ Concert Orchestra. However, Bro. George emphasises that the group is not a choir as such and they are available for secular as well as religious events.
The musical director, Robert Molumby explains that the Brother Kevin Singers have a varied repertoire. “It is a mixture of religious and secular,” he says. “We’re trying to set ourselves up so that we are in the position to play nearly any event. We have already played in a concert in a church in Coolock, in a city centre bar and we had a small concert here. We want to have different sets for different audiences and we want to play live as much as possible in order to raise money for the centre, because the work they do here is unbelievable.”
While the Capuchin Day Centre has journeyed with people in need since 1969, including the last recession of the 1980’s, the founder Bro. Kevin Crowley OFM Cap. says “nothing has prepared us for the level of demand for the service” since the collapse of the banking sector in 2008, when numbers using the centre “more than doubled”. The centre provides nearly 250 breakfasts and 600 lunches a day, and about 1,800 food parcels are handed out on Wednesdays.
The centre also has a medical service, chiropody clinics, an optical service and information clinics. Rough sleepers can avail of shower facilities and are provided with new underwear and personal hygiene products.
Bro. George, who has been in a choir all his life, says the basic idea of the Brother Kevin Singers is to enjoy singing and “to involve some of the marginalised people”.
“By and large the clients are the ones with the most talent. One man plays the uilleann pipes and the tin whistle. We are discovering more and more that there is lot of talent in everybody and it is only a matter of giving them a platform and encouraging them. We get a boost from them and they get a boost from us. It is a two-way street.”
Noel, one of the clients in the group, plays the harmonica and keyboard. “Most of my music would be from memory or ear,” he says. “We are all very amateur but we are learning music as we go along. We have a very good tutor. I have learned a lot about notes and reading music since I joined. It is a very funny and jolly group – a great family group really.”
Robert says the lack of musical experience was a little daunting when he first started directing the group, but he feels they have incredibly grown and developed over the year.
“It is very difficult to direct a group of singers if, as the phrase goes, everyone is not singing from the same hymn sheet. But we have gotten to the stage where they are reading things scored out as a guide and it means we get to expand and try things that are more challenging. In the space of a year I can’t get over how good they are,” he says.
Robert’s friend Adam Fleming has joined the group as an accompanist and he says it is a great way “to start off the weekend”. “The atmosphere is great and everyone is enthusiastic and friendly. It is a great experience. The music scene can be quite nasty and competitive, so it is great to be part of something involving music that is positive, inclusive and community-based,” he says.
“Everyone has a different story and you learn so much by just being around people,” Robert says. “It really shows you how you can’t assume anything about anyone. Just being in the building among the volunteers and knowing the work that they do, it is amazing and has been a real eye opener. It is very rewarding as well to see people enjoying themselves and getting something out of it.”
Anyone interested in booking the Brother Kevin Singers for an event can contact Robert Molumby on 087-9338161 or firstname.lastname@example.org