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18 July 2008  -  Father Eugene's Blog #1

Well, its been a very busy few weeks since the signing with Sony BMG on 23rd April 08. After the excitement and interest in the "deal" we returned home to our respective Parishes and other responsibilities in the Diocese (Down & Connor) and were each of us swamped by media interest. We had calls from local radio stations, Vatican Radio, Dublin based radio stations and French radio… all very different to what we usually face on an average day of the week.

After the hype of media interest we were able to settle and look at our diaries to establish possible recording dates when we would all be available. That was an interesting exercise in itself. Each of us thought it would be fairly easy to grab a few days in June and July without much difficulty… not so! As we come towards the end of the academic year each of us have to dovetail our plans to suit the various schools where we are either Chaplains (spiritual advisers) and/or Chairs of the Board of Governors. This is made all the more complicated if a new school appointment has to be made if a teacher has retired and has to be replaced. There is a lot of paperwork to complete and dates to chisel into the diary… so, as a result, we found we were very busy doing much the same thing but at different times so that made it a little more difficult to organise our dates… difficult, but not impossible!

We have been inundated with good wishes from our brother priests, from parishioners and from many friends in the music world… it has been truly overwhelming. We are delighted at the reaction to signing with Sony BMG and it has really buoyed us up in moments when we have asked ourselves… "what have we done…!"

Many who know us well have said we should have done this years ago… of course, it had been our intention to "record" sometime but since talking about it (some few years ago) we just never got around to it… so many other things intervened… it took Sony’s interest to galvanize the whole thing and make a small dream come true… it was our intention to make a record for posterity… but imagine what we felt like when Sony popped up out of nowhere and expressed an interest!!! Fantastic… unbelievable!

So what about the CD? Well, we have been busy establishing the keys of the songs and we’ve made preliminary "tapes" of the songs we think might end up on the CD. We have met with the recording team headed by Mike Hedges (what a guy) and we’ve had great fun just singing the songs, playing with interpretation, dynamics etc etc.

One mega demand on each of us has been getting used to "the cans" i.e. the headphones which are essential to any recording. Imagine talking with your hand cupped to your left or right ear… your hear yourself in a totally different way and you hear others differently too. It has been a whole new experience and we have found it challenging to say the least. That said, with practice we are getting used to the experience and learning from it at the same time.

In the midst of all this we are still working in our parishes as before, there are schools to visit, the sick to visit in hospital and at home, our families to visit… and everyone is hugely delighted that we are "making a CD" in time for Christmas… it has provided all who know us with a real "lift" and everyone is looking forward to the launch, no one more so than "Daddy" O’Hagan who celebrated his 93rd birthday on 17th June 2008.

We had a family "brunch" at home with him on the big day i.e. a full Irish Breakfast, then he had a little rest before he cut his Birthday cake around 5.00pm washed down with a little sparkling white wine mixed with orange juice… a Buck’s Fizz. A wonderful family celebration! We have a couple of days in the diary next week to continue "recording" and that will bring the CD nearer completion… watch this space!!



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18 July 2008  -  Father David's Blog #2


June was an eventful month. On 20th June we flew to Rome to meet Monsignor Pablo Colino.

Monsignor Colino is a Canon of St Peter’s Basilica. For many years he was director of the Choir of the Cappella Giulia in St Peter’s. He now directs the Choir of the Academia Filarmonica Romana which will be singing with us on the forthcoming album. Mike Hedges (producer) and Sally Hedges (arranger) arrived before us at the Hotel Columbus on the Via Conciliazione and were there to meet us. Sony was represented by Nick Raphael and Ricardo who providentially happens to be a personal friend of the Monsignor and was instrumental in setting up the meeting.

It was interesting for us to visit the Hotel Columbus since this was where the Earls of Ulster, Hugh O’Neill (Earl of Tyrone) and Rory O’Donnell (Earl of Tyrconnell) lived when they arrived in Rome in 1608.

We met Monsignor Collino at the Vatican on Saturday morning. A most charming man, with the energy and joie de vivre of someone half his age! He took us via the Sacristy to visit the Cappella Giulia in St Peter’s - a possible venue for our recording with the choir at the end of September. You will soon be able to see us testing the acoustic in the Cappella Giulia on Youtube.

