By Claire Crehan
One of the most enjoyable things about this human journey is the deepening of relationships with other humans, the teachings these connections bring and the sharing of experience that is integral to community. I had the opportunity to deepen many of my connections with the members of our wonderful Youth Choir earlier this month when we went on our first weekend away to work with Phil Brennan, the musical director of both the Ireland of Ireland Peace Choir and the Waterford High Hopes Choir. We met Phil during the Peter McVerry Christmas Concert in December 2016, where we shared the stage together in St Patricks Cathedral. With excitement and a slight bit of trepidation, we gathered in the music school on the Friday at lunchtime and the journey began.
The guys were excited, open to new challenges and eager to go out and share their music in the world. We started with an impromptu performance in Heuston Station, followed by a 2 hour concert on the Dublin Waterford train, much to the joy of the whole carriage! They sang love songs for a bride, Johnny Cash numbers, rap, pop, old Tracy Chapman tunes, a real solid mix – something for everyone on the train I imagine! I was astounded by the size of their repertoire, song after song, improvised harmonies, confidence bursting through every word and note, and self-consciousness most certainly thrown to the wayside – strong in the pack that they have formed.
On Friday night we met with Phil and began our first workshop, learning chants and songs for the Taize service that we were to be a part of that night in the Edmund Rice Centre. A Taize service comprises of songs or chants and readings that bring us into reflection and silence. The chapel was modern and beautiful. We were joined by members of the Peace Choir and slowly the community began to filter in for the service. I have had many experiences of connection through music, but the hour that followed was really special for me, as I got to share this experience with the other members of the choir. The music moved through us all, finding its own breath and volume, rising and falling, the silence deepening all the time, and the periods of reflection comfortable and familiar.
On Saturday we met again in the Edmund Rice Centre with some members of the Peace Choir, and began learning more repertoire for our evening concert at the launch of the new Waterford camino, a new business of Phil Brennan and his partner Elaine. The guys got to meet a couple of the members of the High Hopes Choir and hear their stories about their life and how music and being part of a choir changed things for them, and opened up whole new worlds of possibility for them.
On Sunday morning we did our reflection with the teenagers and this, for me, was the most awe inspiring moment of the weekend. Hearing them reflect on their own experience of being part of a choir and the confidence in their own abilities and uniqueness blew me away. I left this experience renewed and hopeful for life. They articulated their experience of music so beautifully, sharing what it means to be part of a group that recognises the value of everyone’s voice equally, a group where they get to speak up and sing out about what matters to them, and they recognised that what makes the ‘whole’ so strong is all of the different voices, and that what helps strengthen the voices is the strength of the ‘whole’, of the group. To hear them each articulate the value they place on themselves and the choir was one of the greatest teachings I’ve had to date. These guys know that what makes the music so special is the connection that is present between each of them.
There were lots of other magic moments of course – the amazing hospitality of the Granville Hotel, the infamous Granville breakfast spread, Dominos pizza in the Edmund Rice Centre, impromptu bursts of song on the streets of Waterford, singing near the old wine vaults, launching our participation into the Stop Poverty Campaign (more to come on this one!) and much more..
So for me, in the spaces between all the words and the music, the silence of connection deepens every moment we gather to sing and to share our voices. There is a knowing that is growing all the time that supports open hearts. When we are open we can learn from everyone and there is no teacher or student, just a sharing of knowledge, joy and love.
“I don’t sing because I’m happy; I’m happy because I sing.”