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22 Dec 2013 - Happy Christmas!


Dear Friends,

         the great feast days of the Christmas Season are upon us. As during these days we celebrate with joy the Nativity of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour, it is our profound wish and prayer that you may receive from Him every blessing for yourselves, your families and all your loved ones. May the peace of Christ reign in your hearts and in your homes.

Whatever the circumstances of your life at this time, whether in joy or in sorrow, may you know in ‘the deep heart’s core’ the personal and passionate love of the One who is named Emmanuel - God, truly with us!

A happy and blessed Christmas to one and all!

Fr David
on behalf of The Priests


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10 Dec 2013 - Fr David's Blog #29

Hannahstown- Tuesday afternoon

News comes from Tom that he has eventually landed at Heathrow around 8am but an hour later he is still at the baggage claim as they have lost his bag. Ahhhhhhhhhh!

I feel simultaneously heavy-headed, light-headed and bone tired. I imagine that's a good definition of what it feels like to be 'zonked'! I remember this from our tour last year. It's not just jet lag - it's adrenalin withdrawal too and that takes quite a while to get over. Still, as I sit here there's a sense of satisfaction of the tour have gone very well.

It will take some time to let the dust settle and mull over all that we have experienced in the past four weeks since we set out on our a concert tour. There were some challenges but there were also many triumphs along the way.

In 33 days we have travelled approx. 16.5 thousand miles, 7330 across land and 9220 across sea.

We have performed 17 concerts in some of the most the most amazing and impressive concert venues in 17 cities for around 25 thousand people:

Joliet, IL  -  Lindsay, ON  -  Hamilton, ON  -  Montreal, QC  -  Toronto, QC  -  Collingswood, NJ  -  Cincinnati, OH  -  Easton, PA  -  Harrisburg, PA  -  Waterbury, CT  -  Corpus Christi, TX  -  New Orleans, LA  -  Spring/Houston, TX  -  Galveston, TX  -  Wichita, KS  -  Kansas City, MO  -  Omaha, NE.

We have added five new audience-pleasing pieces to our concert repertoire including Jenkins' 'Ave Verum', Caccini's 'Ave Maria', Van Morrison's 'Have I told You Lately' Arr. J. Anderson, Trad. 'Cliffs of Dooneen' arr. J Anderson, and N. Murray's 'Ring Out Your Praise', the last of which we look forward to performing at our Christmas concert at the Millennium Forum in Derry on 21st December and in Belfast's Waterfront Hall on 22nd December along with the girls choir of Dominican College, Fortwilliam, Belfast.

Modern communications technology such as Skype, FaceTime, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Email, Viber, SMS and Vine, have been fully utilised to allow us to keep in regular contact with those at home and abroad and to maintain contact with our parishes too when necessary. (I learned how dependent I have become on these means of communication when I lost my iPhone. It's like being locked out of your office! Sure you can take it as an enforced holiday but it makes it a tad difficult to get the work done!)

So many people have been instrumental in helping to make our tour the great success that it has been. There are all the hidden, unseen people in theatres who do lights, sound, catering,  setting up and clearing of the stage, front of house, back of house, promoters in newspapers, on radio, television and internet, sponsors, etc. I thank all these from the bottom of my heart.

In addition, and in no particular order of importance:

Thanks to Sonia, Roisin, Rose, Fr Denis, Fr Paddy, Monsignor Murphy, Mary and parishioners for looking after things in Hannahstown while I was away and for allowing me the opportunity to go away for these few weeks knowing that everything was in good hands.

Thanks to Sr. Mary Jo for leaving us down to Dublin and picking us up again when we got home; for looking after things in Ballyclare; for liaising with the website gurus; for prayerful support at all times and for being a great friend to The Priests.

Thanks to Promoters The Agency and BRE Presents (Bill R, Ken A, Greg B) who facilitated our tour and made us welcome on this, our return visit.

Thanks to Frank Paliaci our tour bus driver, for getting us safely from Toronto to Collingswood, NJ: Cincinnati, OH: Easton, PA: Harrisburg, PA: Waterbury, CT. For killing the poor deer and not us!

Thanks to our audiences: In many of the concerts we were able to meet new people, make new friends, new fans, meet old friends, renew acquaintances, establish contacts, entertain and delight audiences, bring joy, lift hearts and give hope. Our audiences were invariably amazing. They gave us such warm welcomes and enthusiastic expressions of appreciation. And I bet quite a few of them will be bending promoters' ears to ensure a future return of The Priests to their city. Thank you for coming to our concerts and for your on-going support for The Priests.

Thanks for our new website: Our new website has been an enormous success, allowing us collectively to post daily blogs, audioboos and photos and permitting family, friends, parishioners and fans from across the world to accompany us on our journey. We owe a huge debt of gratitude to our webmaster who has been working flat out behind the scenes, day and night, to keep the site up to date with everything we send and for seeking out and uploading everything that can be found on the internet. Words simply are not enough!

Thanks to you who are reading this tour diary blog, and to those who sent messages on Twitter and Facebook, for your interest and many kind expressions of support and encouragement.

Thanks to Samantha Wright, our brilliant manager, for setting up the tour and for her ongoing interest in, and encouragement for, all we do as The Priests. Can't wait to see what exciting projects she has lined up for us next year.

Thanks to Gregg Mangiafico, Nashville, for stepping at such short notice to be our MD. He had to learn a lot of new music in a very short space of time and take on the job of rehearsing a new band in every city we visited and lead them through the concerts. He did a great job in difficult circumstances and we thoroughly enjoyed his relaxed, easy company on tour. Please God we will the chance to do work together again.

Thanks to Tom, our most excellent tour manager. He arranged all our flights and ground transport, accommodation, upgrades, liaised with theatre staff, planned ahead to make sure everything ran as smoothly as possible, cracked the whip when necessary, was great fun, great company and worked so hard to make the tour a success. We can't thank him enough. He is a top man!

Abundant thanks to my colleagues, Fr Eugene and Fr Martin, who are amazingly talented performers as well as great friends, companions and brothers. Well done! Congratulations! And thanks for putting up with me! May God continue to bless you, and us, and all we do as priests and singers in his service.

Sincere thanks to our Bishop, Noël Treanor, who, in spite of the inconvenience and disruption it must cause him occasionally in the administration of the diocese, understands the value of our priestly musical ministry and supports us in every way possible.

Finally, thanks to all those who supported us with prayers! We cannot see the work you do but we experience it's effects and benefits daily. May you receive the reward of your goodness.

And thank you God. I'll speak to you privately. You know!!!!!

So that's it. The Priests USA / Canada Tour of 2013 has officially come to an end.

Until next time, God willing, from me then it's...

'Over and Out'!  
;-))


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8/9 Dec 2013 - Fr David's Blog #28

Going Home: Omaha - Newark - Dublin - Belfast

Group rendezvous in the lobby at 9.30am. Gregg drives us through the snow to Wheatfields for breakfast. The place is very busy. We all order great breakfasts. I have the house speciality which is a baked dish of eggs, bacon, onion, potato and four cheeses accompanied by a mixed berry muffin and a pot of hot baked apple and lots of coffee. I'm sure I consumed a whole day's calorie allowance in that one meal. But it was great!

We get back to the hotel at 11am. We have one hour to pack. It's a major operation. Everything comes out of every bag and suitcase and I start from scratch. I decide to jettison a pair of comfortable jeans which I love, but they've come to the end of their useful life and there's really no point in taking them home. I also bin some toiletries that are practically done anyway. It takes the whole hour to complete the task. By 12 noon we are outta there,  in the car and enroute for the local airport.

This is the parting of the ways. Tom and Gregg are catching a flight to Chicago and on to their respective destinations, Tom to Heathrow, London and Gregg to Nashville. We on the other hand are bound for Newark and on to Dublin. Manly hugs and back slaps cannot conceal the genuine sense of sadness at the parting and a few dewy eyes are to be detected in unexpected quarters. We pledge to stay connected and to get together sometime whenever possible. Tom disappears through the boarding door without a look back. Gregg turns to give one last wave and gets three back. And then it's just us three left...

Our flight is delayed by about half an hour. The two and a half hour flight is uneventful. It seems to pass quickly. We have a short turnaround time in Newark involving a transfer to terminal C on the shuttle us. The flight to Dublin is delayed by about 45 minutes. At the boarding gate we run into the Celtic Tenors, Matthew Gilsenan, Darryl Simpson and James Nelson who, like ourselves, have come to the end of a five week concert tour and are heading home. They're a really nice bunch and we have a pleasant chat about what we've all been up to.

As we are boarding the plane, the de-icing machines are at work. Take off is about 7.50pm and the estimated flight time is five hours. After a meal of chicken and rice and a small bottle of white wine, it's time for a sleep if I can get it… earplugs… And I do sleep for all of about 15 minutes during which I wake myself up probably ten times! Forget sleep!

I watch the film, "The life of Pi" and enjoy it very much. I also watch an episode of "Law and Order - Special Victims Unit" and a fascinating science programme on Time and Space. About an hour before landing the lights come on and the cabin staff come around with a croissant and coffee for breakfast.

We land in Dublin at around 6.55am, taxi for quite a while and then wait for a gate to become free. At the carousel we once again meet and chat again to the Celtic Tenors. In the arrivals hall, Sr. Mary Jo is there to meet us. Even though she is flying out of Belfast later in the day at 12.30pm for a weeklong break in L. with her sister, to stay in an apartment loaned by a friend, she has got up at 4am to drive down to Dublin to pick us up and bring us home. What kindness!

It's a beautiful day in Ireland. The spectacularly coloured early morning sky grows to a clear, bright morning. The drive north is smooth. Then we are at Hannahstown at 9.30am. Sonia, the parish secretary, is at her desk and waves through the window. Clara, my cat, comes running to meet me and is clearly delighted at the reunion, as am I.

After we get my luggage into the house, Fr Eugene and Sr Mary Jo head off to Ballyclare. Fr Martin stays with me. He is picked up after about twenty minutes by a friend who will take him to Newtownards.

News come that Tom and Gregg had difficulties with their journey home. Tom's plane sat at the airport in Chicago for four hours before all the passengers were made to disembark. He was brought to an hotel in Chicago and told that he would be put on a flight next day (Monday) at 4pm. Gregg's flight was also delayed by about four hours. He didn't get into Nashville till around 11pm.