After that we visited his apartment and we talked through some of the music we plan to record with the choir. We were fascinated to learn that the apartment was originally built for the artist Michelangelo so that he could oversee the construction of the dome of St Peter’s which he had designed. The Monsignor was very enthusiastic about the recording project and we look forward very much to working with him later in the year.

While in Rome we were delighted to learn from our manager that a PBS Special has been arranged for broadcast in the U.S. on 29th November 2008. That is quite a coup for three untested artists such as ourselves!

Before lunch there was time to do a little shopping for new surplices for the three of us and then, after a lovely lunch, we were whisked away to the airport for our return flight to Dublin. What a contrast in weather awaited us – dark skies and a torrential downpour compared to the heat and bright sunshine of Rome. I couldn’t help but think of the apostles, Peter, James and John making their way down from the mountain top after the transfiguration of the Lord. A reminder to us, if any were needed, that normal life goes on and it mostly isn’t glamorous.

25th and 26th June found us back in the recording studio in Belfast with the ITV film crew there to record the action and catch up with the latest developments. It still feels very disconcerting having the camera following our every move. People say, ‘just be yourself’. It’s hard, though, not to be a little self-conscious and awkward.

On the 29th June I celebrated an outdoor mass for Lamh Deargh, my local Gaelic Athletic Club, as part of their Family Fest celebrations. It was gratifying to see the mass so well attended by people of all ages, including many children and young people. Well done, organisers!

That same afternoon we had the privilege and pleasure of singing at the ordination of our new Bishop, Msgr Noël Treanor, in St Peter’s Cathedral, Belfast. It was quite an occasion with five cardinals, a whole host of bishops, priests and laity from the dioceses of Down and Connor and Clogher as well as representatives from various European countries and other churches and ecclesial communities. The sun shone and everyone was in high spirits.

We wish our former bishop, Bishop Patrick Walsh, every happiness in his retirement after 25 years as bishop - 17 of them as Ordinary of the diocese.

Meanwhile parish life continues as usual with weddings, baptisms, funerals, masses, visitation of the sick. I attended a graduation ceremony in the Waterfront Hall for my friend, Marisol from Venezuela, who was awarded a Ph.D. Congratulations – Felicidades! Marisol and her husband Cesar are very kindly helping us with our Spanish pronunciation for some of the songs that will eventually appear on our album.

Up to now we’ve been singing along in the studio to a synthesised backing track. This week, however, we will be travelling to Dublin to sing along with the orchestra. It will be great to hear the orchestral arrangements for the first time. Perhaps singing to live music and a live audience will help raise our performance to a higher level. Who knows?
Don’t forget to log on later to find out how we got on. Bye for now.



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4 Aug 2008  -  Father Martin's Blog #3
 
The journey has been something of a whirlwind since the last blog.

I was off with a group from all over the North of Ireland on a pilgrimage to Fatima in Portugal which was a great experience indeed, this was from the 1st to the 8th July. There were about 36 in the group and there were a number of places to visit such as Coimbra, Nazare, Santarem, Lisboa and of course Fatima itself. I really enjoyed the company and the opportunity to pray and of course have some laughter, a good balance!!

It has been a time of vocal recording since then in the Studio which is always fun and there is a real sense of support and team work. There is a significant coming together every time we record and the album is gelling very well. The recording on the 9th and 10th July was intensive. Then we had the wonderful chance to visit Dublin on the 11th and 12th July to hear the orchestral tracks being recorded with their full arrangements. It was a fabulous experience just watching the team at work and the intricacies of the detail and laying down of the tracks.

We watched and listened to the Irish Film Orchestra, such a fantastic group of talented musicians. But there was Mike the producer and Sally the arranger working together with Hayden and others pulling all the threads together. It was fascinating to hear the vocals marrying with the orchestra and the fullness of the tones and sounds. It was like being present at the birth of something wonderful and life giving. Sally smiled with contentment and a sigh of satisfaction as the days ended with all the tracks laid down, another step had been made in the journey towards the completion of the album.

The documentary crew were there to get an insight into the work being done and it was great to have this part of the journey also recorded. There was a feeling on my part that it was crucial for us to be there during the two days, as they offered us the chance to hear and to absorb the music so that it informs our singing and the interpretation of the pieces chosen in the future. This visit provided us with the colours and fullness of tone which will clearly influence the outcome of the album. It has been good for us to continue to collaborate with the team who are getting all into shape and have plenty of banter and enjoyment.

