Moms Doing It For Themselves: Yvonne McDonald
Curious coincidences, including the adoption of their children, brought Mary Lowe O’Gorman and Yvonne McDonald together. Now they run Corus.ie together, an uplifting singing class for those who love to sing or want to learn! We chatted to Yvonne McDonald about how she does it all.
Tell me a bit about your background?
Having always loved drama and music I chose to study communications in college and spent some years working in RTE before moving into feature film production. It was a fantastic and varied career and though the work was often insecure it suited me.
Watching the many directors I worked with over the years bring their stories to life, I decided it was something I wanted to explore myself, so set up a production company to develop a number of documentary ideas. One of these was ‘Amongst Wolves – Stalin’s Irish Victim’ a story about a family member who had disappeared in Russia during the Stalinist era which was commissioned by RTE in 2000.
During the time spent filming the documentary in Russia a couple of things happened that were to be instrumental in bringing about a huge change in my personal life! It all started with a comment made by a Russian colleague (during a particularly difficult day’s filming) in a Moscow prison, who mentioned the plight of some of the orphans in the country, and a chance meeting in the hotel with a couple returning home, having just completed the adoption of a beautiful little boy, copper fastened an idea in my head.
I came back with a documentary and a new direction for my life. At that stage, I was 36, single and immersed in my career but I knew, more than anything, that I wanted to be a mother – I simply could not imagine my life without a child. So with no relationship in sight, I decided to go it alone.
Having happily discovered that the Irish Adoption Association would assess single people for adoption, I put my name down and began the four-year-long process of waiting to be assessed and declared fit to become a parent!
I returned to Russia in 2004 to adopt my beautiful daughter Lara who was just a year old at the time and life has never been the same since – thank goodness!
Did having children change how you felt about your career? How so?
It fundamentally changed how I felt as the work in film production was intense and the often twelve hour days were not conducive to family life. Also, at that time, you were required as a single adopter to show that you would be available to be the main carer for your child for at least six months when you first bring the child home. So I had to change my work focus - but having never been insecure employment I was used to adapting and reinventing.
Luckily, just before heading to Russia to complete my adoption I had been asked to lecture on documentary production for a post-graduate programme in NUI Maynooth. I loved working with the students and have been lecturing on the Media and Digital Media degrees ever since.
The hours fitted in around caring for my daughter when she was younger, helped enormously by the support of my parents who looked after her when I was in class.
How did you feel when making these changes?
The whole thing was a bit scary at times – being a single, adoptive mother with no secure income but like most mothers, I was determined to do whatever it took to be there for my child. And I was fortunate, I had a very supportive family network so I was able to make it work.
What worked and what didn’t work along the way?
What worked along the way was encountering a little serendipity – during the preparation stage of the adoption process, we were required to attend meetings every two weeks with other parents. One other single Mom (who became a great friend) and the rest couples. One of the couples was Mary and Justin O’Gorman, already parents to a then 9-year-old daughter, Billie, who had decided to adopt to expand their family.
Mary and Justin introduced themselves at the first meeting and it turned out we had all been in the same youth musical society in our teens so when we both returned home from Russia sometime later with our respective daughters we spent many coffee mornings bonding over our shared experience. Our two girls, Lara and Holly, have become firm friends too.
It was some years later when the serendipity that brought Mary and I together during the adoption process also led to us setting up Córus.
The girls were in primary school and with some more time on our hands Mary and I began to work together to develop some documentary ideas for RTE. Mary had had a long career in television presentation and in the music industry and has an incredible natural talent for arranging and harmonising.
Developing and pitching ideas based around music, we went on to recognise a gap in the market for singing classes for adults. We realised that as you got older the opportunities to come together to sing with others were limited, particularly if you couldn't read music. And we were firm believers in and advocates of the health and mental benefits of group singing.
With nothing to lose we set about opening Córus – an adult education company offering group singing classes to people who would or could not join an official choir as they were not able to read music and lacked confidence. We developed a methodology that allows us to easily translate the complicated world of two and three part harmony in a fun and accessible way.
At our first class seven years ago, forty people came through the door eager to learn to sing. We now have almost 800 singers attending one of our 14 classes all over Dublin each week and growing!
Córus teaches ordinary people with ordinary voices how to make an extraordinary sound. Our classes are a mixture of great fun, great music and great company and run for an hour and a half all over Dublin each week. With an opportunity for hundreds of singers to come together at the end of the year for massed concerts or to appear on television, radio or at charity events.
Considering your happiness levels before making a switch to now – how have they improved/decreased?
Mary and I feel very lucky to have found each other and Córus. The feel-good factor brought about by singing with others is becoming a scientifically proven fact. Recent studies liken singing in a choir to a yoga class in terms of its health benefits on breathing, memory and posture.
And a study from the University of Limerick’s Irish World Academy of Music and Dance released last week found that members of singing groups stated it relieved loneliness and reduced stress! A fact borne out by our class members every week.
According to researcher Hilary Moss, who is a music therapist and runs the Music Therapy MA course at the University of Limerick, the findings of the study concluded that “The greatest benefits of singing in a choir came from reducing social isolation; stimulating cognitive function; alleviating low mood and anxiety; improving respiratory function; having fun and relaxing and obtaining a sense of mindfulness and transcendence from everyday worries”.
We have a fantastic team of teachers and administration staff working with us now in Córus and we couldn’t do it without them. But working with a business partner is an added bonus – Mary and I bring a wealth of differing experience and complementary skills to our company and there is a lot to be said for having someone to bounce ideas off or simply ‘bounce off’ depending on what kind of day you’re having!!
I feel Mary and I are in a bit of see-saw situation with Córus, when the children were younger we needed to focus on them more and we worked around their schedule – now that our girls are growing up we can focus more of our attention on growing the business which is exactly what we are doing.
We are actively recruiting people with music backgrounds to join our growing team of part-time singing class teachers and developing programmes to train them in the Córus methodology with a view to opening Córus classes in every town in Ireland.
Singing anything from Doris Day to Jessie J and everything in between, Córus offers a great opportunity for busy mums to take time out by coming along to one of our many classes and losing yourself in the eclectic mix music while leaving your cares at the door. No need to audition or read music.
3 bits of advice for working mothers?
- Talk – unburden yourself to anyone who will listen
- Breath – take timeout see the bigger picture
- But most importantly, SING.
Singing is great, because it:
- Reduces stress levels
- Improves mood
- Lowers blood pressure
- Improves breathing
- Reduces perceived pain
- Boosts immune system
- Improves sense of rhythm
- Promotes learning & memory
- Forges communal bonding
- Relieves loneliness & isolation
- Empowers people
- Promotes well-being
For more information contact Córus on firstname.lastname@example.org or see Corus.ie