Ian Packham, the Conductor of Glória Dublin’s Lesbian and Gay Choir, found a home in Glória after his Christian friends ousted him
By day principal of a primary school, by night the Musical Director of Glória, Dublin’s lesbian and gay choir, Ian Packham is known for his unique conducting style and witty repartee. As Glória gears up for a gala ball to celebrate 21 years of singing for Ireland’s LGBT community and beyond, Ian talks to us about how the choir changed his life, and the incredible bond that’s been built up amongst its members. Photo by Aaron McGrath.
In school in Cork I wasn’t the sporty type, so I got in with the quiet crowd, who ended up being in the Christian Union. It was a huge source of conflict for me as I began to realise that I was gay. My circle of friends told me, ‘If you were gay, you couldn’t be our friend anymore’. At 17 it was a very bitter pill to swallow.
When I went to Dublin, I knew I was never going back. I began to come out towards the end of college friend advised me to join Glória, so I could meet other gay people. I auditioned and was given a place in the tenors.
I didn’t know one gay person before I joined Glória 13 years ago. I had never been in a room full of people who accepted me for who I was and who were exactly like me too. It led me on to be the confident person I am now.
Answering The Call
I became Glória’s Musical Director through a dramatic series of events. One Tuesday just before our big Friday night Christmas concert, our Musical Director, Michael Finlay, was suddenly taken ill.
I got a phone call saying ‘we need you to take over and conduct’. To be fair it wasn’t a difficult thing to do, because Michael had done all the groundwork. All I had to do was stand up the front and wave my hands around.
My style of conducting has been described by many experts as very unique. A lot of it is about eye contact and having that relationship with the choir, so they can see you and understand what you want them to do next.
When I took over with Glória, because I had sung with them for so long, I understood things in a different way, which made it easier.
Out Gay Principal
My day job is as principal of Kildare Place primary school. I made a point of stating in my interview that I am a member of Glória.
There are a number of children in the school who have same-sex parents, and they think it’s a real novel thing that there’s an out gay principal.
I met my husband, Niall 13 years ago on a blind date, which was set up by our dental hygenists.
My best friend is a dental hygienist, and so is his, and they were saying to each other, ‘I have a single gay friend, they should meet’. We got married three years ago in my home town.
Getting married in Kinsale, there was an element of me going back and showing what I’d done with my life, and how proud I am of myself as a gay man. It was the wedding of the year in the town, and it was lovely to see that my parents were so proud.
Ian Packham Cracks The Whip
Sometimes my job with Glória can be very difficult. You have 60-odd adults in a room, they’re there to have fun, but I’m there to crack the whip.
You have to have that sense of authority but at the same time remember the sense of humour that’s really necessary.
We have no trans members of Gloria yet. A trans person auditioned last year but they had just started their hormone treatment and their voice was in that stage of breaking.
I had to say, ‘You’re currently a soprano, but you’re going to be a bass. Come back and audition again.’
Go To The Ball
Last year we sang ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow’ in Dublin just after the Orlando shootings. That song has a lot of meaning for the choir. I was really proud of the people we are in that moment.
That’s the thing about Glória. Yes we have fun, but when the shit hits the fan, everyone rolls in.
What gay doesn’t love a good ball to go to? To celebrate 21 years of Glória we’re having a Gala Ball. The Dublin Gospel Choir, The Harmonics, and the Dublin Gay Men’s Chorus are all performing.
We’re inviting all of our loved ones, and all of our community. It’s lovely to acknowledge the huge support we get, as well as having big, brilliant party to celebrate how far we’ve come.
I’m really proud of the fact that as a choir we’re still really known and respected in the community.
We have members of the choir who have been with us for those 21 years, and that’s something really special, that a group of people can have such a bond.
It’s what I love most about being part of Glória.
The Glória 21st Anniversary Evening, hosted by Anna Nolan, takes place on March 4 at the Alexander Hotel on Dublin’s Fenian Street. Tickets for the celebration, which includes a Prosecco reception, four-course dinner and dancing ’til late, are €60 at Eventbrite.