We were also interviewed by Time Magazine and were put very much at ease by the journalist, William, who asked us about our experiences so far and we answered these with frankness and excitement. The article will be out in mid August, we’re looking forward to reading that.

All in all it was a busy time with a little look at the diaries for the future. Soon we were making our way back to our Parishes for the Sunday liturgy and it has been busy visiting the sick of the Parish this week and getting the Summer Scheme for our young people up and running with the help of a great team.

I am just about to begin a major restoration scheme of the Church of St. Patrick, Cushendun which dates to 1803 and is built upon an even earlier site. It is a real time of change and much to think about as my mind races, but please God all will be well. As always we have been so well supported in this wonderful venture and we are so grateful to everyone. I hope that you will enjoy the album as much as we do as it comes alive with every step of the journey.



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15 Aug 2008  -  Father Eugene's Blog #4
 
When we looked at the days in our respective diaries for possible recording dates we realised that we would, like everyone else, need to include a week or two off on holiday. The very thought of going off on a break or a holiday is always pleasant but needs that little extra bit of planning for most clergy. In parishes where there is only one priest, like the parishes where we serve, people are getting used to the idea of a scaled down schedule of Mass times during a priest’s absence or, indeed, in some cases, no weekday Mass.

Sundays, of course, are quite different, but, it must be acknowledged, we find it increasingly difficult to arrange cover for Sundays as the number of priests previously available to offer that kind of cover is decreasing. So, any priest who wants to go on holiday, not just we three, needs to make remote plans to ensure emergency cover is provided and that Sunday Mass times are covered. It is always a relief when this cover is secured and all priests and parishes are deeply indebted to our colleagues who can help us out in this way.

With plans made and the parish covered, I headed off with my elder brother in the foot of Moses for a week’s break to visit the Sinai peninsula, to visit Mount Sinai and the ancient monastic foundation of St Catherine at the foot of the mountain where Moses received the Ten Commandments from God, where the everlasting and the temporal met on that holy place. It was hot, very hot. Mercifully there was very little, if any humidity and, therefore, much more comfortable to move around than I expected.

We stayed at a local resort, which was really comfortable, we got used to the heat and avoided the might of the sun for a couple of days before signing up for the trip to Mount Sinai. To our surprise, the night before we were due to head off on the highlight of our trip it was cancelled because too few people were interested in making the journey which, consequently, made it unprofitable for the company.

Disappointed but undaunted we made our own arrangements with a local taxi firm and driver to drive us out into the desert where we could at least visit St Catherine’s monastery. After a two hour journey through some of the most inhospitable landscape imaginable we arrived at the monastery.

The twenty-eight resident orthodox monks in St Catherine’s guard their privacy zealously. The monastery is open to the public for only a few hours each morning so it pays to arrive, as we did, shortly after the only door through the fortress walls of the monastery was opened. It was humbling to visit so old and reverent a site as St Catherine’s with its unbroken history of Christian worship.

This holy place marks the traditional place of meeting between God and Moses in the shape of the burning bush, it boasts an ancient church endowed by the Emperor Justinian, who provided not only the beautiful doors of the Church but the huge bulwark fortress walls within which to protect St Catherine’s relics and the monks who sheltered from the harsh environment of the desert and, it must be said, from man made attacks and assaults.

And then there are the icons and the books! What a collection! St Catherine’s was spared the destruction of the iconoclastic period in the Church’s history, not least because of its remote location, and now boasts an unrivalled record of iconic styles and techniques. Breathtaking and beautiful. Words are not enough to describe them so I would encourage you to visit for yourself.

I was struck by the words of Damianos, the Archbishop of Sinai, who writes the following in the forward of the official guide on the monastery, "
If, in addition to whatever artistic enjoyment this volume may offer, the tired wayfarer of today’s hectic life derives some spiritual pleasure and a sense of peace in God, the main purpose of this work will have been attained and our gratitude to our Patroness St Catherine and our Lord Jesus Christ will be even greater and everlasting".

I couldn’t help thinking that this is precisely what we three priests hope to achieve in the making of our album of music with Sony BMG to be released in November. The main purpose of our efforts will have been attained if you find some spiritual pleasure and sense of God’s presence in our singing.

Now back from holiday we look forward to the final topping and tailing of tracks before we record with the choir in Rome at the end of September. Before that, we will be preparing for a big invitation concert in St Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh in advance of the release of the CD which will be broad on PBS in the USA in November. The short holiday was great but its back to work.


