Expo 2020 Dubai to break world record with the Expo World Choir

The ensemble will be made of staff and volunteers from almost all 192 national pavilions at the world fair

An intimate Irish tradition will be transformed into an epic event at Expo 2020 Dubai.

On December 9, Jubilee Park will host a one-off concert by the Expo World Choir, an ensemble comprising staff and volunteers from nearly all 192 countries featuring in the world fair.

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Organised by the Ireland Pavilion, the choir will be led by David Brophy, one of the country’s eminent conductors, having collaborated with the likes of rock giants U2 and classical music star Lang Lang.

If all goes according to the plan, Brophy says the show should break the Guinness World Record for most nationalities in a choir, a feat currently held by the International Society for Krishna Consciousness for their 2015 performance in India, featuring members from 105 countries.

Speaking to The National at Expo 2020 Dubai, Brophy says the choir aims to showcase the Irish practice of communal singing.

“The fact the show is held in December is particularly poignant,” he says. “It is the holiday season and it’s normally a time where Irish people return home from all four corners of the world to gather at homesteads, villages and churches.

“We would eat together and share stories and by the end of the evening, we will start a singalong and the atmosphere becomes even more beautiful and intimate.”

That local flavour will be on display with the choir backed by an all-Irish band playing a selection of modern and traditional instruments.

The repertoire will also include a selection of popular anthems, including One by U2.

A light touch

The Irish Pavilion is assembling the talent with its Expo counterparts, while Brophy will return in the days leading up to the show date to meet the choir and go through up to five rehearsals.

That limited time is not only because of logistics, but to maintain a sense of urgency to the performance.

"I have been fortunate enough to collaborate with some of the best musicians in the world and there is something very special about working with non-professional musicians," he says.

"They bring a certain sense of energy to the performance space that professional musicians frankly can't do.

“Sometimes, being so highly trained can work as an inhibitor because you are controlled and can't let your hair down, so to speak, when playing."

Brophy speaks from experience.

In 2014, he featured in the television documentary series The High Hopes Choir, which documented his mission to form Ireland's first homeless choir.

The touching programme, featuring a guest appearance by UK pop star Ed Sheeran, demonstrated the healing power of communal performance and the lifelong bonds formed as a result.

An interesting aspect of the series was the gentle manner Brophy employed throughout the rehearsals.

Counterintuitively, he says, a light touch is more effective to get the most out of untrained talent.

"Different choirs work in different ways," he says. "In a situation like this one for the Expo and the High Hopes Choir, you have to be flexible and really work from the idea where we ask people to lend their voice to us in the best way they can.

“Some people can be over-prepared and come to five or six rehearsals, while for others, it's only one. That's totally OK because each voice counts and I just want everyone to be engaged."

All about the energy

In addition to the aforementioned U2 track, Brophy is working hard to nail down a list of songs that can be sung by all.

"I am quite aware that, for some people, English may not be their first language, so we will sing songs that are anthemic and very recognisable,” he says.

And for members who don’t know the tunes, Brophy encourages them to sing along anyway. After, all, that is the Irish way.

"Back at home when we get together for a sing-song, there will be someone who will not know the words. We say just sing along anyway even if it's by 'lah-lah-lah'," he says.

"It's the same with the choir in that energy is as important as the singing. There is something very potent in bringing a large number of people together in one performance space. They all connect through the energy created while they sing."

Expo World Choir will perform on Thursday, December 9. Time to be announced soon. More information is available at the Ireland Pavilion website.

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Updated: November 3rd 2021, 7:01 AM