Thursday, May 19, 2016

The Gauntlet of Joy

Wednesday, May 18th, 2016

Early in the morning, the choir gathers in the vestibule of St. Joseph's RC Church, under the banner that proclaims "You're a stranger here but once."  And then we are off – we have a huge day ahead of us.

We start at Holy Cross Elementary School.  And from the start, we're not prepared for what these youngsters have in store for us.  As the choir approaches the school grounds, the grade school children line the entrance, waving the blue flag of the Cross of Saint Andrew and the red and yellow ancient flag of Scotland, the Lion Rampant.  Their enthusiasm is overwhelming!  We spend the morning singing, sharing repertoire, answering questions from these young children.

But more important than the songs was the witness.  To have a huge crowd of college students, standing up and talking about their faith, gladly sharing the joy of their community and their reasons for being in the ensemble – these were priceless moments.

As in Ireland, there are strict controls on working with children – we are not allowed to take pictures of the kids and their gathering with us.  But their love of song, their inquisitive minds, and their unabashed joy at our visit – these leave a tangible mark on all the choir.

And it's only the beginning of the day!

After the school visit, we have time to head into the heart of Edinburgh – and perfectly timed, the sun breaks out as the ensemble hits the beautiful park that surrounds the monument to Walter Scott.  What a perfect midday break to explore a bit of the city!

Next stop:  the Gilles Center – home of the Catholic Archdiocesan Offices for all of Scotland.  We've been requested to provide a short concert for the Archbishop – His Grace Leo Cushley – in the beautiful chapel on the grounds.  It's a superb place to sing, a place to refine our a cappella works in practice before the Archbishop arrives.  And then we launch into song:  "Rosa Mystica," "The Lord's Prayer," "Come, My Way, My Truth, My Life;" even "Perfect Praise."  In the span of about thirty minutes, we give the archbishop a huge glimpse into our repertoire and the focus on ministry that is at the heart of our ensemble.

Then, after the requisite cuppa of tea and cakes, we're off to yet another venue – this time, the prestigious and beautiful Greyfriars Kirk.

Ever since visiting Edinburgh in 2008, I've wanted the Folk Choir to sing and pray in this venue.  And the event is perfect – an evening prayer service for the conclusion of the academic year for the University of Edinburgh.  We get a chance to meet all the chaplains in the area – Catholic, Methodist, Presbyterian – and join with them in a Vespers service.

Where better to sing "Day is Done" than the city where its author, James Quinn, S.J., was from?  We fill the Kirk with four part harmony, and at the end, Karen Kirner gives a stunning performance of Thaxted – the rafters sing with the text (and the Folk Choir descant) of "O God Beyond All Praising."

It was a gauntlet of a day – schoolchildren in the morning, sunshine and parks midday, a meeting with the archbishop, and a beautiful campus-centered ecumenical service – all packed into about ten hours.

And it's only day two!  Tomorrow, we head up into the Scottish Highlands for a well-deserved break and retreat.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for sharing this Steve. It brought tears to my eyes recalling similar experiences during the pilgrimage in 2008. What an incredible country and people--so glad another generation of Folkheads are building memories there.- Dyana