The crazy thing about the gallery (loft) of Newman’s University Church is how it managed to function for so many years given the sheer restrictions by way of space. The organ console was surrounded by a six-foot wooden wall; it almost completely blocked off musicians from the assembly. The confined area held about eight singers; but if you brought in an additional instrument (or set of instruments), one would have to choose between singers and instruments. The wooden box cut the choir off from the liturgy; even for me, closest to the sanctuary, I could never see what was going on in the assembly. We were, almost literally, in another county.
Through some superb collaboration with the Archdiocese, and very hard work by skilled contractors, by mid-December we had carefully modified this precious area, opening it up so that the choir could grow and participate in the liturgy. And musicians could be added without having to move choristers to remote areas.
The first real test of this new gallery was about to take place, on none other than Christmas Eve. We had hired a string quartet made up of members of the RTE Orchestra and the Irish National Symphony. A special service booklet had been created, so that everyone could sing the carols, psalms and acclamations. A new setting of the Roman Martyrology was composed, sung as the very last piece before the opening hymn, O Come All Ye Faithful. It was a fitting conclusion to the whispered waitings of Advent.
By the end, we all stepped back, taking in what had been accomplished – not just by way of the Christmas Eve and Morn liturgies – but all the efforts of the past three months. My dedicated little choir had learned not one, but two new mass settings. We added a fabulous violinist to our ranks on a weekly basis. New folders, octavos, and printed SATB choral music were now in their hands: the floodgates had opened, and they reached their fruitful culmination with the blessed feast of the Nativity.
“Set every peak and valley humming.” So goes the text from Eleanor Farjeon’s beloved hymn, People Look East. I hope the Wicklow Mountains were listening closely: the Lord, indeed, is coming. Love is a Song, and it is on the way.