News come through again from Tom to say that his Monday 4pm flight has also been delayed to a later one. Now the airline is pulling the old trick of saying that the only seats available on the later flight are in business class so anyone who wants to purchase an upgrade can fly. What a joke! The joys of touring!

It feels strange to be home. After a shower I empty the suitcases and put things away. Then I open the letters that have come in the post over the last month. I go to the Kennedy Centre to renew the tax disc in my car. Then it's off to the Lisburn road for a haircut. After that is straight down to the Apple store in the Victoria Centre and from there to Vodafone to get a new mobile phone up and running.

I try to resist the urge to sleep but the tiredness is overwhelming and I am aware of my eyes irresistibly closing as I drive home from the city. I succumb to sleep from 4pm to 6.30pm. After that I make a couple of phone calls and take a bite to eat. By 9.30pm it's time for bed again. I sleep solidly around the clock till midday Tuesday.


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7 Dec 2013 - Fr David's Blog #27


Show Day in Omaha, NE.

Hilton Hotel, Omaha: I wake at around 8.30am. Looking outside, there's frost. Were looking at minus degrees Fahrenheit (below minus 17 degrees Celsius). I could go out with scarf and hat and gloves and explore a bit of the city. It's what I'd like to do and ordinarily that's exactly what I would do. But today's a show day… so exploration of Omaha will have to wait until some future revisit.

I mosey down to the hotel's fitness suite and work out for three quarters of an hour or so. When we started out on the tour, I was pretty good at fitting in some regular exercise. But late nights, early mornings and intense travel have taken their toll and it’s amazing how quickly fitness levels can drop with just a few weeks of sedentary living.
 
About 2pm my tummy is saying, "feed me". I jump up on a bar stool and order a Reuben sandwich. A speciality of Omaha, the Reuben sandwich is a hot sandwich of corned beef, Swiss cheese, with Russian dressing, and sauerkraut. These are grilled between slices of rye bread. Very tasty, I can tell you. The sweet potato fries that came with it were great too.

With a couple of hours to go before going to the theatre, I do a little online research about Omaha. So here's some interesting titbits that I discovered.

Omaha is the largest city in the Midwestern state of Nebraska. It is situated on the Missouri River, about 10 miles north of the mouth of the Platte River. The city was founded in 1854 at a crossing on the Missouri River called Lone Tree Ferry, and from this it gets it's nickname "Gateway to the West".

Today, Omaha is the home to the headquarters of five Fortune 500 companies including Berkshire Hathaway which is headed by local investor Warren Buffet, one of the richest people in the world and nicknamed, "Oracle of Omaha".

Notable modern Omaha inventions include: the TV dinner, Raisin Bran, cake mix, The Reuben sandwich, the bobby pin and the "pink hair curler," the ski lift, the "Top 40" radio format. Furthermore, a character in a Rudyard Kipling essay claimed "dice were invented in Omaha, and the man who invented 'em, he made a colossal fortune."

The Enola Gay was built at Offutt Air Force Base, located south of Omaha.

The city has been a tourist destination for many years. Famous early visitors included British author Rudyard Kipling. In 1883 Omaha hosted the first official performance of the Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show for eight thousand attendees.

Internationally renowned composer Antonín Dvořák wrote his Ninth ("New World") Symphony in 1893 based on his impressions of the region after visiting Omaha's robust Czech community.

Omaha's Boys Town was made famous by the Spencer Tracy and Mickey Rooney movie Boys Town.

In July 2010, international popstar Justin Bieber had a song written with his friends entitled "Omaha Mall." Its origins stemmed from when Bieber and his crew paid a visit to Westroads Mall in Omaha while there on tour.

Omaha is the historic and modern birthplace and home of notable people including actors Montgomery Clift, Fred Astaire, Marlon Brando, Nick Nolte. Henry Fonda also grew up in Omaha. His son Peter Fonda also briefly lived in Omaha. Gerald Ford the 38th U.S. President was born in Omaha as was the African American activist Malcolm X.

Omaha has six sister cities including Naas (Ireland). You didn't know that now, did you?

Let me tell you a little about tonight's venue. The “Holland Performing Arts Center” with 2000 seats opened only a few years ago in 2005 and was instantly heralded for its “stunning architecture and superior acoustics”. The Center “offers crisp, urban modernism inside and out. With bold design and finely engineered acoustics, this performing arts center is one of the best in the country, offering spectacular views of downtown Omaha, an intimate atmosphere for patrons, and a home for the best performing arts the world has to offer”.

At 4.30pm we take the hotel shuttle bus to the stage entrance of the theatre. Gregg has been there since before 3pm rehearsing with the band and Tom has been there too since that time getting organised backstage. From the moment we enter the building, it's clear that someone has put a fair bit of effort into preparing for our arrival. There are notices on walls at junctions and intersections every step of the way with arrows directing "The Priests" to our individual dressing rooms, communal room, dining room, stage entrance, md's room, band room, guest artist room, production room, etc. Not only does this make life very easy for us, it also sends out a clear signal that we are welcome and that the theatre management want our visit to run as smoothly and possible.

Dinner this evening is provided by the venue: chicken with a sweet chutney, green beans, bulgar wheat, salad and garlic bread. Dessert is a sponge cake infused with sweet vanilla custard. Realising that this is our very last concert of the Tour, "The Agency" which has organised and promoted many of the concerts on our tour have sent some very nice bottles of wine as a "thank you". There's also a large ice bucket in the centre of the table with two very nice bottles of bubbly chilling - a very generous gift from friends. We shall certainly look forward to enjoying all that after the concert.

After dinner there's time, before the doors open to the public, to try out the sound on stage once more. Let's get ready to rock this house!

And what a show it is! The band is great. One of the best we've had. The audience are up for a great night and so are we. All three of us are in great vocal shape and the repartee between songs feels seamless and slick, other than a couple of magnificent spoonerisms from both myself and Fr Eugene. In Silver Bells, in place of 'blink a bright red and green' Fr Eugene sings 'brink a blight red and green' which elicits from me a delighted big on-stage grin of amusement. My big spoonerism moment comes when I am telling the audience about our experience of being 'signed to Sony' back in 2008 and somehow it comes out as 'Soned to Signy' instead, to much hilarity both on stage and among the audience.

At the end of the concert, the audience are on their feet clapping enthusiastically and calling for encores. The Twelve Days has the 1500+ audience perform a vigorous workout they'll not forget in a hurry and sends them out on a high. The Holland Performing Arts Center is buzzin tonight! Yessiree!

After the show there is a met and greet with about 50 people including some people from SAC Federal Credit Union which was sponsoring the show. I also get to spend a little time (all too short) with several of my friends who live in Nebraska and Washington. They have brought some gifts of chocolate for each of us and a larger box of goodies for me which, sadly, I am unable to accept as my luggage is already well over the permitted weight.

Back in the green room we enjoy the bubbly so kindly provided for us. I have no idea of what time we left the theatre. It was certainly in the early hours of Sunday morning. Gregg drives us throughout the snow back to the hotel. The temperature has plummeted to -12 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 24 degrees Celsius).

It's our last night together as a group. No one seems ready to go to bed tonight. We find a cosy corner in the lounge and sit chatting. Tom has a strategy for minimising the effects of jet lag which involves staying up as late as we can tonight, getting a few hours sleep, then rising early in the morning  and not sleeping at all tomorrow until we board the flight at Newark for Dublin. I think it is 4.30am by the time we get to bed.



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6 Dec 2013 - Fr David's Blog #26


Travel Day - From Kansas City to Omaha, NE.

Westin Hotel, Kansas City, MO: I wake around 8.30am and phaff about for a while, reading emails, checking the news, drinking coffee, etc. By 10.15am I'm downstairs hailing a cab to bring me to the National World War One Museum. It's only a five minute walk away but it's absolutely freezing outside and my time is limited, hence the cab.

On exiting the taxi, I am a bit concerned that the museum entrance is all closed up. I don't want to be abandoned here and have to walk home in the freezing cold. I needn't have worried. The museum is open after all. I pay for my $14 entrance ticket, deposit my black puffa jacket and start out on my visit.

There are several school groups and senior citizen groups having guided tours. I am able to latch on and disengage from them at will and as I do, I pick up some interesting bits and pieces of information.

For example, I find it interesting that while this was the start of the era of modern warfare with more advanced weaponry, many of the combatants started out wearing elaborate braided and ceremonial uniforms that were utterly ill suited to twentieth century warfare. The German army started out with leather helmets but within a month had changed to metal ones. The French army on the other hand wore cloth helmets with bright red lettering on the front. This made them stand out clearly in the sights of their sniper enemies. It took nine months for this situation to change. The upshot of this disastrous policy was that in the first three months of the war more Frenchmen died than the total recorded deaths of American combatants in all the American wars to this day. I found that statistic astounding!

This is a really excellent museum. It tells about the complex political circumstances in Europe that led to the outbreak of war, illustrates the horrors of trench warfare, the development of modern armaments, war on land, at sea and in the air, how the war escalated so that it became the world at war, how the USA abandoned its isolationist position and was drawn into the war in 1917, the role of women, black people, the rise of America to take the first place in the world, the fall of monarchies and empires and the rise of democracy. It has a broad range of exhibits and the visual and written presentations are excellent. I can wholeheartedly recommend a visit to this great museum to anyone with an interest in the history of World War One who is lucky enough to spend some time in Kansas City.

It's 12.30pm and hotel checkout is at 1pm. So I've half an hour to get back to the hotel and pack up. Taking advice from a museum attendant about the quickest way back I decide to brave the freezing cold and walk back to the hotel. I'm quite unprepared for just how cold it is. I've no hat. We just don't have this degree of coldness in Ireland. I decide the best approach is to walk as quickly as I can but can't resist stopping occasionally to take some photos on my iPad. It's a bit cumbersome for taking photos but in the absence of my iPhone I'm glad of it. My ears and hands are frozen. But no frostbite and thankfully nose still intact!

I check out and deposit my luggage with the concierge. I make my way on the skywalk to Union Station (formerly a busy train station but now reinvented as a place for restaurants and museums and shops). It's one of the top-recommended places to visit in Kansas City. I've arrange to meet up with Frs M&E for lunch.

