House of Brigid 2009-10

House of Brigid 2009-10

25 September 2009

Irish Music Session

Tonight I was invited over to the house of one of the ladies in the folk group, Stacia (sp?), for an Irish music session. This is a fairly regular event at her house and Martha and Carolyn attended one back in June when they were over. Tonight was apparently a small crowd, but it was great to hear these people play the songs they've grown up hearing. We had Stacia, Maureen, and Hugh on whistles and flute, Maureen's mother Maureen on piano, John on bodhran, flute, and harmonica, Jim on banjo and guitar, Tom on guitar and flute, and Matty who was the main vocalist. All of the men also threw in vocals from time to time. There was everything from jigs, reels, and airs, on to traditional Irish ballads and made up renditions of Elvis, as well as a guest appearance by yours truly with a little Folk Choir favorite. Unfortunately I ran out of the house without grabbing my camera, but I will be sure to have it with me in three weeks when the next session rolls around.

For me, this was something that I had been missing in the first month here, music purely for the sake of playing music. There always needs to be that time when you're not playing because you need to, and unlike Martha and Carolyn I do not have the skills to sit down and play piano or guitar or ukulele whenever I need that. I was really craving just enjoying music for a night, and I'm so glad to have had that.

24 September 2009

First Vigil Choir Rehearsal

Last night marked another Teach Bhríde milestone: we held our first meeting/rehearsal for the choir we're forming to sing at the 7:00pm Vigil Mass every Saturday. I have to admit, after cold-calling around 20 local singers recommended by our organist, leaving many voicemails, and hearing a fair few say, "Thanks but no thanks," I was a little nervous as to what we would be faced with when 8:30pm rolled around. It turns out I had no reason to be nervous. By 8:45 we had welcomed around half a dozen women, and two very brave guys: a secondary school student who had encouraged his dad to come along.

After introducing myself, Martha, and Chris, I explained a little about the background of the House of Brigid project, as well as what our goals were now that we were living in Wexford and working at Clonard. With that, we delved into the music--singing a few warm-ups, determining voice parts, and outlining the music for their first liturgy, which will be Saturday, October 3. I was amazed at how everyone just jumped right in to learning a hymn they had not yet encountered: Love Divine, All Loves Excelling. The hymn tune, called Hyfrydol, is one of my all-time favorites: simple, elegant, with lots of room for reharmonization, and I was delighted to hear everyone learn it so quickly, and to hear a very positive reaction to the new tune.

Within 10 minutes or so they were ready to move on to the evening's next selection, a piece familiar in the Irish Catholic Church as well as the American, especially within the community of the Notre Dame Folk Choir: Set Your Heart on the Higher Gifts. We had selected this piece primarily because its adaptation of the 1 Corinthians 13 text fits the marriage imagery of the Scriptures for that particular Sunday, but also because it is included in the Irish hymnal, In Caelo. As I explained to the choir, part of the difficulty with moving to a new country and beginning work as a liturgical musician is the fact that you really have very little sense of what music the congregation might already know. While this experience is as much about learning from our Irish hosts as it is imparting knowledge of new (or at least different) repertoire, it's great to discover what music we have in common with one another. By the evening's end, the choir had learned the SAB harmony to the refrain for Set Your Heart (we don't have any tenors quite yet!), and their sound was absolutely beautiful.

To cap the night off, we ended with a review of another piece common to both Ireland and the States due to its inclusion in In Caelo, a setting of the St. Patrick's Breastplate called Christ Be Near at Either Hand. Most of the choir members were already familiar with this piece, and were delighted to learn that it had been chosen as the recessional hymn for the choir's induction Mass.

After over a month of being in a country that seemed familiar yet still foreign, learning my way around the winding streets of Wexford town, remembering to look right first before crossing the street, and feeling with varying degrees of keenness the fact that I am not in Kansas anymore (no, it's not a cheesy movie reference--it's where I'm actually from), I felt at home in front of that choir last night. I felt comfortable being back in front of a group, leading warm-ups, giving pitches, playing through parts, offering direction on phrasing and breaths, and hearing it all begin to take shape as one part combined with another.

I may not be able to drive a stick shift on the wrong side of the car on the wrong side of the road, I may not be able to understand the different phrases and forms of expression, and I may not be able to dial an Irish phone number without being very confused, but I am able to stand in front of a group, teach music, and talk about the liturgy, because those two things are constant wherever I go. Wherever I have music, and more importantly, wherever I have the liturgy, that's home. And, as we all know, there's no place like home.

(Okay I couldn't resist that one.)

23 September 2009

Kennedy Park Opening of the School Year Liturgy

This Tuesday, was the Opening of the School Year Liturgy for Kennedy Park (one of the two primary schools of the parish we'll be working with this year). We worked specifically with the Fifth class (so ten-year olds) to prepare an Offertory piece for the mass. They're great singers and did a beautiful job singing "I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light." It was wonderful to get into the schools and to start getting to know the students. We're excited to continue working with the Fifth class for our first couple of "Last Friday" masses we'll be doing with individual classes at Kennedy Park over the course of the year.

