First Published, April 2020
SOPRANO REBECCA IS IRELAND’S ANGEL OF MEDELLÍN
As is so often the case in troubled and uncertain times, music remains steadfast in its power to unite, to offer hope, and to inspire. I don’t think there’s any doubt that these last few weeks – and probably many more to come – certainly meet whatever criteria anyone might suggest is needed to fall under the headings of both troubled and uncertain. And yet, as this dark cloud of CoVid 19 continues to hover above the entire world, music has continued to shine forth, both as a symbol of all that we share and as a reminder of how beautiful life, at its most simple, can be.
Our little isle has a long and distinguished tradition of fostering a unique abundance of musical talent. And to put it simply, Irish soprano
REBECCA WINCKWORTH has one of the most exquisitely beautiful voices you will ever hear, on this isle or elsewhere, in this life or any other.
Aside from taking any and every opportunity that might come your way to hear Rebecca sing, all you need to do to understand on what I base my opinion is just take a look at some of her achievements. They truly tell the story of a wonderful talent, a talent which is, it must be noted, underlined by a genuine and lovely humility. And as many who have spent any time on the front-lines of ‘showbiz’ will testify, humility is one of the most salient traits of the truly successful. Success, you see – of any kind – is a well-known and unfailing elixir for revealing a person’s innermost character. Which is why, of course, humility is often times the first causality of those who consider their talent to be proof that they are actually God-like creatures who merely happen to walk in human form amongst the rest of us wretched, poor mortals! I’m sure we’ve all met one or two along the way. I know I have.
But thankfully, for every ‘diva’, there’s a Rebecca. And whilst divas are two-a-penny, Rebecca is one of a kind. So if you take that look at her career, it will come as no surprise to see facts like those that follow. Rebecca has toured the world several times as a member of Anúna, the original Riverdance singers. With the group, she has also performed on The Late Late Show here at home, as well as on Fox and PBS in the United States, and on numerous other broadcasters around Europe, Australia, and Asia, totalling audiences in the millions. Rebecca has even performed for special guests like Bono, Bill Gates, Coldplay front-man Chris Martin, and that late master of words, the poet Seamus Heaney himself, during her time with Anúna. She’s even performed for three Irish Presidents at Áras an Úachtaráin.
Now, if Rebecca’s surname rings a bell, as it might well do, then it could be because you recall me writing about her annual festive concert, Classics At Christmas, which took place in All Saint’s Church, Mullingar last December. Or…it could even be that you saw Rebecca on the RTE 1 News last week, talking about how she’s been spending some of her nights entertaining her new neighbours… in Colombia, of all places! Rebecca explained it all when we caught up for a chat over the weekend…
“I came over to Colombia for a mixture of some leisure and adventure, as well as some musical work, which has of course been cancelled. I was actually due to sing for Saint Patrick’s Day in the Irish Embassy in Bogotá for a huge crowd of 350 people, but unfortunately that was cancelled last minute. I had more gigs lined up in this part of the world, the Americas, over the next few months including a tour in Mexico and recording work for two different projects in Los Angeles. But again, all cancelled. So instead, I’m now riding out the storm, as they say, here in beautiful Medellín.”
Rebecca went on to reveal that the borders in Colombia are shut, so there are no flights leaving the country at all right now. The last humanitarian flight left three weeks ago. And, as in so many other countries around the world at the moment – beginning from the start of their lock-down a month ago – residents of Medellín have been coming out every evening to applaud healthcare workers at 8pm.
And on the second night of doing so…
“Well on the second night in, I decided to sing ‘Ave Maria’ from my window afterwards. It was just a spur of the moment decision really, as I felt that people were scared and afraid, and I thought that music might bring a moment of peace and joy to my neighbours. It seems they loved it, because when I tried to shy away [from doing it again] the next night, they shouted out ‘Que cante’, which means ‘Sing’. So since then, I’ve prepared a new song every day and I come out at 8.05pm to sing. It’s an amazing moment for me, where I get to sing to the whole neighbourhood who stand in silence to listen. I can’t see them, nor can they see me due to the darkness of the night, nor do they even know who I am! But even so, we give a little wave and a ‘Goodnight’ to each other after the song. And it feels like we come together as a community for those brief moments every night, although we don’t know each other at all.”
Giving an insight into what the situation is like for residents of Medellín, Rebecca said, “We’re in a very strict lock-down here, with a system based on the last number of your ID dictating what one or two days per week you can go directly to the supermarket or pharmacy and back. There’s no exercise allowed, absolutely no visits to the grocery store on other days, and the police are ensuring people comply with this. We also cannot enter a store now without a face mask.”
In spite of all this, however, Rebecca revealed, “It feels so peaceful here despite the turmoil of the pandemic. The birds are the noisiest of all and I have the joy of watching tropical birds such as Macaws fly by my window. And music is a salvation for me, of course, it’s the way I escape from reality and distract my mind from any worry and fear. I spend hours every day learning new music and singing to myself. In fact, I encourage everyone to search online for a song they know and love, one with its lyrics on YouTube, and just sing out loud to themselves! It really scientifically helps you to release the endorphins and feel happy straight away. Although music events and social gatherings are completely cancelled for now, we still have access to music through the radio, TV, and internet, thank goodness.”
Speaking about her appearance on RTE News last week, Rebecca admitted it had all come as a bit of a surprise!
“I wasn’t expecting to be all over the news and to be honest, I was a bit reluctant. But I’ve realised that music does bring so much joy to people at this difficult time and it is so important. And those of us who are lucky enough to have a connection of some kind with Ireland will also know that special sense of belonging and identity that we have as a nation- it is quite exceptional, to be honest. What’s been most heartwarming since then have been the messages I received from across the world: people who emigrated years ago to the USA or Australia who were moved by hearing ‘Danny Boy’ on the news, people who are also in isolation abroad who felt more connected with home through the video. And also from people whose children are quarantined in Medellín too, and who I’m now in contact with so we can reach out to each other should anyone need support. There’s even been a message from someone offering to send translations of Irish folk songs in Spanish!”
As mentioned in my introduction, each December Rebecca runs a festive music concert called Classics at Christmas in Mullingar. Last year’s event was a very special evening indeed, as Rebecca was joined by special guests such as The Lynn Singers and Miriam Blennerhassett. And given everything we’ve all been through in 2020 so far, Rebecca already knows that this year’s event will be like no other. “This year, being together with friends and family to enjoy a night of uplifting music will take on a whole new meaning! And the date is already set, too, it will all be happening on December 17th back in All Saint’s Church, Mullingar again. And I’m already excited at the thought of it!”
And she’s not alone. I know where I’ll be come December 17th. And if you can, please join me there too, to enjoy the peerless brilliance of Rebecca’s soprano gift.
~ For more info on Rebecca’s Classics at Christmas concert – including details of ticket release in Autumn – and to stay up to date on everything else that’s happening with Rebecca, check out her official website, www.rebeccawinckworth.com. You can also follow Rebecca on Facebook and Instagram.