Just as we are deciding where to go for lunch, who should walk by but MH, our generous sponsor of last night's concert. He stops to chat for quite a while, telling us how happy he is with the public response to our show and how so many people have been saying he must being us back some time.

He tells us how his great grandfather emigrated to America back in 1860 and worked on building the railroads that were spreading out all over America at that time. His grandfather and father became conductors on the railroad. He himself started out as a young man in a very modest position as a break man but over time his fortunes rose to the point where he became chairman of the Board of Union Station. He held that position for seven years and was centrally involved in the recent renovations that have taken place there. It really is a most impressive building and I comment how it must give him a great sense of achievement and pride and satisfaction to see the station thriving as it is today.

For lunch I decide to try out a burger with the BBQ sauce for which Kansas is so famous. When it arrives, the BBQ flavour is so subtle that I'm not convinced there is any on it at all. It tastes very nice anyway.

At 3pm with only an hour to go before blast off to Omaha, I decide to pay a visit to the Irish Centre and museum on the lower floor. N. is there and is delighted to welcome me and show me around. I am particularly keen to see a book of old black and white photos of Ireland that Frs Martin and Eugene saw during their visit there earlier this morning and which they spoke about during lunch. It contains an old photo of Waterfoot village looking up Red Bay to the chapel at the far end. I am able to locate it and take a photo.

The two canons who had been at the show last night have called in to the Irish Centre earlier. Apparently I have missed them by only a half hour. N. explains that one of them commented that 'The Priests' must be two Catholic priests and an Episcopalian because one of us was wearing a wedding ring on his wedding finger. - Well that would be me. I have to explain that I am indeed a Catholic priest but that I am wearing my father's wedding ring, my father having passed away the year before last. So that clarifies that little 'misunderstanding'.
:)

After that it's a brisk walk across the skywalk back to the Westin to pick up luggage and be ready for the off. By 4pm we are loaded up and underway, Omaha bound. By 7.40pm we are still on the road. It's been pitch dark outside for much of the journey. The outside temperature has dropped to 7 degrees Fahrenheit (almost -14 degrees Celsius). The roads are free of snow but there is some ice, and condensation from our breath, I guess, has frozen on the inside of the window of the car.

Fr Martin, in the back seat has spent part of the journey watching and chuckling his way through an episode of Hercule Poirot on an iPad. Fr Eugene takes up the iPad and spends some time drawing pictures which chart the progress of our tour. He's working on one of the tour bus with the heading "Deerhunter". Another is of the St Louis Cathedral at New Orleans and some street signs with the names of some of the key streets in the French Quarter. He has quite a talent for this. The end results will be very impressive, I'm sure.

We arrive into Omaha at around 7.50pm, almost four hours after we set off from Kansas. The corridor of the hotel is one of the longest I've ever seen. It seems to stretch on into infinity. Perhaps it's just an optical illusion. I measure it at one hundred and eighty five strides. I'll post a pic if I can get a good one.

At 8.30pm we take the hotel shuttle bus to Sullivan's Steakhouse for dinner. For appetiser I have jumbo prawn with spicy dip followed by a Caesar salad. For entree, E, T & G opt for steaks of one kind or another. M and I go for the steamed salmon fillet with asparagus and a lemon butter sauce. When it arrives it looks a bit underwhelming compared to the steaks so we order a side of creamy garlic and bacon mashed potatoes to share.

This is our last meal out together. Tomorrow we have a dinner provided by the venue so, as Tom says, this feels a bit like the "last supper". Conscious that tomorrow is our last full today together as a group, which makes us feel a little sad, we spend a little time reminiscing about the various places we have been on the tour, the cities, the theatres, the concert experiences, the memorable band members, the meals, the interesting people, Frank the deerhunter and the tour bus experience.

At the end of the evening, Tom calls for the hotel shuttle to come and pick us up. It's bitterly cold outside. We waste no time in getting from Sullivan's Steakhouse onto the bus and from the bus into the hotel. With a show day tomorrow we delay no further and disperse to our respective quarters for the night.



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5 Dec 2013 - Fr David's Blog #25

Show Day in Kansas City, MO.


Old Town Hotel, Wichita, MO: Tom does a great job packing all our luggage into our hired people carrier. We depart just after 10am with Gregg in the driver's seat and Tom beside him as co-pilot. Fr Martin and I occupy the chairs in the row behind while Fr Eugene takes up the available seat at the rear. The vehicle is quite spacious and accommodates all five of us very comfortably with plenty of elbow and leg room. After negotiating our way through the suburbs of Wichita, we connect with the main road for Kansas City.

The landscape for much of the way is flat although, for a short time at least, the gentle undulations of the Flint Hills provide a little variety and contrast to the eye. The temperature has dropped sharply overnight and, while we are unaffected by the heavy snowfalls that have occurred elsewhere, there is some ice on the roadside verges and a light dusting of frost lies upon the fields to either side. The land to left and right and stretching ahead of us for mile upon mile lies uncultivated and fallow. The sparse trees, denuded of foliage, stand out in bold silhouette against the pale grey wintry sky.

There is little traffic on the road. We make good progress and arrive at 1.30pm into Kansas City, MO and are delivered safely to the front door of the Westin Hotel.

It's a remarkable place. Up the escalator there's a tropical waterfall complete with cliff face and giant foliage. From there there’s a passage (called a skywalk) leading to the Crown Center shopping Mall and from there to other places about the city. In other words, it's possible to get about much of this of the city using these skywalks without ever having to step outside into the cold. I know I will have to go exploring at some point.

The Crown Centre is the big attraction here. It's a shopping Centre on three levels. The bottom level has a few shops but is mostly a food mall. The Christmas decorations are all on a grand scale. The Christmas tree is enormous. A humongous, gold-coloured holly wreath dominates the entrance foyer. Through the windows, on the outside of the Center, one can see the dancing water fountains. Every once in a while they perform a little water dance routine that shopper in crowds will stop to watch.

In one place in the Center there is a village made from gingerbread and sweets and icing. A train runs through the village and around the mountain and through tunnels before appearing back in the village. A cable car travels up to the top of a mountain covered with white icing to replicate snow. A hot air balloon has the logo 'Happy Holidays' (whatever happened to 'Christmas'?) and up in the left hand corner of the sky Santa is arriving on his sleigh being pulled by six reindeer.

Elsewhere I come across a cheery looking Santa proclaiming "Countdown to Christmas" while a digital clock counts down the days, hours seconds and minutes. At this moment it's 19 days, 9 hours, 18 minutes and 35 seconds. Of course all this is designed to whip the shoppers up into a buying frenzy. And you can be sure the shoppers will grow more and more frantic as the clock relentlessly ticks down to Zero, Zero, Zero Zero. Then what? What's going to happen then? Oh wait, yes, Santa's coming! Yeah! Joy to the World! Bah, Humbug!

After a full recce of the Center, nothing tempts me except a turkey club thin wheat bagel sandwich - toasted! That will keep the hunger at bay till dinner time. I get back to the Westin and take a few moments to admire and take photos of the impressive waterfall feature. There are two larger than life size wooden soldiers guarding the Christmas tree. That would be our Gene and Marty in disguise then.

We rendezvous at the prearranged hour. Tom has driven from the Theatre and is parked outside the front door  to the hotel, waiting to pick us up. He expertly negotiates the one-way traffic system to bring us to the theatre. Backstage and downstairs, he has set up various rooms. There's a communal room with sandwiches and food and drink. There are three dressing rooms with our names on them. There's a room for the soloist and the band. There's another room for Tom and Gregg to share.

The corridor displays posters of various artistes, musicians and bands that have played that venue before, including our good friend, Shane MacGowan and The Pogues, Leonard Cohen, Country singer Vince Gill, Linda Ronstadt, B B King, Tony Bennett, Morrissey, Celtic Thunder, Gerry Seinfeld, Alanis Morisette and Willie Nelson.

I have time before the soundcheck to explore the main body of the theatre. It is enormous. The dimensions can only really be appreciated by going all the way up and back to the gods and looking down. Way up there at the back, there is a spectacular chandelier bar for the patrons to enjoy at the interval. I take plenty of photos, though in the dim light it's difficult to get one that does this place justice.

The Arvest Bank Theatre at the Midland (Formerly the Midland Theatre) is a 3500-seat theater built in 1927 in French and Italian Baroque. The theater is well known for its over 500,000 feet of gold leaf, five giant Czechoslovakian hand-cut crystal chandeliers, irreplaceable art objects and precious antiques, and spectacular wood and plaster work!

The Midland Theatre re-opened in September 2008, following $28 million in changes to the structure. Among the major changes on tap for the redevelopment, the main-level seating rows have been removed and replaced with a tiered open floor plan that allows for cabaret-style tables and chairs, or standing for general admission events, but for tonight's concert, the conventional rows of seats have been set up - right to the very edge of the stage. The audience in the front rows will have wonderful views of our tonsils and fillings.

The sound check goes pretty well although we need to repeat a couple of intros where the band is a bit insecure. At 6pm dinner is served as is our normal routine before concerts. Frs E&M head off to explore the theatre while I head downstairs to eat. There is a choice of lasagne, penne and meatballs with tomato or marinara sauce, mixed salad, garlic bread, steamed broccoli. I spend the remaining time before the concert in my dressing room resting and preparing mentally for the start of the show.

The concert goes well enough. The audience are mainly of Irish descent. The event has been organised by the Irish Center here in Kansas. The audience are clearly having a great time. They are giving lots of enthusiastic whoops and cheers and shouting out. “Twelve Days” goes down well at the end.

After the show we gather for a post mortem in the communal room and share a refreshing drink before going upstairs to meet the sponsor, MH. We also meet other members of the Irish Center which organised the concert. The meet and greet takes forty-five minutes. There are lots of photos taken.

We meet the retired bishop Raymond Boland who is much revered here. For ten years Bishop led the U.S. Catholic component of the Northern Ireland InterChurch Committee. This Committee, along with their Northern Ireland counterparts, which included our own auxiliary bishop, Tony Farquhar, sponsored the Call for Fair Employment, encouraged international investment and initiated and supported a comprehensive interdenominational program for university students in Northern Ireland, enabling them to receive one year of their business education in the United States. Bishop Boland asks that we convey greetings to bishop Farquhar when we return to Belfast.