19 September 2009

Teach Bhríde in Knock

Last weekend we had the incredible opportunity to go on pilgrimage with 45 members of Clonard to Knock, which is in County Mayo in western Ireland, about an hour from Galway.
Many people are unaware of this pilgrimage site, being more familiar with places like Lourdes, Fatima, and Medjugorie, but Knock has also been the site of a beautiful apparition, one that is unique among other apparitions sites.

On August 21, 1879, 15 citizens of Knock (including men, women, and children of various ages) witnessed a vision at the south gable of the church. Our Lady appeared, flanked on either side with St. Joseph at her right, and St. John the Evangelist at her left. Mary wore a white cloak and a gold crown which held a beautiful rose in the center of her brow; Joseph wore a white robe and was turned toward Mary with head slightly bowed and hands folded in prayer; John was dressed in a robe and bishop's mitre, and was holding a book in his left hand. Witnesses say he appeared as though preaching.

In the center of the gable, to the right of the figures, was an altar, on which stood a Lamb facing westward. Behind the Lamb was a large, upright cross, and angels were hovering around the Lamb. The apparition continued for two hours, and witnesses knelt at the gable in the pouring rain, praying the Rosary. Not one word was spoken to the witnesses by any figure in the apparition. Six weeks following the event, Archbishop John McHale of Tuam convened a Commission of Enquiry. All fifteen witnesses gave testimony, which was ruled by the Commission as trustworthy and satisfactory. Another commission confirmed these findings in 1936, and since Pius XII, Knock has met with the positive recognition and honor of every pope, including John Paul II, who made his own pilgrimage in 1979.

Several things make Knock unique among Marian apparitions. First, multiple figures appeared. Second, there was a large number of witnesses, more than the number at Lourdes, Fatima, Medugorie, and Guadalupe. Finally, this was a silent apparition, with no message other than that conveyed by the imagery of the apparition itself: scholars of Knock have pointed to the Book of Revelation with the presence of John and the Lamb, and as Fr. Denis Lennon suggested in one of his homilies from our own pilgrimage last weekend, the presence of the Cross is of tantamount importance. No follower of Christ can avoid the Cross; Joseph endured the pain of questioning the Divine paternity of Jesus following the Annunciation, and protected the Holy Family when Herod sought to kill the infant Jesus. Mary and John were both present at the foot of the Cross and endured the agony of the Crucifixion alongside Jesus. The Cross is, as Fr. Denis said, "part and parcel of the Christian life," but it is not the ultimate end, for the Lamb who was slain will conquer, and all who have shared in the Cross of Christ will be caught up in His victory.

I found the time at Knock peaceful and thought-provoking, and the House of Brigid was grateful for the opportunity to provide music at the Masses celebrated with our fellow pilgrims in Apparition Chapel. Each of us experienced the pilgrimage in a unique way, but I think I can speak for my fellow community members when I say that we will always be grateful for our visit to Knock, for the time of solitude and reflection it provided, as well as the opportunity to pray with so many wonderful people from the parish.

Our Lady of Knock, Queen of Ireland, pray for us.

07 September 2009

Our first few liturgies...

Our first few liturgies have all gone very well! We just attended the Youth Festival at Our Lady’s Island and had a wonderful time. The Folk Choir from one of the other churches in town (Rose Street Church) provided music and there was a good crowd. Bishop Brennan said mass and graciously introduced himself and many other wonderful people of the diocese to us at the cook-out afterwards. (Thanks for the comment on our blog Bishop Brennan!) Everyone did the traditional rosary/pilgrimage around the island with candles lit, and it was generally lovely all around. Many of the youth of the diocese who attended World Youth Day in Sydney, Australia last year were in attendance.

Later that week, we sang music for the “Stepping Out into Secondary School” liturgy for Clonard Parish. Many of the “first years” and their parents came out to the Church of the Annunciation for a ceremony in which they created a sacred space to represent themselves, how far they have come on the journey, and those who will be with them as they take the next big step. Afterwards we had the opportunity to meet many Secondary School students who we’ll hopefully be singing with in the future.

This past Sunday, the three of us sang at our first set of regular Sunday masses. We planned and sang at the Saturday Vigil mass, which we will hopefully be creating a choir for soon. And we joined the Folk Group for their first 11:15 mass of the season. It was great to be making a joyful noise and singing some familiar music. The Folk Group mass uses Steve Warner’s “Our Father.” ☺ Overall, we felt the weekend was a big success.

Thanks again for all your prayers and support!

04 September 2009

The House!!

Hello again from Wexford! Yesterday afternoon the community packed everything up again and moved about a mile up the road to our new home 206 Cluain Dara. The ladies of the parish and the contractors have been working away to have the place ready for us and we are finally in. Beds are made, kitchen is set up, and the first mass has been planned. Once we get settled into the house a bit more we will post pictures and information about the last week of activities.