The gala concert in Gardiner Street, the finale of the 125th birthday celebrations of the Sacred Heart Messenger, was a triumph. The church was packed long before the 3 p.m. starting time. Every corner and cranny of the splendid building was filled. Organisers expected something over 650, not the 900 who packed in.
What drew them? Had they heard about the Paradisum choir from Newbridge, who sang and played (piano, keyboard, violins, cello, trumpet) in front of the altar? Your correspondent gave up his Sunday afternoon partly out of a sense of loyalty to the Messenger. It was indeed a sociable occasion: there were old friends to be greeted, including some whom he had known only through writing for the Messenger.
But if he came out of duty, he stayed out of love and astonished joy. He had the privilege of sitting a few feet from the players and singers. He could savour, indeed almost smell, the enthusiasm and joy in their faces and bodies, a treat for the eye as well as the ear. Apart from Shostakovich’s The Gadfly Romance, sublimely rendered by violinist Denice Doyle, the programme was of sacred music. Some familiar and loved pieces, like Mozart’s Ave Verum and Franck’s Panis Angelicus, sounded new and fresh with the energy of these musicians.
Much of the programme was composed and arranged by Owen Lynch, the director and conductor of the group. Soprano Sharon Lyons and tenor Dave Maguire (as well as baritone Owen himself) were the other soloists. Owen writes pieces that are easy to love, while doing justice to the complexities of a full choir and small orchestra. They are sacred but seldom solemn. Remember the fireworks of ‘This is the day’, and ‘Alleluia’, that set your feet a-dancing. They resonate with that elevation of spirit, lifting us out of ourselves, that marks great religious music.
Writing this just after the concert, one’s memory is of swimming on a golden tide of song that carried you closer to God. As the editor remarked at the end of the evening, the choir were singing for God – not a God of fear but the source of our joy, whose transcendent majesty is best approached through the wordless tribute of music. Owen, and his singers and musicians, are a national treasure. You could not imagine a more glorious way of celebrating the birthday of the little red book.