We also meet four religious sisters from the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity who are dressed in their long grey habits. One of them, Sr. Karen Cheng, is a harpist. I suggest we could have made use of her talents during the performance of Ave Maria. The sisters very kindly present us with a CD of music they have recorded, which I look forward to hearing when I get home. They ask us for a blessing and immediately drop to their knees to receive it. I ask them to remember us in their prayers which they agree to do and they ask us to return the favour.

After seeing the blessing of the sisters, many who comes up to speak to us subsequently ask for a blessing too. We also receive prayer requests as well as requests for autographs. I am delighted to receive several heartfelt compliments about my own singing this evening from those who come to greet us.

There are two canons there from the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest in their long black cappa magnas. They are surprised to learn that we are personally acquainted with their French founders, Giles Wach and Philippe Mora, from our time in Rome and that they used to invite us to the Palazzo Massimo alle Colonne to sing each year at a special mass.

One of the canons is from Saarland, the South west province of Germany. I exchange a few words with him in German and receive a nice compliment about my fluency. I'm glad the German conversation isn't too drawn out as it would only expose my lack of fluency! Stop while the going's good! No point, I suppose, in spoiling a good first impression!

When the meeting finishes it is 11.30pm. We go back to our dressing rooms, change, pack up and drive back to the Westin Hotel. There's time to relax together in the lounge for a while. I'm the first to head up to bed and the others follow shortly after.

Review of the Kansas Concert: "The Priests bless Kansas City with their presence


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4 Dec 2013 - Fr David's Blog #24

Show Day in Wichita, KS.

Old Town Hotel, Wichita: We all meet up at 8.45am for a buffet breakfast (scrambled eggs and boiled ham). Fr Eugene is off this morning to get his hair chopped. Fr Martino is planning to just 'be' and I am planning to return to bed and try to get another hour's kip.

That all being done, I settle down to catch up with the tour diary for our website blog. First, some interesting and quirky facts about Wichita that I have gleaned from cursory internet research!

Wichita is the largest city in the U.S. state of Kansas. Founded in 1863 (100 hundred years before yours truly was born), the first permanent settlement in Wichita was a collection of grass houses inhabited by the Wichita Native American tribe. Haven't we come a long way!

Incorporated into the Union in 1870, one of the signatories on the town charter was a lone woman, the town laundry operator, Catherine "The Widow" McCarty, whose elder teenage son, after leaving Wichita, would become the infamous gunman, Billy the Kid. Do you think Widow McCarthy might have been married to an Irishman?

The city began as a trading post on the Chisholm Trail, a trail used in the late 19th century to drive cattle overland from ranches in Texas to the Kansas railheads which would then transport cattle to the eastern markets and from this it has derived its nickname "Cowtown”.

That legacy lives on today. In a conversation we had with our 19 year old waiter at dinner last night, he conveyed his boredom with Wichita and his desire to see the world, especially Ireland where his family originally came from. He said "there's not much to see here in Wichita unless you are interested in hearing a few cows go 'moo'! There's plenty of that!"

Back in the 19th century Wichita's neighbouring town on the opposite (west) bank of the Arkansas River, Delano, a village of saloons and brothels, had a particular reputation for lawlessness, largely accommodating the rough, visiting cattlemen. The east (Wichita) side of the river, however, was kept more civil, thanks to numerous well-known lawmen who passed through, employed to help keep the rowdy cowboys in line. Among those was Wyatt Earp, best known for his part in the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral and as one of the Old West's "toughest and deadliest gunmen of his day."

In the 1920s and 1930s, businessmen and aeronautical engineers established a number of successful aircraft manufacturing companies in Wichita including Beechcraft, Cessna, and Stearman Aircraft. The city transformed into a hub of U.S. aircraft production and became known as "The Air Capital of the World". Beechcraft, Cessna, and other firms including Boeing, Learjet, Bombardier and Spirit AeroSystems continue to operate factories in Wichita today, and the city remains a major centre of the U.S. aircraft industry.

Actress Kirstie Alley, known for her role in the TV show Cheers, was born in Wichita.
Actor Don Johnson of Miami Vice lived in Wichita throughout most of his childhood.
Musician Joe Walsh, guitarist and vocalist of The Eagles, is from Wichita.
Pizza Hut was founded in Wichita.

Many people will associate the City of Wichita with the song Wichita Lineman, composed by Jimmy Webb. Webb also wrote among others, 'By the Time I Get To Phoenix' and 'Galveston' and has had songs recorded by Frank Sinatra, Linda Ronstadt, Barbra Streisand and Art Garfunkel.) Wichita Lineman was a huge success for the singer Glenn Campbell.

I am a lineman for the county.
And I drive the mainroad.
Lookin' in the sun for another overload.
I hear you singing in the wire.
I can hear you thru the whine.
And the Wichita Lineman,
is still on the line.
...

You can check it out on YouTube here.

In a recent interview, Jimmy Webb commented, “I’ve spent 15 years doing 'By The Time I Get to Phoenix' and 'Wichita Lineman', and I just can’t do it any more.” I can tell you some of us are chomping at the bit to give it a go. We've all been humming it over the past day or do. Perhaps it's time to give it a "Priestly" version. What do you think???

Okay then, maybe not!
:)

Tonight’s concert venue, The Orpheum Theatre, opened in 1922 and was considered to be the first “atmospheric theatre” in the United States: It was designed to invoke a garden of old Andalusia - its entire design, including that of the asbestos curtain, was that of a Spanish garden or court! The magnificent 42 ft (13m) high by 40 ft (12m) wide proscenium arch is the main feature of the auditorium. The sidewalls of the auditorium were accented by niches with mock tile roofs, grills and wooden lattice arches across the ceiling to create a courtyard effect.

By the time it closed in 1974 it was an adult film venue (with the potential for asbestos poisoning I would think!) and the structure had considerably deteriorated. After remaining dark for 17 years, the theatre was bought by a group of investors and extensive renovations began. Originally the Orpheum held 1,700 seats; by today it seats 1,280. Check out the pics I've posted on Twitter and Facebook.

Tonight we are looking forward very much to meeting up with J. (a very successful concert pianist and recording artist, and her daughter A.). They have been in frequent contact with us over the past few years. We met them in Dallas on our concert tour last year. J. has had some quite serious health issues to deal with in the interim and we had been praying for her. I'm delighted to report that she has recovered very well and will be able to attend the concert tonight.

In the afternoon I decide to venture out and get a bit of daylight and fresh air. I intend to walk back up to the shopping zone that we visited yesterday and browse the shops. I'm wearing my fleece and black puffer jacket just in case it's chilly. I stick my nose out the door and realise it's more than chilly, it's icy cold. No way am I going out if it's like that. I withdraw my nose quickly back into the warmth and check for frostbite. No. Still intact, thank God. Well, it is my best feature after all! ;-)

I decide instead to explore the hotel and specifically to look at all the old black and white photos depicting Wichita in the 1930s. They give a fascinating insight into the fashions and lifestyle of the period. I'm delighted to come across one showing a crowd of men clinging to the telegraph/electricity pole in a Main Street in Wichita. They are the original Wichita linemen - employees of the electricity company on a corporate day out and posing for a unique photo, decades before Jimmy Webb or Glen Campbell were even thought of.

Soon it's time to depart for the Orpheum. Emily our guest artiste is having her soundcheck and is sounding very well. Our own soundcheck goes reasonably smoothly too.

Dinner has been brought in from outside and was delivered and set out a good half hour before we finished our soundcheck. Tom is anxious to get us downstairs ASAP before it gets completely cold. By the time we get there it is room temperature, but very flavoursome all the same. Chicken breast in a creamy garlic sauce, steamed carrots and broccoli, ham mashed potato, penne with mushrooms and olives. There is also a dark crusty white bread loaf that I really love. That bread, a lump of strong cheese and a glass of vino rosso would do me beautifully any day.

There is some time afterwards to go for a wander around the theatre to take some photos. I meet an attendant who tells me that her choir practice in The Church of the Magdalene was cancelled this evening to allow choir members to attend the concert. I stumble across a meeting of all the members of staff gathered together in the atrium getting their orders from the theatre manager for the evening. It makes for a good photo op.

At the back of the theatre there is a woman selling CDs 1,2,3,4 and the Armagh concert DVD. I buy one for $20 to get signed by all of us to send as a gift to RG as a surprise Christmas gift. I only have $10 on me. Fr Martin kindly lends me the other $10. I must remember to give it back. That's why I'm writing it down.

The first half of the concert goes very well although I'm not hearing too much of myself in the wedges and need to send a message to Matt at the sound desk to up the volume in my wedge.

The second half with the Christmas songs is a bit of a blast. It's going down a great with the audience. We make a few cracks about Dorothy and the a Wizard of Oz. Fr Eugene's the Lion, I'm the scarecrow and Fr Martin's the Tin Man. The audience love it. We also have a little Wichita Lineman moment with Gregg from Naaashville doing his stuff on the pi-an-o.

At the end of the night we have everybody up on their feet doing the 12 Days of Christmas. One elderly lady near the front is doubled over with laughter.

Afterwards the theatre manager reported that at least 50 people spoke to after the show to say that he absolutely must have us back next year. He himself commented that as theatre manager there are times when he just wants the artist or band to finish so he can get home, but tonight that wasn't the case, he didn't want it to end. I think we can take that as genuine affirmation.

We have a meet and greet for about fifty people after the show. It is just great to see J. there and looking so well. After some photos it's back to the hotel for a quick relax and  post mortem and then bed. We've another show tomorrow. Kansas, here we come!


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3 Dec 2013 - Fr David's Blog #23


Travel Day - From Houston to Wichita, KS.

Tremont Hotel, Galveston: We assemble in the lobby for a 10am departure for Houston airport. We have acquired a very spacious van with comfortable, upholstered, reclining seats that can accommodate all six of us and our luggage. We have to make a bit of a detour to drop Peter D off at Houston Hobby airport. He is flying up to Baltimore to spend a couple of days with Jed S and then return to Washington DC to spend a few days with his son, Richard, before returning home on the 10th Dec.

