Jessica Bray and Shirley Keane teach Stage Stars


Stage Stars is the new group performance programme for children at the Mid-West Vocal Academy and Music School. Devised by accomplished professionals Jessica Bray and Shirley Keane, the fast paced, energetic and child focused course aims to give children training in the areas of singing, drama and dance.

Limerick ladies Jessica and Shirley co-lead the hour long classes that cater for children aging from four to sixteen years of age. Their primary aim is to build the confidence of the children and allow them to explore theatre in a safe, supportive, fun environment, where the children’s ideas are the driving force of the creative work.

“The classes are energetic, physical and busy. Jess and I have put together a flexible structure, we include technical elements, such as vocal warm-ups, practical stage awareness, and dance routines built on a strong foundation of fundamental acting work including devising, improvising and lots of imaginative play.

“We always begin with an energetic warm-up followed by vocal warm-ups using rehearsal and theatre games.  We constantly return to a circle to begin exercises or share ideas within the group, always emphasising that we take turns, we listen to each other and that everyone’s input is valuable giving opportunities to all the participants to be seen, heard and to participate,” said Shirley.

Shirley Keane

Shirley Keane

Shirley trained in theatre and opera studies at the Rose Bruford College of Drama, the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and the Royal Academy of Music in the UK, and has worked as a singer, actress, director and teacher with many varied groups and festivals across the UK and Ireland.

Also a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy in the UK, Shirley is currently on the teaching staff of The Guildhall School of Music, where she works with undergraduate and post-graduate singers, musicians and conductors, directing opera scenes and productions and running performance workshops.

“As teachers we work to develop routine, structure and technique and it is our job to encourage them all, always, to do their personal best. It is my job is to listen to the participants, to be open to their ideas, and by having their ideas accepted by adult facilitators and a group of their peers, the children learn to value their own talents, abilities and self-worth.

“I love to perform, that is what I have trained to do and I love being a facilitator.  I would encourage and support any child who wanted to perform professionally. I hope that some of our children feel capable and confident enough to audition for external music and theatre productions, but I would never push children to seek fame or to seek adulation.  Drama and theatre work is not about encouraging children to show off but through nurturing talent, the work should encourage an openness of mind, an ability to work with other people, the courage to offer and to accept ideas, and the confidence to express themselves through the disciplines of the theatre,” said Shirley.

Jessica Bray

Jessica Bray

Jessica Bray studied Musical Theatre Performance at The Guildford School of Acting in the UK where she received the Sir Michael Redgrave Scholarship and the Sir John Gielgud award for Musical Theatre.

Jessica who currently works in Limerick and Cork as a teacher and director, has performed with the Cecilian Musical Society, Limerick Musical Society and Shannon Musical Society, and believes that being a regular performer makes her a better teacher.

“I’m excited about working with new and current students. I’m looking forward to sharing my knowledge and experience. Our hope is that we can introduce our students to the world of theatre and performing and make them fall in love the way we did from a young age. Performance skills are useful in many walks of life.

“Whether it’s job interviews or college presentations. At stage stars we are preparing our students for all these challenges and building strong, confident kids and teenagers. We hope they enjoy it. We hope they learn something new every week and build friendships and confidence,” added Jessica.

061- 358088


Laurel Hill Coláiste perform at ‘Reach Out’ Benefit Concert LIT



It’s been a busy year for the music department and students of Laurel Hill Coláiste FCJ who will be taking part in the ‘Reach Out’ benefit concert for ISPCC Childline, at the Millennium Theatre on December 16.

The choir will perform a fifteen minute programme of Christmas favourites and also join with Music Generation, Limerick City Big Band and lots of other artists for group performances which will include some audience participation.

Last April at the Cork International Choral Festival, the choir won the Equal Voice Post Primary National competition for schools and the overall prize for the best school choir of the festival. This success came soon after the orchestras performance in the Dublin Feis Ceoil, where they won the Post-primary School Orchestra competition and the RTE Lyric FM award.

The choir comprising of 121 students from first to sixth class sang, ‘What Sweeter Music’ by John Rutter, and ‘Ceann Dubh Dílis’ by Michael Mc Glynn, accompanied by students, on drum Laura Drennan and Orlaith Stedje on piano.

“It felt fantastic. I’m really proud of them. The girls were so excited, we went down with the expectation to really sing well. I would always say to them once you come off the stage and you feel you have given your very best that’s enough. I don’t think they get nervous I think they just enjoy performing.

“It was very special for the sixth years, because they have been with me through everything. I think the younger ones learn from the older ones about their commitment to the choir, they sound so gorgeous the older ones, the first years would be trying to emulate their sound. We were singing in five parts, that was very difficult for them,” said conductor and music teacher Orla Colgan Ahern.

