Mrs Laura Plummer

IT was with shock and immense sadness that members of the Voices of Lecale choir, and the affiliated Singers Circle, learned of the untimely passing of their leader, Laura Plummer, who died aged 66 on May 31 after a short illness.

Laura’s musical interests were wide and diverse, and she was involved in many different aspects of the local music scene.

She was a regular at the folk sessions in Paddy’s Barn at Saul in the early 2000s.  She also was the inspiration and driving force behind the Singers Circle, which started in 2004 and gave rise, in 2007, to the Voices of Lecale choir, of which she was the first and only musical director. 

Her founding vision was for a relaxed forum for anyone who enjoyed singing as part of a group. There were no auditions. Between them, the groups had more than 60 members and, until the disruption wreaked by Covid, both groups met weekly for much of the year and thrived for more than 15 years.

Laura was vivacious and warm-hearted. Her beaming smile and her characteristic laugh were infectious. Her energy and commitment to leading the choir was huge and constant through the years, and the enjoyment she got from seeing us progress was palpable.

The musical genres she brought were mainly from the folk and cultural traditions of Ireland and Scotland, but there were songs too from across Europe and as far away as Africa and Polynesia.

Who can forget the beautiful three and four part harmonies she extracted from us, in songs like Plovi Barko, from Croatia, Wangari, from Kenya, and Pokarekare Ana, a Maori song from New Zealand?

Under her patient guidance, and with little regard for her long-suffering eardrums, we even tackled some modern pop classics.

Tea breaks during choir afforded Laura an opportunity to catch up with individual members and find out how they, and their nearest and dearest, were faring. She was sincere in both her empathy and sympathy, and reassuring to those with troubles. Sadly, little did any of us envisage the trouble she would ultimately find herself in. 

Laura believed that, despite the serious business of learning new songs and tackling challenging harmonies, singing should be fun, and there were hilarious party pieces delivered, even by shrinking violets, at each end of year party and summer barbecue.

She herself occasionally ped clangers that had us all in stitches, like the night she loudly proclaimed — quite innocently and with a straight face — that she needed more men!

The choir had only four male voices at the time.

Through her dedication and imagination, Laura gave much to the local community. Each year, the choir were invited to sing Christmas carols in the Downe Hospital and local shopping centres — and even on the high seas aboard the Strangford Ferry Carol Ship.

She ensured also that we had plenty of live gigs, with performances in the Down Arts Centre, the Down Museum, the St Patrick’s Centre, Rowallane and the MAC in Belfast, as well as fairs and festivals, golf clubs, cricket clubs, hotels, public houses and — to restore a modicum of balance — in churches. 

Over the almost 15 years of its existence, the choir recorded three CDs. Local folk music icon Tommy Sands accepted an invitation to perform on one of them, and became patron of the choir.

All proceeds from CD sales and singing events went to charity. To date, the donations exceed £30,000. Recipients included the Alzheimer’s Society, Autism NI, Cancer Research, PIPS NI, the Cystic Fibrosis Trust the RNLI and, locally, Mainstay DRP, Glebe House and the Downpatrick Food Bank. 

Laura was passionate about singing. Her mantra was: “If you can walk, you can dance; if you can talk, you can sing.” She enjoyed steering us through the trials and tribulations that she, and we, encountered in the quest to find a sound that was pleasing to the ear, and she gave many of us a previously lacking confidence to perform. 

Along the way, we had a lot of laughs and found friendship and support through good times and bad. It is immensely sad that when perhaps she needed us most, Covid denied us the opportunity to support her, as we would all have wished.

Her funeral was on June 8.  It was a measure of the woman that she wanted no sombre or dark clothing to be worn, and fittingly, the sun shone on us as we saw her off on her final journey in our pinks, lemons, greens and blues, and with an emotional rendition of ‘I’ll Fly Away’.

As an epitaph, it would be hard to better the unwitting one coined not too long ago by a shop assistant who, on recognising Laura, proclaimed: “You’re the singing lady.”  Indeed she was.

To Stephen, Declan, Christopher and the wider family, we extend our deepest sympathy.  And of our dear friend Laura, we say “Rest in Peace”.