Once again we find ourselves at Houston airport. It has become a real hub for us in the past week or so as we have criss-crossed between various concert locations. It seems very familiar to us now. At check in we have the same old bother of swapping items from one over weight suitcase into another one which has still some spare capacity. After bobbing up and down for a short while on a little Noddy-style train we catch the flight to Wichita. It takes about two and a half hours and I manage to catch a few zeds.

On arrival at Wichita, we pick up a good sized hire car that will be our mode of transport for the next few days until the end of the tour. Gregg becomes the driver and Tom, the navigator. It's only about 20mins drive to our digs for the next two nights, The Old Town Hotel, which is situated, appropriately enough, in the Old Town section of the City. The lobby and public areas are all decorated with Christmas trees and an abundance of red flowering poinsettia. The atmosphere is very festive altogether.

At 5pm, EMD, DEM, MED, DME, MDE, EDM etc. venture outside to get our bearings and explore the immediate area. It's the historic heart of the city that in recent years has experienced some significant regeneration. Old buildings that had fallen into disrepair and decrepitude have been given a face lift and a new lease of life. (After nearly four weeks on tour, I'm starting to feel I could do with a bit of that myself)!

After scouting around for somewhere to get a bite of dinner, we settle on the Old Chicago restaurant. Essentially it's a pizza bar with lots of large, wall-mounted, flat screen TVs (I counted 16 in all) so that customers can eat pizza, drink beer and watch TV - all at the same time. Lovely!

Actually there are two sections, the bar side and the dining side. We choose the latter. I go for an appetiser of six buffalo chicken wings in a firebrand sauce. When they arrive, they turn out to be not chicken wings at all but contorted and misshapen goujons masquerading as wings. Amazing! I can't complain about the flavour though. Nothing gets left.

Main course is an 8inch thin base pizza with mozzarella, pepperoni and jalapeños. Hot stuff and very tasty. There are some salad items on the menu but by and large it's a menu designed for obesity. There's butter and lots of cheese and sausage and fatty meat and fries in practically every recipe. If someone were to eat here regularly, they'd be the size of a small house.

Our server for the meal is a very pleasant young man who picks up on our accents and wants to know where we're from. When we say, 'Ireland', he says he thought so at first, but when we didn't order any beer he was confused because, as everybody knows, the Irish are renowned for being enthusiastic drinkers. We assure him that in other circumstances we can hold our own in that respect but, as we have some business commitments next day, we are being 'good'.

He is curious to know the reason for our visit to Wichita. He has assumed we are here in connection with the aircraft industry, which is very big here. When we explain we are a band touring the USA and Canada, he is sooooo impressed. When we tell him we've been travelling on a tour bus, that just makes us seem even cooler. 'Just like a rock band', he says, 'Gee, that's so cool'. I say, 'yeah, just like a rock band'. I almost say 'yeah - just like a rock band, dude'.

Back at the hotel we link up with Tom and Gregg who, as it turns out, have been dining in the Old Chicago too, only on the bar side. We relax for a while in the lounge. There's a jazz piano and bass guitar duo playing and it's pleasant to sit there and take it all in. I'm tired after all the travelling and get an early night.


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2 Dec 2013 - Fr David's Blog #22

Day off in Galveston, TX.

I meet up with Peter downstairs in the lobby and we head out to find a local diner where we can get breakfast. There are surprisingly few places around that serve breakfast and after much walking about without success we ask advice and are pointed in the direction of the one establishment around that does. We have two fried eggs (over medium) with bacon, southern potatoes, toasted wheaten bread and a decaf coffee. It's a beautiful morning, sunny and WARM. So warm that I need to go back to the hotel and ditch my fleece and change into a short sleeved T-shirt. Then we’re off again to do a bit of exploring and sightseeing.

Our first stop is to go and have a look at the enormous cruise ship that is dominating the skyline for about four blocks.

Then we watch a film giving first hand, eyewitness accounts of the devastating hurricane that destroyed most of the homes and buildings in Galveston in 1900 with the loss of around 6000 lives. It described the business of gathering up the corpses and how they were weighted and sunk at sea. But the strong waves brought the bodies back into the shore so they needed to be gathered up again and the only way to dispose of them was by piling driftwood and debris on top of them and setting them on fire. All able bodied men were pressed into this work at gunpoint and forced to do it under threat of execution if they refused.

It was fascinating to learn how the citizens of the city worked to rebuild the city afterwards by creating a 17 foot sea wall that runs for about three miles and also raised the level of the entire city by pumping millions of tons of sand and silt into the ground and in the process raising the surviving buildings, including the cathedral, whole and intact. It was the most amazing feat of engineering.

After that we go and take a look at a tall ship what is moored in the harbour. There are people very high up in the rigging working away there on tying up the sails. After that we walk right across to the other side of the city and the island (it takes about half an hour) stopping off to visit the Galvez Hotel and then going for a paddle in the sea in the Gulf of Mexico and taking a walk along the beach as far as the Pleasure Pier.

There is a seafood restaurant directly across the road from the pier which has a terrace on the second floor overlooking the pier and the beach. We take a table in a sunny spot and spend a couple of very pleasant hours  chatting about anything and everything while enjoying the view along with some 'chips' and salsa and a bottle or two of Lone Star Texan beer.

After a while it starts to get very breezy and a little cool so we leave there and start to walk back across town in the direction of our hotel. There are some magnificent homes to be seen along the way. Arriving at Strand Street, we explore some of the shops but make no purchases.

I am keen to visit the Catholic Cathedral before it closes but when we find it, the main entrance is closed off because of the renovations taking place. There are lights on inside so we think there must be a side entrance we can use. I see a small side door which I open and immediately an alarm sounds. I've set of the security / intruder alarm by opening that door. We continue to walk around all sides of the cathedral and all the while this alarm is sounding. I half expect the police to come squalling up in their squad cars to investigate. I can see the headlines already, "Irish Priest arrested for attempting  to break into Galveston Cathedral".

Back at the hotel we meet up with the rest of the gang. Everyone seems to have had a pleasant, relaxing day. We all go out together for dinner. EMD, Tom, Gregg and Peter. We order a selection of starters that we can share including baked oysters, bruschetta, arancini and spicy calamari. For main course I choose baked melanzane accompanied by spaghetti with meatballs in tomato sauce. The craic is good and The Priests pick up the tab for everyone. It's a small way of expressing some appreciation for the great work that Tom and Gregg are doing and, of course, to show some hospitality to Peter who has made a long and expensive trip to be with us for this short time in Galveston.

Back at the hotel we spend some time in the lounge continuing our various conversations and enjoying the company into the early hours.


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1 Dec 2013 - Fr David's Blog #21

Show Day in Galveston, TX.

I am down for Brekkie at 8.25am. Martin is there before me and is already tucking in to his bowl of cereal. I order the egg white omelette with mushrooms and spinach that I had enjoyed yesterday. The bagel with Philadelphia cream cheese and smoked salmon is too good to pass up so I have that as well although I choose the wrong king of bagel - cinnamon and raisin, with the result that the sweet and savoury clash somewhat. And a decaf coffee. By 8.45am were on the road South for Galveston.

I'm looking forward to meeting up this afternoon/ evening with Peter. He is flying in from Maryland where he has been visiting with his son, Rick, and his son's in-laws. Peter is flying into Houston Hobby airport. He lands at 3pm. It will be a mad dash for him to get to Galveston in time for the start of our concert at 4pm. I don't think he can make it in that time even though he's only got carry on luggage so there will be no waiting at a carousel on arrival. We'll have a ticket waiting for him in any case and with any luck he'll catch the second half. Our concert today is a matinee so there'll be plenty of time afterwards to catch up.

Arriving onto Galveston Island, we notice that the land is very low-lying. Many of the houses are built on stilts with the living quarters on the second floor. This is a precaution against flooding. Apparently Galveston has also suffered from hurricanes and indeed we see some evidence of that in buildings that are missing parts of their roof. We arrive at the hotel in Galveston at around 10.20am. After checking in we waste no time in arranging to meet up in one of our rooms to celebrate mass for the first Sunday of Advent. Hard to believe it's December already and the beginning of a new Church Year.

We have a short time to rest before it's time to head to the venue for our sound check. When we arrive, we note that the extension to the Grand Opera House was built in 1989, the year  that Martin and were ordained. So like us, the Grand 1894 Opera House will be celebrating a silver jubilee of its own next year. Then opera house manager is there to greet us on arrival. Her name is Maria and she is obviously delighted to welcome us. She tells us she tried unsuccessfully to get us last year. She is Catholic and used to sing in her local choir. She now cleans in the local Episcopalian church and listens to the music of The Priests in her headphones, singing along while she does her work.

Danica Dawn Johnston is already in the middle of her sound check and it's not long before it's our turn. We top and tail the second half of the programme where the band intros were a little unclear last night. It can be a difficult and challenging process finding the balance and yet it's so important that we get it right because it can often effect the on stage experience of each one of us and whether that is a good or not so good experience. So we have to negotiate with one another and also with the sound engineer about volume and levels and blend - a bit more of this, a bit less of that, etc. It takes time and we only have an hour to do all that while topping and tailing the songs with Gregg and the band.

This is day 25 of our Tour and concert number 14. After this we have only three more to go: Wichita, Kansas and Omaha. The time on tour seems to have flown by. We are now into our fourth week and our return home is on the horizon.

Tonight's concert is taking place in a special venue: The Grand 1894 Opera House is an historic theatre of Romanesque Revival style (originally for 1,700 seats; today for about 1,000 seats), currently operated as a Not-for-profit performing arts theatre. As the name suggests, it was built in 1894 and has stood through notable hurricanes, including the famous “Galveston Hurricane of 1900”.

For much of the 20th century it was used as a movie theatre, then (after years of neglect) it underwent a major restoration between 1975 and 1990. Unfortunately it suffered major damage and flooding during Hurricane Ike in 2008, but was rebuilt. Today it is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

The concert goes extremely well. Everyone's delighted. Peter arrives in time to catch the last three songs in the first half and all of the second half. He bounces round to the dressing rooms backstage during the interval and we are all delighted to see him.