The orchestra consisting of 41 students from first to sixth years, having won their competition by playing ‘The Thieving Magpie’ by Rossini and ‘Pavane Pour une Infante Défunte’ by Ravel, were invited to play for the gala concert in the National Concert Hall.

“I think it gives them a huge discipline. They get to appreciate lots of different styles of music, they make friends in the choir and orchestra. I hope it instils a love of music, that they can join a choir and be good enough, and to love it. The same in the orchestra, that they would join orchestras when they are in college or if they are living somewhere away, it might be a way in to meet people.

“It’s a huge commitment, I think that’s very good, and the focus of it is good, because with a lot of technological things, it can be hard to hold their attention for a long time because they are always on Facebook or things like that, and I think music dispels that and allows them to focus for a huge period of time,” said Orla.

In January the choir collaborated with De La Salle College, a boys choir in Waterford to perform Fauré’s Requiem in Waterford Cathedral.

“There was a lovely rapport between the two choirs. From the Choral Festival the idea of merging the two choirs came, the idea of giving them a bigger work to do. It was fantastic there were about 200 singers,” said Orla.

This year the choir also performed in The Unlucky Cabin Boy in the Limetree Theatre, the Childline concert and Gulliver’s Travels which was written by Myles Breen and consisted of a collaboration of many groups including Limerick Youth Theatre, Coláiste Nano Nagle, Patterns Dance Collective, Limerick Youth Dance, Music Generation Limerick and the Daughters service users.

“That integration of the Daughters of Charity and ourselves is the most special thing we have done. We are lucky, this is our third year to be involved with it. It’s a privilege.”

In the past the choir have performed in concert with Anthony Kerns, the Vienna Boys choir and the UL Orchestra to name just a few. They also frequently perform new and commissioned works by composers such Ben Hanlon, Michale Holohan, Seamus De Barra, Elaine Agnew, Kathleen Turner and Michael Mc Glynn.

“Every year you have to start building again in the choir and in the orchestra, because you loose fantastic players every June, so you are constantly building and working on them,” Orla added.

This year the traditional musicians of Laurel Hill Coláiste, prepared by past pupil Deirdre Ní Mhaoláin also got to the finals of the Siansa Gael Linn, and represented the school at all Ireland level in the National Concert Hall.

To book tickets for the ‘Reach Out’ benefit concert for ISPCC Childline, at the Millennium Theatre on December 16, contact


Limerick Panto Society’s Snow White


Limerick Panto Society’s (LPS) much anticipated production of Snow White starring Emma O’Driscoll, will take place at the Lime Tree Theatre from December 28 to January 8.

Making Christmases magical since it’s foundation in 1985, this will be the society’s 32nd show, produced by Tony Cusack, it promises to fulfil the LPS reputation as a fun family entertainment show, that supports and discovers local talent and will have a charity night in aid of Enable Ireland.

Emma, who has performed with the LPS many times before and is well known to Limerick audiences, has worked as a presenter for RTE children’s television for many years, and last year launched her Limerick based Stage School, Gem Stars.

Starring the renowned Panto Dame, Tim Cusack, and with an original script by John Finn who is also performing in the show, this production will have a unique spin on the fairytale, as Snow White meets colourful characters such as Sherlock Holmes, Doctor Watson, Harry Potter and Hermione.

Also starring Laura Hunt, Grainne McCarthy, Thomas Coneran, Damian Shaw, Keith McGuane, Stuart Mackey, Issey Fenton, Yasmin McGarvey, Shauna O’Halloran, Paul Fitzgerald, from Limerick’s 95FM Radio Breakfast Show, and Paul O’Farrell who will both make their debut performances with LPS.

With a live orchestra under the Musical Direction of Michael Hinchy, a chorus of over 50 and performances by students of Expressive Arts and Spotlight Stage Schools, it will be an evening or matinee of all round musical and comedy entertainment, to lighten the spirit and spread Christmas cheer and merriment.

Tickets are available from

For more information see

Ancór Christmas Concert


The award winning Limerick chamber choir, Ancór’s eighth Christmas concert will take place at 8pm, in St Mary’s Cathedral on December 15.

“Our partnership with St Mary’s Cathedral has proved very successful indeed. The concerts are always sold out, and it seems to have become an essential part of Christmas, to come to the Ancór Christmas concert for many in Limerick.

“I’m sure the fact that we serve up seasonal treats such as mulled wine and mince pies at the interval has nothing to do with this,” smiled Ancór choir director Cecilia Madden.


Cecilia Madded Ancór musical Director

As well as the 35 member mixed voice choir, the concert will feature well known Limerick solo singers, Emma English, Sarah-Ellen Murphy, Kevin Neville, Vlad Smishkewych, and a guest orchestra.

The programme consists of, “The Magnificat, a fabulous work by CPE Bach who was one of Johann Sebastian’s more famous and talented children.

