Tuesday, May 31, 2016

A Titanic Night in Belfast

Never doubt the networking power of the Internet – or its ability to change around an itinerary!

About a year ago, I got a random email from a church musician in Holy Family Parish, North Belfast.  He had subscribed to the Folk Choir’s You Tube channel, and had been absorbed in many of the posts we had put up over the past year, mostly based on our offerings from the Basilica of the Sacred Heart. 

“I heard you might be headed to Ireland – any chance you might stop by our church in Belfast?” 

We’d never sung in the city that created the Titanic – and it was a rare opportunity.  Over the years, Armagh and Derry and Coleraine had been a part of our travels.  But our prospective host, Mark Mooney, was a veritable fountain of enthusiasm.  So, after carefully considering our itinerary, we embraced the idea!

Little did we guess the immensity of the welcome – and the participative, enthusiastic embrace of our repertoire – that we were about to receive.  It started six months previous, when my wife Michele and I, over American Thanksgiving weekend, made our way across the Atlantic to visit the communities of both Belfast and Rostrevor, in preparation for our upcoming visit.  Both places were so sensitive to our holiday that we were the recipients of Thanksgiving dinners – in each city!

But now the day had arrived – we journeyed by ferry across the Irish Sea to Larne, soaked in the history of the Titanic Museum, and then headed to our generous hosts in the north of Belfast.

How can I describe what took place that evening?  Hundreds and hundreds of people showed up – some driving as far as an hour and a half to attend our Vespers and Concert program.  But what was clearly the most extraordinary aspect of the night was the stance of the assembly: they were singing their hearts out!  Music that they had never known before – psalms and evening canticles and refrains and hymns – all joined in with reverence and unadulterated joy.  I was both humbled and in awe of such participation, led by an American choir, strangers in their midst.

When all was done, it was all I could do to just sit down, contemplate the sanctuary, and bask in the memory of that sacred space reverberating with holy joy.  It was a night of full-blown singing.  Titanic, by any standards. 

To our friends in Belfast, I offer a huge word of thanks from all of us in the Folk Choir.  To be in your midst, surrounded by your voices, was nothing short of a miracle of song and participative joy.

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