We meet some of the sponsors afterwards and are invited to join them for  dinner at a local restaurant. There are several other clergy there including the local catholic bishop who is Indian.
We spend a bit of time chatting with them before returning to the hotel. No one seems ready to go to bed just yet so we assemble in the lounge to chat about the day we've had, the concert and the people we met.


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30 Nov 2013 - Fr David's Blog #20

Show Day in Spring, Houston.

After a good nights sleep I head down for breakfast at around 10.30 am. I am joined not long after by M&E and lastly Tom. I have some fresh fruit and an egg white omelette with mushrooms and spinach and a cup of decaf coffee.

Some emails and tweets come through from various fans to say that they are having trouble accessing our website. I send a quick message through to our website gurus to alert them to the problem just in case they haven't realised already. I also reply to those individuals to thank them for the info and let them know we are following it up. The website this tour has been great and I know so many people have enjoyed using it to keep up to date with our daily progress.

I receive a message from a friend to tell me about a fire at her property which threatened to consume the chicken coop and most of the wood supplies for the winter. Thankfully, with quick action and a lot of hard work, disaster was averted and the coop and some of the wood was saved. I hope she will be able to replenish supplies, either from her own resources or with the help of good neighbours. She has very kindly placed us under the protection of our Lady of Guadalupe. We will be particularly glad of that as today we start into a post-Thanksgiving repertoire which involves some of the Christmas songs we will be singing in Belfast and Derry in late December. So there's a bit of revision to be done today.

I have had some contact today from a family relation. We met at the McVeigh Family reunion in Carry near Ballycastle during the Summer. He has tickets for the show in Spring, Houston tonight and has contacted me to see if it will be possible for us to meet up. He tells me he has 43 acres north of Houston about 45 minutes – where he lives. It’s woods surrounded by cow pasture. Fr Eugene and Fr Martin and I are welcome to come up and wander around or relax in the quiet.

Given the necessity of rehearsing our new concert repertoire ahead of tonight's concert, I explain that, unfortunately, I don't think a visit to his home would be feasible on this occasion, much a so would love to do that. So we are meeting for lunch at around 1pm (minus Frs E&M who have other plans for the day). Our lunch will need to be short though, because I've got to get back to the hotel to travel to the concert venue at 3.30pm.

It's a beautiful day outside. The Sun is shining and it for the first time on our tour it actually feels warm enough to go out just in a shirt with no need for a jumper or jacket. We end up at a Texas Land & Cattle restaurant which specialises in steaks. The centrepiece of the restaurant interior is the head of a massive Texas Longhorn Cow mounted on the wall above an open fire. I'm aware that I'll be eating later this evening so choose a burger with accompanying mixed salad starter and no fries and just a glass of water.  

I'm dropped back to the hotel shortly after 2.30pm. I have some things to do to get ready before we leave for the venue at 3.30pm. The Centrum at Cypress Creek (Spring, Houston) is a complex that includes a large church, a community centre and a large and impressive concert auditorium. Along the road to Cypress Creek there are some seriously impressive and awe inspiring mansions. You can't help wondering what kind of people live in such enormous homes. There's clearly a lot of money in this part of the world.

The Centrum is immediately familiar to us from our visit there last year. The same people are there to welcome us. The guest soloist, Danica Dawn Johnston, who also sang with us last year, is there too and has an effusive and enthusiastic Texan welcome for us. Old friends reunited. The sound check is a little challenging and it takes a bit of time to get the balances right. Things are a little tense as this is our first concert with the post-Thanksgiving / Christmas repertoire so it's a bit like starting out on tour all over again. It will take time for this to settle down.

The first half of the concert is unchanged and it goes well. The band is excellent. The Hornpipe goes at a great lick and is very exciting. The second half gets off to a rocky start with Gregg playing the piano intro for Silent Night while the strings simultaneously play the intro for Ding Dong Merrily on High in a different key, while we stand facing the audience and exchanging with one another some confused and bemused and bewildered glances. After what seems an eternity, the Nashville cacophony grinds to a halt when Gregg sets up the correct music. After that things go fairly well.

The audience are wildly enthusiastic, jumping to their feet and cheering as soon as the last song ends. They leave us in no doubt that an encore will be demanded. The Twelve Days of Christmas with our crazy antics both surprises and delights and send everyone out on a high, including ourselves.

Back in the free room there's a meet and greet for about twenty people. It's well organised. People queue, shake hands, pose for pictures and then move on. It doesn't take too long. It's customary for artists performing at the Centrum to decorate a plate which is later displayed in the hall. Eugene kicks off with a drawing of some silver bells. Martin does the Christmas tree with tinsel and baubles while I do the colouring and gilding and circular zigzag pattern that gives it it's royal doultonesque finish. It's a decent collaborative effort.

When we arrive back to the hotel, we each head to our separate rooms. No carousing for us tonight as there's work to be done tomorrow in Galveston.


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29 Nov 2013 - Fr David's Blog #19

Travel Day - from New Orleans to Houston.
Start of Christmas Shows.

We must leave for the airport at 11.30am. By 8.45am I am ready to hunt down an AT&T to see about replacing my lost iPhone. Luckily there is one just a short distance from the hotel. I'm the first customer through the door at 9am. My conversation is brief, but long enough to learn that I can only buy an iPhone here if I am taking out a contract with them as my service provider. That's no good. I already have a two year contract with Vodafone at home.

I'm advised to go to the Apple store at Lakeside Shopping Centre. This involves a taxi ride of around 10-15 minutes. At the Apple store I'm told if I buy the phone I can't power it up till I get my new SIM card from Vodafone, otherwise the phone will be locked and I won't be able to use it. So no success there either. I have to resign myself to the fact that I won't have the use of an iPhone for the remainder of our tour. This is a real inconvenience, because my iPhone is also my camera. I can't take photos now for the rest of the tour, to have as memories of the trip or to post up to Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.

We meet just before 11am to go up to the Intercontinental Club lounge where Tom has set up a Skype interview with a radio station in Omaha, Nebraska, to promote our forthcoming concert there. It's amazing that technology allows us to be in a hotel in New Orleans and see our radio presenter hosts on the screen and chat to them in such a way that their listeners are able to hear us live on the radio in their homes or wherever.

By 11.45 we are in a taxi en route to the Louis Armstrong New Orleans Airport for our flight to Houston. I doze on the flight so it passes quickly. At Houston we meet up with Gregg who has flown in from his family Thanksgiving celebration in Arizona. We taxi to the hotel where we will be staying for the next two nights.

Today is Black Friday when there are sales all over the USA and people go on a shopping frenzy. At around 6pm we take the hotel shuttle to the local Mall which turns out to be packed with shoppers. We spend almost two hours browsing the shops. Frs E&M pick up some Christmas bells and Santa hats that we can use in our Christmas shows here in the USA.

We take the shuttle back to the hotel and head out to the Bonefish Grill for a bite of supper. The service there is really excellent and the young man who serves us is very helpful in explaining the menu and attending our table during the meal. The driver of the shuttle bus who works for the hotel where we are staying has given us three vouchers for free starters which turns out to be a meal in itself. The meal was delicious.

By 10.30pm we return to the hotel. Tom is sitting there in the lobby printing out music for the band for tomorrow. I'm worn out and ready for bed.


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28 Nov 2013 - Fr David's Blog #18

Day Off in New Orleans - American Thanksgiving Day.

This morning I can't  find my iPhone. I look everywhere I can think of, at least five times just to be sure. I check pockets, bags, under the bed, under chairs, down the back of furniture. No sign of it. In my mind I retrace my movements from the previous evening. The last time I remember having it was in the hotel. I visit it and make enquiries to see if one has been handed in. No joy. I telephone the other locations with the same result. All this puts me in a bad mood. My iPhone has all my photos, my contact addresses, diary, etc, etc. Now, they are all backed up on iCloud and so are not lost irretrievably. Still I feel bereft not having access to them.

I tell the boys my bad news. They are very sympathetic and try to be as helpful as they can be but it's not making me feel much better. I'm in no form for browsing the shops or doing any sightseeing. I head back to the hotel and spend the afternoon searching everywhere I can think of, even though I've done it countless times already. Still no joy.

It's Thanksgiving Day. We have arranged to go out for a bite to eat together that evening. We end up going to Mrs B's and have to queue for around an hour before getting a table. Turns out B stands for Brennan. I guess there's an Irish connection here. Our waitress is a very cheerful and chatty young woman called Colleen who explains she has a sister who runs a restaurant on Bourbon Street and they will meet up after work (around 11pm) to celebrate their own Thanksgiving dinner after their long days work.

In Mrs B's there is a set menu with limited choice. Frs M&E are up for extending the evening in the Monteleone Hotel which is just across the road. My mood on account of my lost iPhone hasn't lifted all day so I give my apologies and mosey back alone to get an early night.


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27 Nov 2013 - Fr David's Blog #17

Day Off in New Orleans.

We had a faaab concert in New Orleans! When we all regroup the next day, we spend the time browsing around and sightseeing in the French Quarter, enjoying all the sights and sounds of this colourful district.

We wander into a shop specialising in luxury fountain pens and quality spiriting paper. We get into conversation with the sales woman who is only too pleased to show us the most expensive item in the shop, a Jean Pierre Lapine designed and crafted fountain pen with a nautical theme. Costing $7000 it has 196 rivets and is studded with real emerald, ruby and sapphire stones. Part of the barrel of the pen is made from metal that was salvaged from the sunken Titanic. This French pen maker commissioned divers to obtain the material he planned to use in his pens. Consequently they are from a limited edition range and very unique.

Our next stop is Broussard's Restaurant, also on Conti Street. The original chef/owner of this establishment, New Orleans born but French trained, has a fondness for everything Napoleonic and has imbued the restaurant with emblems and other means to reinforce the emperor's imperial style. Their menus is a dark brown leatherette book with the letter E embossed on gold surrounded by an imperial laurel crown. It's now become our Fr E's iPhone screen saver. Very grand!

You can't possibly have a night out in New Orleans and not sample the wonderful jazz music for which this city is so renowned. For that we head to Irvin Mayfield's Jazz Playhouse at the Royal Sonesta Hotel on Bourbon Street. We are entertained there by the Nojo Sextet. Not being a jazz aficionado, while enjoyable, I find this style of music just a little challenging. Still, it's a good experience and I wouldn't have missed it.

