Praying in Song to God

Music and words have a long association with the Christian Religion from an early age: singing of psalms, the Gregorian Chant of Monks and the composition of majestic musical interpretations of the Mass are well documented. Those of us of a more mature age must surely recall our church choir leading us in the full compass of the Latin Tridentine Mass. Some of us, who were present at this year’s Holy Thursday Chrism Mass in Our Lady Of Good Aid Cathedral had the pleasure of singing the Gloria, led by the Diocesan Choir. It reminded us of those seemingly far off days, when we sang the Credo, the Kyrie Eleison, the Sanctus, the Agnus Dei et al.

Reading through past copies of the Chronicles, we came across a particularly relevant contribution by a former choir member, John McGarry in which he titled his copy as: ‘One Who Sings, Prays Twice’. The whole essence of words and music come vividly to life, as he shared his thoughts with readers of the magazine and fellow parishioners. In the same edition another former choir member gave us an equally vivid insight into the power of the combination of words and music. Dan Gray was truly expansive in recapturing A BLAST FROM THE PAST, as he recalled the highlights, when the popular Sunday Evening programme, SONGS OF PRAISE was broadcast from St Bride’s. The late Jimmy McCourt conducted the dual choirs of St Bride’s and Our Lady of Lourdes and a large children’s choir and an even greater congregation. In mentioning the late Jimmy McCourt as Choir Master, it is also well worth listing the names of other parishioners, who fulfilled this role: Jim Murray, Eddie Callahan, Bill Russell and Cameron Slorach. Organist from the past was Sandy McWilliams. In the Wee Chapel, as it was affectionately known by the villagers, there was a vibrant presence of a choir. Jimmy McCabe’s father and his Uncle Rab supplied the musical aspect, then Mrs Daly and Jimmy McCourt took over. 

The present incumbent is Patsy Conway and the group maintained a high standard with regulars: Robert and Angela Conway, John McGarry, Vincent Purcell and Mary Brannan.

Pat O’Donnell was the maestro on the organ, rmtil he retired to be followed by the latter three members. Valiantly Patsy Conway, husband Robert and daughter Angela took it upon themselves to carry on regardless. A hymnal organ, which plays tapes of sacred music recordings moved with them to the balcony. Apparently, they were not getting the same response from the congregation, when the choir was at the back of the church and consequently, they have moved back to their former stance.  

On this question of the restriction of choir members, it should be noted that we have had a Singing Group in the Parish over the years. Present members of the Trio are Alan White, Sinead Toner and Hannah White, who play at the Sunday Ten-Thirty Mass; and a Trio did fill that spot in the past at the Sunday Evening Mass. But the Christmas Eve Mass definitely comes into its own true Festive spirit with the troubadour-style musical accompaniment, as we sing our favourite carols.

At the Sunday Nine O’Clock Mass, the late Margaret Hendry took the role of leading the congregation in singing and now Jeanne Paterson has carried on the tradition. Ellen Thomson leads the congregation at the Weekday Ten O’Clock Mass. Jeanne Paterson is her sub and occasionally we have the duet of Dan and Ann Gray.

It is not the intention of this particular contribution to the CHRONICLE to initiate a discussion on a limited number of singers against a fuller complement of choir members. However, it again seems ironic that a parish with over 4000 members cannot seem to muster an appropriate choir to match that figure. The Wee Chapel appeared over-subscribed by all accounts in comparison, as did the Wooden Church. Now we have this monumental edifice, that boasts only three members from the same family. This in the year that we are about to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of our Parish Priest, Canon Ryan.

What a fitting experience it would be for him and the congregations to have a full-throated choir singing the Praises of God at his Jubilee Mass. However, it is perhaps too late to sound out a Clarion Call for contraltos, sopranos, tenors, baritones, bases and any singer with an above average range of vocal chords to get in touch with our Choir Mistress, Patsy Conway so that the rafters would reverberate on that night at least. Or, is it a case of the present family members to be the ‘Last Choir Standing! ‘

Choral Aficionado