I just loved being in the choir with mum ...now she’s gone, the singing provides an emotional outlet, but some songs are still very hard for me
Belfast Community Gospel Choir member Amy Adair McCourt tells Lee Henry how the group has given her strength since her mother's death
For 32-year-old Amy Adair McCourt, an active and enthusiastic member of the Belfast Community Gospel Choir (BCGC), there has always been joy and solace to be found in music.
This has become more prevalent since her mother Dr Carole Anne Adair passed away in January.
Having joined the BCGC ranks in 2009, when its founder and director Marie Lacey first held auditions, Amy has been singing popular hymns, gospel standards and uplifting soul tracks for audiences at home and abroad.
"I get a real buzz from singing as a member of the choir," says the marketing and recruitment officer with Ulster University, who lives in Jordanstown with her husband Tom (34) and their eight-month-old daughter, Zoe.
"Our mantra is to spread joy everywhere we go and I know it might sound cheesy, but when I sing with the choir that's what I get, a real feeling of joy.
"I love seeing how our concerts can affect people in positive ways.
"It's great being a part of something that is completely unique in Northern Ireland.
"Even going to our rehearsals is great fun. You could arrive feeling tired and fed up from a long day's work, not really in the mood, and leave feeling de-stressed and with a smile on your face."
There have been many highlights during Amy's almost nine years performing with the ensemble.
These include sold out gigs in Belfast's Waterfront Hall and a memorable trip to the Big Apple in 2014 when the BCGC performed in Times Square, Brooklyn Church and other venues throughout New York.
Nothing came close, however, to the feeling of sharing the spotlight with her mother, who saw fit to join the choir after seeing how delighted Amy was to be back singing after a period of inactivity while she studied for a degree in business at Northumbria University.
"I've been involved with music from a young age, singing at festivals and in school choirs," she explains.
"Mum was especially pleased when I decided to join the BCGC as she knew how much I missed being part of something musical.
"Looking back on our trip to New York, it was the most amazing opportunity to sing in places like Harlem and Central Park. That trip holds some great memories for me, mainly because mum was with us.
"I loved singing with her. We had such a laugh together at our rehearsals and it was just lovely doing something that we both enjoyed together."
Many people in Northern Ireland will have come into contact with Dr Adair in one way or another, either through her practice or her benevolent work as chair of Belfast High School and president of the Association of Educational Psychologists.
Amy says: "She was just the most amazing woman.
"A beautiful, kind, funny, smart, vibrant person who brought up four children after losing her husband, my dad, BBC producer Harry Adair, when I was just 10 years of age. She was working full-time and completing various degrees, Masters and a doctorate in psychology."
To Amy and her siblings, sister Kristi (38) and brothers Philip (36) and Nick (34), all of whom currently live outside Northern Ireland, Carole Anne was more than a mother.
"She dedicated her life to us and she was utterly determined that we would want for nothing," says Amy.
"She was honestly my world, my best friend and my hero. To us, she really was Wonder Woman."
Diagnosed with cancer last autumn, Carole Anne passed away at Somerton Road Hospice in north Belfast, a branch of the Northern Ireland Hospice, on January 12.
"Mum complained of a sore back in September and had an MRI scan not long after my daughter was born in October," recalls Amy.
"It was after that scan that we received the devastating news that she had a tumour on her spine, which had spread from a tumour in her kidney.
"I can't really describe the emotions I went through on hearing that. It was truly devastating. My mum was never ill, she was one of the fittest and healthiest women I knew, so that fact that she was so sick, having showed no symptoms before, was just the biggest shock for us.
"She went in for spinal surgery in November and started to recover well when she contracted an infection in hospital. Unfortunately, during that time the cancer spread so drastically that in December, just before Christmas, we got the news that it was terminal."
Having spent time in the Northern Ireland Hospice while her father was ill, Carole Anne "knew of the fantastic work that they do there", says Amy, and requested that she spend her remaining days in the care of the hospice.
Amy was immediately impressed with the work of staff and volunteers.
"I honestly expected the place to be morbid but it was far from it," she adds.
"From the moment we stepped through the door, we were greeted with friendly smiles and not pity. We were assigned a social worker, who was with us throughout and was there for whatever we needed.
"One thing that really stood out for me was how they treated mum with dignity and respect, like a normal person, not a terminally ill patient, which she would have hated. She referred to the staff there as her angels and it wasn't hard to see why.
"On Christmas Day, mum didn't want to leave the hospice and they accommodated all of us, providing Christmas dinner for wives, husbands, partners and kids, about 13 of us in total.
"They set out tables and tried to make it as normal as possible for us. Mum was just so grateful."
Despite her professional achievements, Amy remembers her mother as a humble individual loved by many.
"I remember being with mum when she was opening a new bank account after she received her doctorate, and making sure she put the title 'Doctor' down instead of Mrs.
"She worked hard for it so I was determined that she would flaunt it.
"But she was never boastful and I didn't really understand the extent of her achievements and how deeply she touched the lives of so many around her, outside of the family, until I read the tributes to her that we received in cards, letters, emails and private messages on Facebook after she passed."
Amy has since sought to live by her mother's example and use her position as a member of the BCGC to raise funds for the hospice.
Earlier this year she ran a relay of the Belfast Marathon with 14 other BCGC members in sole aid of the Northern Ireland Hospice, and raised £1,000 on her own by subsequently organising a coffee morning.
Another choir member raised £7,000 by hosting a jewellery party.
Amy plans to donate as much money as she possibly can to the hospice in the future, firstly by setting her sights on the next year's London Marathon, which takes place in April.
The support provided by her friends in the BCGC has proved vital for Amy as she learns to live without her hero.
Singing with the choir continues to give her an emotional outlet that she would find hard to come by in other walks of life.
Amy says: "I spent many years singing in the choir with my mum, so there are times when it is obviously challenging to join in with some specific songs.
"But the support I have received and continue to receive from the choir is just overwhelming. From messages, emails and texts to a little hand-hold or a hug when they see that a song is getting to me, my fellow choir members are always there for me, and I can't thank them enough for that.
"Amazingly, over 40 members of the choir sang at my mum's funeral and it was incredibly uplifting as we chose songs that were not sad or morbid and that set the tone for the day.
"I hate calling it a funeral, it was a celebration of my mum's life, and their presence injected a feeling of love into the service."
Not only is Amy thankful that she found the opportunity to share in the joy and solace of song with her mother, she is also thankful that Carole Anne got to meet baby Zoe before she passed. Asked what values instilled by her mother that she hopes to pass on to her own daughter, Amy focuses on four specific qualities.
"Independence, a zest for life, family and openness," she concludes.
"My mum was an incredibly strong, independent woman and that was a trait that I hugely admired in her. She worked hard but knew how to enjoy life.
"Family was her world and I was never scared to talk to her about anything. I hope I'm able to have the same connection with Zoe in the years ahead."