I was struck by two recent comments about the power of music, one from a 99-year-old Kerry woman; the other by a young man from Belfast.
I’d written in my last blog, also about music, how I was looking forward to a couple of carol singing events in care homes just before Christmas. One of them, at St Teresa’s in Wimbledon, particularly stood out. Paul, Rory and I were joined by one of our lovely volunteers, Christine, who’s originally from Dublin and who faithfully comes every Friday to chat to the mainly Irish residents. I’d planned a repertoire of Christmas songs, both old and new, but as we were waiting for everyone to arrive I decided to warm up with some Irish songs. It was immediately clear that this was a group who didn’t need any warming up. Everyone was both moved by the music and moving. Feet were tapping and arms were waving as people sang along to the familiar tunes. Sheila from Kerry had requested ‘The Galway Shawl’ in honour of a recently arrived Galwayman and I happily began with that, in honour too of my own Dad. And then for Sheila I did a couple of songs from Kerry: ‘The Black Velvet Band’ and ‘Golden Jubilee’. For the Dubliners present we sang ‘Molly Malone’; and for the several people from Cork (I remarked to the wonderful Sr. Pat, the Director, that the name of the home should be renamed St Finbars!) there was ‘Whiskey in the Jar’ (not literally, I’m afraid!). The house was absolutely ROCKING (and anyway, who needs whiskey to have a good time!). I slowed it down with ‘Sweet 16’, before launching into the Christmas set. It was quite simply the most joyful and uplifting experience imagineable.
One of the Cork ladies confided to me later that she was normally quite shy but had so much enjoyed the singing and dancing. And as for Sheila, she said (and I remembered it word for word, it was so heart-warming):
“We were expecting carol singers and then you fellas turned up! The singing was heavenly. You had us lifted out of our chairs and flying through the air like angels. You’ve made our Christmas perfect.”
We’re looking forward now to our second St Brigid’s concert, at St James’ Church Piccadilly on January 31st. There will be a host of talented performers, ranging in age from the young people of the London Celtic Youth Orchestra to the more mature members of the Irish Pensioners Choir. One of those on the bill, Belfast-born actor Anton Thompson McCormick just wrote to me to say:
“31st will be a delight, people coming together and celebrating the good things – how else to start the decade?”
In the midst of writing this piece I was sent the copy of a letter addressed to me that had been sent to the ICPO (Irish Council for Prisoners Overseas) office in Maynooth from a man in a prison in the North of England. He wrote:
“After reading your article in the ICPO Christmas newsletter 2019 I was impressed that the guitar you had used for the last 24 years had been put to more good use by taking it into Wormwood Scrubs”, and he goes on to ask if I could come and perform to him and the other 25 Irish prisoners there, explaining that “my friends and I are very keen on the idea and it would give us a more positive vibe to take forward”. He ends with the words “Thank you for sharing your story and in fact your guitar”. I was incredibly touched by that and it shows again that we just never know the impact we might have on somebody’s life.
So as we start another new year and if music be indeed the food of love then let us PLAY ON!!!