“In addition we will perform a beautiful Christmas cantata by an Italian composer called Ottorino Respighi which was written in 1930. There will be a few familiar carols too,” said Cecilia.

This year Ancór celebrated their tenth anniversary with the launch of their CD Sing Joyfully, and added more trophies to their collection when they won the Early Music competition and Best Limerick Choir in the Limerick Choral Festival.

In preparation for a trip to Slovenia in the summer of 2017, the choir will be staging a number of concerts throughout the country over the coming months.

Cecilia, who is enjoying her role as Deputy Principal at The Limerick School of Music, said the sound of the choir has evolved over time.

“We have always called ourselves a chamber choir but we are nearly too big to say that now. We aim to have that kind of pure sound that may be heard in smaller, tightly blended ensembles, but with the slightly larger numbers we have now, we have the scope to vary the dynamic levels dramatically for expressive purposes,” Cecilia added.

Tickets are €18 (€15 for Seniors and Students) available from St Mary’s Cathedral or online at Ticketsolve – LIT Millennium Theatre

The Ancór CD Sing Joyfully is available from the Hunt Museum


Jingle Bells for Joseph


Jingle Bells for Joseph, is a fundraising concert for Joseph Monaghan a little boy from Castletroy, who recently underwent pioneering surgery in Leeds for his Spastic Diplegia Cerebral Palsy, in order to relieve the severe pain he endures 24/7 and to help him walk.

The concert which will take place at Milford Church, Castletroy, December 2, is to raise funds for Joseph’s rehabilitation, which will cost approximately €30,000.

“Joseph is the son of one of my neighbours, and I have known of his condition for some time, and the extraordinary journey he and his parents, Geraldine and Joe are on. We had spoken in the choir about doing a big local fundraiser and Councillor Marian Hurley and her friend Mary Glynn came to me with the idea that Joseph was the ideal candidate.

“Joseph requires intense, long term rehabilitation to ensure this surgery is a long term success for him, so we are trying to do what we can to help the Monaghan family with that cost,” said organiser of the event and proprietor of the Mid-West Vocal Academy and Music School, Owen Gilhooly.

Owen, an internationally renowned vocalist who is well known to Limerick audiences, is currently pursing doctoral studies at the Royal Irish Academy of Music, where he teaches, established the Mid-West Vocal Academy and Music School in 2011.

The concert of popular and seasonal favourites will feature Owen’s choir Aoide, a mixed voice community choir with 70 members, as well as singers Martha O’ Brien, Conor Gibbons, David Howes, Kelli-Ann Masterson, pianists Conor McCarthy, Irina Dernova and harpist Janet Harbison.

“The concert will feature Limerick born singers returning home to give of their time and talent for this special cause. There will also be some special guests popping in to say hello, and special prizes on the night thanks to some wonderful donations from very generous locals.

“Everything seems to be going well. The choir are frantically preparing some new and exciting repertoire and tickets are moving fast. We are delighted too that University Concert Hall are handling the ticketing for us and our posters are being shared all over social media and in the press,” added Owen.

Tickets are €20, (Family Ticket €40 2 Adults 2 Children) and are available from University Concert Hall Box Office on 061- 331549

El Divas perform at the Limerick Millennium Theatre


El Divas performance at the Limerick Millennium Theatre (LIT) on Saturday November 19, promises to be an evening packed with stunning singing that will thrill and enchant audiences as four extremely talented and accomplished local ladies take you on a musical journey.

These four friends consisting of Limerick ladies Jessica Bray, Amanda Minihan and Ennis ladies Helen Catherine Ball and Janet Woods, after years of trying have finally managed to align their busy schedules to create this exciting event.

The theme of the show is about their special bond, as they sing songs that convey their hopes, woes and dreams, and how their friendships have carried them through various trials and tribulations in their lives and music careers.

Locally and London trained Jessica, a drama teacher, singer, actress and director, has just finished playing ‘Aldonza’  in Man of La Mancha for Muse Productions, and is currently directing Shannon Musical Society’s 9 to 5.

Since completing her training in London Amanda has worked in the West End and regional shows and was delighted to work at home with Wildebeest Theatre Company’s Production of, On The Wire, in 2014.

Helen Catherine Ball, has performed in the West End, UK, Ireland and since returning home  has continued to perform and produce shows, as well as running her stage school.

Janet combines her singing career with teaching history and business at Villiers Secondary School, as well as teaching singing and is also the Public Relations Officer (PRO) for Féile Luimní.

Janet and Helen are also connected by another special bond, through Helen’s parents and Janet’s grandparents, who knew each other through the Hearing-Impaired community.

El Divas will be accompanied by Ennis based Michael Hennessy who is renowned as a teacher, performer and musical director in the Clare region.

Saturday November 19th at Limericks Millennium Theatre (LIT) at 8pm. Tickets €16 & €14, available from the LMT Box-office 061 293190 and