We've been told that the real night life is to be found on Frenchmans street. It's a bit of a walk but there's plenty of interest to be seen en route. By the time we get there, things are quieter than we expected. So without delay it's a quick walk up Bourbon St. and home to bed. It's been a great day.


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25 Nov 2013 - Fr David's Blog #16


Travel Day – from Corpus Christi to New Orleans via Houston.

We've just arrived at the airport in Corpus Christi having taken the shuttle bus for our hotel. News comes through from our manager concerning the choirs that we are attempting to book to support us at our two Christmas concerts planned for Derry and Belfast. Good news for Derry.  Codetta would be delighted to accompany us, and can accommodate us to the tune of 20 to low 30s amount of people.

Belfast: News also good. A friend from Dominican College thinks she can get us a 40 piece choir together. I'm delighted. There's a strong music department there, our friend is a great head of department. I'm confident she will be able to produce the goods. (Incidentally, she is also a relation of mine. She played the harp at my ordination in Ballymena way back in 1989. Did I tell you I'm celebrating my 25th anniversary next year?)

By a very interesting coincidence, Nuala Murray, our friend from Cappella Caeciliana who composed “Ring Out Your Praise”, which is receiving so much positive feedback from our US and Canadian audiences, also works part time in Dominican College as a peripatetic teacher of voice. She will no doubt be involved in preparing the girls' choir for our Christmas concert.

Wouldn't it be wonderful to include her piece in our Christmas concert so that she could hear it performed live for the first time? I think as well as being a real thrill for her it would also be fitting recognition of her not insignificant contribution to the success of our US/Canada Tour. I must run that idea by the lads to see what they think.

We have a bit of turbulence on the flight from Corpus Christi to Houston but nothing quite so scary as our initial arrival from Chicago into Billy bishop airport in Toronto. When we arrive into Houston there is an announcement that we must wait in the plane until the excess hand luggage which was booked into the hold at the boarding gate is offloaded so that people can claim their bags at the bottom of the gangway on exiting the plane. So we wait. And wait.

When we eventually get off, there are no bags there for us to pick up. One elderly man, on finding that his bag is not there, becomes extremely agitated because, like ourselves, he has a connecting flight to catch and a very tight turnaround time. Suddenly there is a massive bang which startles me and all the people standing round. He has given a metal trash can an almighty kick in frustration. Then the situation starts to escalate. He comes up to a male airline employee and starts ranting at him in a very loud and angry voice. The employee attempts to calm him and keep him inside the terminal. It's quite a scene.

Tom instructs us to move quickly to terminal C, gate 20, where our flight to New Orleans is already boarding. This entails a fast paced walk through terminal B and then a short train journey between terminals followed by an even faster walk on the other side. While Frs EMD head for an escalator and get stuck behind people already riding it, Tom strides up the stairs, taking them two at a time and manages by the skin of his teeth to catch the train to Terminal C before the door closes. We miss it by the skin of ours and have to wait precisely 90 seconds for the next one to arrive. Tom will have rushed on ahead to tell the staff at the boarding gate that we are on our way and are not far behind.

We board the plane immediately with no waiting whatsoever. I'm in seat 10D but all the overhead bins are already full and I have to go all the way back to row 22 before I find space for my of board luggage. The attendant is trying to find some extra space in the overhead bins by taking out one bag to make room for another. The lady sitting directly in front of me, who owns the bag being removed asks the attendant to be careful not to break her 'chocolate Turkeys'. I should have guessed that it would be possible to have chocolate turkeys for Thanksgiving.

Turns out our flight is delayed so we don't get airborne until 3.20pm. The flight attendant announces that we should expect some severe turbulence during this flight and that it may not be possible for the refreshments trolley to come round. Fingers crossed the turbulence won't be THAT bad! Actually, after our late night celebrations last night and our fire evacuation escapade, I'm resolved to be 'good' today and tomorrow. So even if the trolley does come round it'll be just plain old aqua for me. Impressed?

After a remarkably smooth landing and picking up our baggage from the carousel, we take a couple of taxis to the hotel where we will be staying for the next few days. Tom secures us all an upgrade to a balcony room and access to the Club Lounge where we are able to enjoy the complimentary snacks and drinks.

We meet a couple from Houston who are taking a short Thanksgiving break in New Orleans. The guy is English, from Southampton, I think he said. But he is married to a Japanese woman and has been living in the USA for many years. He informs us that he studied at the University of Ulster in Northern Ireland in the late sixties. He is interested to hear that I was the chaplain there for several years, though it turns out he was at Coleraine whereas I was based at the Jordanstown campus.

They are intrigued to know that we are a Priest band and that we are in New Orleans for a concert tomorrow night in Loyola University. They waste no time in checking us out on YouTube and are evidently sufficiently impressed by what they see to go online immediately to book tickets for the show.

At around 8pm we head down to the third floor where there is a piano. We need to spend some time with Gregg going through the Christmas music that will form the repertoire for the second half of our Post Thanksgiving shows. Apparently after Thanksgiving everything starts to get very Christmassy so even at the end of November and in early December, a Christmas themed concert will be perfectly normal and almost expected here. By 10pm we have gone through everything. It's a useful process really because it points up where we need to focus our attention over the coming days.

Gregg has never been to New Orleans before so he and Tom head out to together to some watering hole where jazz will be played. Frs EMD decide an early night is the better option for us on a night before a concert. So here I am tucked up in bed by 10.30. Time to settle down, hopefully for a good sleep. Nitey nite Y'all.


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25 Nov 2013 - Fr David's Blog #15


In Corpus Christi.

Oops! Spoke too soon there! Not quite so fast...

Corpus Christi TX. At 3am we are woken by a fire alarm. All guest must leave their rooms immediately and make their way down to street level using the stairs. I jump out of bed. Must decide quickly ... Do I just go as I am? It's cold outside. I'll need something warm. Throw on jeans. Fleece. Slippers or shoes? Slippers or shoes? Slippers or shoes? Decide! Okay Shoes! If there really is a fire, it's not going to claim my iPhone and iPad. No way, José. They're coming with me! And my wallet. And my credit cards. Right that's me sorted. 60 seconds max! I'm outta here.

In the corridor there's a bit of confusion as people in various states of disarrayed attire mill about looking for the entrance to the stairway. A sign saying "STAIRS" would be a big help! Okay there's one that says EXIT. Let's try that one. Yup. That'll do. Down we go seven flights. I'm glad I'm not on the 26th floor!

We are evacuated out onto the street. There's a female employee of the hotel pulling on a high viz. vest and waving a torch to point the way across the street. It's freeeeeeezing outside! Some poor people are in their jammies. Some are in shorts and flip flops. Boy, am I glad I threw on my fleece.

The emergency fire services come screaming up to the scene. Inside, people could be trapped and suffocating on thick, rancid, choking smoke and dying the most horrific deaths in their beds or there could be an elderly or disabled person still struggling halfway down the emergency stairs in the dark. But outside were all chirpy chirpy, enjoying the drama and chatting happily with complete strangers.

I have my iphone and snap a few pics, you know, just in case CNN or Reuters or some other such news media agency want to pay me a small fortune for some misery photos tomorrow. Well, don't mock! You never know! Of course I'd give it all away to charity!

I seek out a spot around the corner where the wind is less biting and end up chatting to a guy who is hugging himself and shivering in his jammies. He picks up on my Irish accent and asks what brings me to Corpus Christi. I tell him all about our concert tour, where we've been and where we will be going to next. When I say we will be going to Galveston, he perks up and asks will we be singing in The Grand 1894 Opera House. I say, "we will indeed". Then he's all excited because his wife worked there and he knows lots of people who still work there.

People are all starting to move back into the front lobby of the hotel. I move along with the pack in that direction. All of a sudden a hotel employee calls out, instructing everyone in a very firm tone to stay outside and NOT to return to the hotel. But our Tom is having none of it. He shouts back in an 'I'm taking no nonsense from you mate' attitude that the hotel employees are all in there standing in the lobby and why should we all be out here standing in the cold. I'm with Tom. I’m going in. We all do. People power! Yeah!

It's great to be back in the warmth. The fire officers are still there moving purposefully about through the assembled crowd, checking for any evidence of a fire. I meet up with E&M who in the best Downton Abbey style have come out in their bathrobes and slippers and are looking as dapper as one might in the circumstances. Spirits are high and we have a great laugh among ourselves and with a nice Philippino couple standing beside us. They know all about The Priests and are tickled to meet us - and in such circumstances as this - dressed as we are!

The announcement comes that it's safe for us to return to our rooms. There's a mass movement towards the elevators / 'lifts' to you and me. In no time at all were all in our respective chambers and tucked up again in our beds. But at 4.30am I'm still awake. Grrrr!


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24 Nov 2013 - Fr David's Blog #14

Show Day in Corpus Christi.

I wake at 10.15am - thrilled to have had such a long sleep. Frs Eugene and Martin head out at around 10.30am for a bit of sightseeing. I decline the invitation to join them, No.1 cos I'm just awake, No.2 cos it's grey, damp and cold outside, No.3 cos I just fancy having a really lazy day in the warmth and comfort of my hotel room.

At around 12.30pm I head down to the Pavilion Bistro on the second floor for a bite of brunch. On the way in I notice Gregg sitting the bar, having just been served a very healthy looking fruit-based cocktail - little paper umbrella and all! I don't disturb him but make my way past, on into the dining area and am seated at a table overlooking the promenade which runs directly in front of the hotel with the sea beyond. Looking out there, it reminds me of a damp, grey, rainy day in Newcastle, Co. Down if it weren't for the addition of the exotic, tall Palm trees.

I spend a bit of time trying to skype my family. The excitement at home is that my brother Frank's four boys - Shane, Niall, Conall and Ronan - all played for their club, Portglenone, in the Co. Antrim under 21 football final today at Sarsfields GAC in Belfast. They played against Lamh Dhearg, the club from my parish in Hannahstown. I'm SO glad I wasn't there. It would have been nightmare scenario to be torn between my nephews and my parish club! Portglenone ended up as the clear winners. Shane captained the team. Niall was awarded 'man of the match'. My dad would have been inordinately proud of his four Delargy grandsons. We all are exceptionally proud (even though three of them got yellow-carded). A man's gotta do...!

