Sing Along with the Open House Festival Choir

Katie Richardson leads the 70-strong community ensemble with singer-songwriter Gill Landry for two nights of choral covers in Bangor and Belfast

The Open House Festival Choir made its first appearance last summer as a highlight of the eclectic programme of arts and culture taking place each year in beautiful, often unusual venues throughout Bangor.

Led by local musician, composer and facilitator, Katie Richardson, the choir has gone from strength to strength, with a sold out performance at Christmas and what are likely to be two more this weekend – at the seaside town's Queen's Parade Church on Friday and the Black Box, Belfast on Saturday (April 1 and 2). The reception has been as much of a surprise to Richardson as to anyone else.

'The idea was to do something different with the choir, bringing a mixture of contemporary music and the type of music the Open House Festival would present,' she says. 'It was only meant to be a summer thing and we just kept going. Last summer was a magical experience; everyone really clicked and we knew we had to continue with it.'

Over the last year, the choir has grown from thirty to seventy members. The group has met for rehearsals every term and it has become something of a tradition for them to culminate with a performance of some sort, including one capped off at Culture Night last September.

The type of music they perform ranges from rock and folk to pop, and at times diverging to even more varied styles. 'It’s this balance of making lots of great content and providing an excellent product,' explains Richardson. 'The choir brings a wonderful sound that really can’t be compared to.'

There is no denying the commitment and professionalism that is behind the choir and what makes it unique is the community, space and authenticity it is creating, particularly among budding singers. As Katie explains, 'the ethos of the choir is building confidence in people because there is this feeling from individuals that "I’m not a singer", "I can’t sing" or "I couldn’t possibly sing a solo"... You can’t underestimate the importance of creating a space to build confidence and a community.'

'There are also so many studies on how singing improves mental health,' she adds, 'and, looking at the surveys we have done within the choir, it has really meant a lot to people. I get a lot out of it myself – it is a real confidence booster, fun and a great stress reliever.'

Looking ahead to this weekend's events, Richardson is brimming with excitement at the prospect of sharing the group's new renditions of Open House Festival favourites and past performers from throughout its 18 year history.

'We will be singing songs from everyone; from Ryan Adams, Talking Heads to David Bowie. We will also be joined by local musicians: Phil Dalton, Herb Magee and George Sloane, as well as Gill Landry, a well-known musician who is joining us from the States.'

Landry, formerly of Nashville bluegrass/string band Old Crow Medicine Show, is in fact flying into Northern Ireland especially to accompany the choir. 'This type of performance is important because music is important,' he says. 'It brings people together to celebrate life and song… I’m really looking forward to the choir treatment to my songs.'

There are still limited tickets remaining for the Open House Festival Choir at Queen's Parade Church, Bangor on April 1 and the Black Box, Belfast on April 2. To book visit www.openhousefestival.com. For those interested in joining the choir the next intake begins in June.