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24 Oct 2008  -  Father Eugene's Blog #5
 
The flight to Rome from Belfast on Sun 28th September was as smooth as anyone could ever have wanted. By chance, a clerical student well known to Fr Martin was also flying to Rome and got a welcome taxi ride with us into the city to be safely deposited at the Venerable English College for another year of study prior to his Ordination to the Deaconate. We wish him, his classmates and colleagues in the English College, Scots College and, of course, our alma mater, the Irish College every blessing in this important year.

As for the three of us, we were returning to a familiar and much loved city not to continue our studies but to complete what we had begun in April; the recording of our debut album of sacred music. When we embarked on this exciting but daunting project a few months ago we never, even for a minute, thought that what had started with a short "demo tape" in the Good Shepherd Centre, Belfast, would lead us back to Rome and the much loved Basilica of St Peter where each of us had previously sung at many liturgies celebrated by the late Pope John Paul II during the overlapping years of study for the priesthood.

In many ways, St Peter’s Basilica and, more specifically, the Cappella del Coro, where the choir of the Cappella Guilia regularly sings morning prayer and evening prayer, was a fitting place in which to conclude the recording of the album. This was all made possible by the kind and generous permission of the Basilica’s Archpriest, His Eminence Cardinal Angelo Comastri, and the musical help of Spanish born Mons. Pablo Colino, a Canon of St Peter’s and, until recently, director of the Cappella Guilia choir who continues, even in retirement, to direct the Choir of the Academia Filarmonica di Roma which, when you buy your copy of the CD (hint, hint) you will have the pleasure to hear on the completed album.

Prior to the three evenings of recording we were involved in interviews with representatives from several foreign newspapers, TV and radio stations. We have been amazed at the interest this musical venture has generated in countries around the world and, perhaps more significantly, the interest the media has in our everyday lives as priests in a part of the world that has, until very recently, been known for all the wrong reasons; for the bombings, indiscriminate murder and sectarianism of "The Troubles" in N. Ireland.

Music is a powerful means of communication in itself. Even during the darker years of The Troubles it has been our shared personal experience that music and singing in various places has played a significant role in helping to change attitudes and demolish some of the walls of prejudice supported by our lack of understanding and lack of respect in both political and religious spheres of life. If our album can contribute, even in a small way, to the efforts of those many people who have worked for peace and reconciliation in our fractured society, and those who continue to do the same elsewhere, we will be very happy.

After the third evening of recording in the empty Basilica we had the privilege of praying before the tomb of St Peter, protected by Bernini’s glorious baldachino and High Altar. There, as promised, in private prayer, we remembered our families, friends and parishioners’ intentions and we gave thanks.

What a fitting climax to an unbelievable journey thus far during which we have met incredibly gifted people, many of whom, it must be said and by their own admission, have never met a Catholic priest let alone spoken to one at length.

This has been a privileged time for us in many unexpected ways. We are, each of us, mindful of the exhortation of the late Pope John Paul II to, "put out into the deep" where, leaving the security of the familiar shoreline, we may have the chance of helping those at risk of being swept along by perilous currents and tides mindful to avoid being caught up in them ourselves. This is a challenge made to every follower of Christ in every era and no less urgent in today’s modern world where wealth, personal and financial independence can neither guarantee happiness nor be guaranteed by Banks or Governments in the face of economic meltdown.

Before returning home to N. Ireland, after three of the most demanding days in the recording schedule, we got the chance to hear the final compilations of the tracks that will now feature on the album. In a modern bespoke recording studio, somewhat incongruously but, for all concerned, happily located beneath the Church of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in a suburb of Rome… there’s an idea for vacant ecclesiastical space if you have any… we sat and listened to the music we have all worked on over the past few months.

This too was a privileged moment for all of us; we knew it would probably be the last time we would be in the recording studio together, we would go our separate ways, each returning to unfinished projects or about to take up new ones, and, in a very significant way, we were, all of us, deeply affected by what we had experienced together over the last six months even though we did not articulate it as such… the odd stray tear did that for us. To paraphrase the words of a song we often sang in seminary days, it is indeed, "a journey ended" but it is also, "a journey just begun".


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"We've met some wonderful people along the way - people from all different religions,
and also people who have no interest in religious faith whatsoever.
I like to think they found it interesting - and perhaps initially daunting! -
to have met three priests at the same time."
Fr Eugene


 
 
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