House of Brigid 2009-10

House of Brigid 2009-10

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.)

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