The concert tonight is in Corpus Christi Cathedral. This beautiful church was first established in 1853 as a small and humble church by the name of – wait for it… surprise, surprise! – St. Patrick’ Church! (Due to the large number of Irish immigrants in the parish.) Prior to that there was no Catholic church at all in Corpus Christi and priests would come from far away to minister to the pastoral needs of the Catholics in the area. Because there was no church building, Mass was celebrated in private homes.

Barely 30 years later the first St Patrick’s Church was in severe need of repair though and so in 1882 a second and much larger church was built on the same property. In 1912 St Pius X established the “Diocese of Corpus Christi”, making St Patrick’s the official Cathedral for the new diocese. When major hurricanes hit the area in 1916 and 1919, St Patrick’s provided refuge for those displaced by the storms.

In 1938 the Cathedral was damaged in a fire and it was decided that a new church should be built in Spanish Colonial Revival Style. It was completed in 1940. Pope Pius XII desired the cathedral’s name be changed to “Corpus Christi” and so the name was changed at the time of the dedication from “St Patrick’s Cathedral” to “Corpus Christi Cathedral”. Tonight, we will have, please God, an audience of approx. 2,000 very happy souls listening to us with cheerful hearts!

And indeed tonight we have the most amazing audience we have ever had ANYWHERE IN FIVE YEARS! The cathedral is packed from front to back. After every song there are cries and whoops and whistles and people jumping up and clapping. Whatever about us, the audience are ON FIRE!

We've had some great guest artistes on this tour but tonight we have a really brilliant Philippina soprano (with an Irish missionary grandfather) in Dee Donasco. I don't know if she has anything up on You Tube. But I'd check her out. She was the real thing. We'd love to work with her again if the opportunity arose.

Gregg Mangiafico, our Musical Director, reports that all three solos, Frs EMD, were really great. That's reassuring!

We have a “Meet and Greet” afterwards for about 100 people. Lots of signing DVDs and CDs and programmes etc. They are all SO enthusiastic about the concert and our singing.

It's hard to understand how our music can affect people as strongly/deeply as this! Quite frankly I don't understand it. But what we do is definitely answering a need that many people have and I just have to accept that there is a deeper dynamic at work here. On the basis of the evidence, I have to accept that God is at work through what we are doing. It is clear, in what we do, we are touching people in a most profound way. We are merely vessels of clay serving a deeper purpose. The ultimate working out of what we do, we cannot begin to envisage. God's Will be done!

Our song, “King of Kings”, took on a particular significance today we as performed it on the feast of Christ the King. The audience gave it an amazing reception. Standing ovation!

“How great thou Art” was also hugely popular as was “Ring Out Your Praise”. That one also had people standing! Nuala's song is invariably a real crowd pleaser. And, of course, that pleases us too! I tell the audiences that the song came to Nuala in a dream. I say, "I will leave it to you to make up your own minds if the dream was a sweet dream or a nightmare". They always show it was a sweet dream. I can see us recording this one sometime (assuming that permission is granted)!

Back at the hotel, we are all in the mood to relax and celebrate. There is no concert tomorrow. Everyone's in a great mood after tonight's concert. We, EMDTG, have a couple of really nice bottles of wine and the atmosphere is most convivial. Tonight, all is right with the world. What a great day! God bless one and all.


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22 Nov 2013 - Fr David's Blog #13

Show Day in Waterbury.

On the Bus somewhere en-route to Waterbury - about 7.30am: Today is the 50th anniversary of Belfast-born spiritual giant CS Lewis – widely recognised as one of the greatest Christian apologists of the 20th century. It is also the 50th anniversary of the assassination of America's first catholic President, John F. Kennedy. And thirdly, it is also the Feast Day of St Caecilia and therefore the 18th anniversary of the three of us becoming co-founders of Cappella Caeciliana, who, by the way, have a lovely “Choral Concert by Candlelight” tonight in St Patrick’s Church, Belfast!

I've sent a short message on behalf of The Priests to Fr Michael, the parish priest of St Patrick’s, to be read out during the concert as an expression of our solidarity with our friends and musical colleagues. It reads:

"Greetings to our dear friends in Cappella Caeciliana from Frs Eugene, Martin and David from the Palace Theater in Waterbury, Connecticut, USA where we appear tonight in the 10th of 17 concerts in Canada and the USA. Sending you every good wish for your concert in St Patrick’s tonight on this Feast Day in honour of Saint Caecelia - patron of all singers and musicians. Have a wonderful evening. We hope it will be a great musical and fundraising success for you and for St Patrick’s Parish. God bless.”

And tonight, of course, we will have our own special concert in Waterbury, the tenth of our tour and the seventh concert in seven different cities in the space of eight days. A premiere for us certainly with regard to the sheer quantity of singing involved.

Our venue this evening, the “Palace Theatre”, is a historic building with 2,565 seats. Originally opened in 1922, the Palace Theatre was home to films and vaudeville shows. It operated for nearly 70 years before being closed down in 1987. Thanks to financial help from the state and after undergoing a massive restoration and renovation project (returning it to its original 1920 splendour and also expanding its stage), it reopened again in Nov 2004 – so only a mere nine years ago!

Today it is registered as a “National Historic Treasure” - featuring an eclectic mix of Greek, Roman, Arabic and Federal motifs with a dome ceiling - and its elegant lobbies, crystal chandeliers, gold detailing and huge auditorium, along with its Broadway-sized stage, make it the largest seating capacity theatre of its kind in all of New England … and one of the most striking performing arts spaces in all of the United States! Check out our website for the pics.

We get to spend the rest of the morning and a good part of the afternoon in our rooms at the hotel. There's time to top up on our sleep for an hour or so before doing a phone interview for the Wichita Eagle newspaper.

At 2.45pm I walk across to the Palace Theatre and get myself installed. Frs E&M eventually arrive and we all set off for a walk about town to see some of the accessible sights. We walk to what was formerly the Elton Hotel - now a residential home for the elderly. It was from the balcony of this hotel that President JFK addressed a crowd of around 40,000 in October 1963 not long before his assassination. There is a certain poignancy to standing here on the fiftieth anniversary of his death where he himself stood just over 50 years ago.

A very short distance away is the magnificent Basilica of The Immaculate Conception. We are very fortunate to time our visit during Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament and we are able to spend a short time there.

Back at the theatre we have our sound check as usual at 5pm and as things are going smoothly we finish early at 5.45pm. The band tonight is very good and the acoustics in the theatre are excellent. We are able to spend a little time wandering around taking photos. It is really very sumptuous. Extremely ornate - lots of white marble and gilt - fit for a palace.

Well, it's 20 minutes to show time. I'd better shake a leg and 'get on me' as they say. Report to follow.

Okay....
The concert went very well. We did the full concert programme with nothing left out. Everyone is singing well which is pretty reassuring considering it's our seventh concert in eight days. The blend is great. The soloist, Heather O'Connor, has a lovely voice and does a great job.

The audience respond very well and we have a double standing ovation at the end. So it's been a very satisfactory concert experience in Waterbury. And the venue is really sumptuous. We've nothing like it at home.

After the show we do a meet and greet for about 40 people, among them a few old friends. It's good to see them.

We retire to the tour bus and, there being no concert tomorrow, celebrate with a libation (or two). Tomorrow we're off to Washington DC and from there to Texas. Yee haw!


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21 Nov 2013 - Fr David's Blog #12

Show Day in Harrisburg.

After a nice breakfast with friends in Easton at 10am, we are on the bus and on our way to Harrisburg.

Let me tell you a few interesting facts about Harrisburg that I have gleaned from my Wikipedia research. Harrisburg, which lies on the east side of the Susquehanna River, is the capital city of Pennsylvania. As of 2011, the city had a population of 49,673, making it the ninth-largest city in Pennsylvania. The city lies 105 miles (169 km) west-northwest of Philadelphia and 204 miles (328 km) east of Pittsburgh.

The greater Harrisburg area is at the heart of the fertile Pennsylvania Dutch Country - home of the Amish community. Hershey, the home of the famous American chocolate maker, is located just 10 miles east of Harrisburg. In 2010 Forbes rated Harrisburg as the second best place in the U.S. to raise a family, though I'm not sure if that has anything to do with the chocolate!

On March 28, 1979, the Three Mile Island nuclear plant, along the Susquehanna River located in Londonderry Township (Frs Eugene and Martin will be pleased!) which is south of Harrisburg, suffered a partial meltdown. Although the meltdown was contained and radiation leakages were minimal, there were still worries that an evacuation would be necessary. Governor Dick Thornburgh, advised the evacuation "of pregnant women and pre-school age children ... within a five-mile radius of the Three Mile Island facility." Within days, 140,000 people had left the area.

Harrisburg is also home to the Pennsylvania State Capitol. Completed in 1906, the central dome rises to a height of 272 feet (83 m) and was modelled on that of St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City, Rome. We should feel right at home then!

Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the United States House of Representatives was born here. I met him once back in 1998 while I was the curate in the parish of Glenavy and Killead and our little church in Aldergrove was one of ten Catholic Churches that were targeted in a single night for arson attacks. The church was totally gutted. Newt Gingrich, who was visiting Northern Ireland at the time with a party of American political visitors came by next day on their way to the International Airport for a visit and to inspect the ruins. I wonder does Newt remember the occasion.

Our concert venue this evening, the “Sunoco Performance Theater at the Whitaker Centre for Science and the Arts” is unique in that it is the first complex of its kind in the US to use science as an entry to the arts. It's a small enough theatre with 664 seats within the Orchestra, Mezzanine and Balcony levels as well as 14 theater boxes over those levels.

The theatres website says, “Experience the intimacy of Pennsylvania's finest performance venue: outstanding acoustics, beautiful décor, and over 660 comfortable seats - each with an unobstructed view never more than 65 feet from the stage - make this the perfect space for live music, theater, dance and more.” So hopefully this will be an intimate experience for us and all the audience tonight.

Some good friends from Alliance, OH will be there tonight. I first met them back in 1992/93 when I took part as a counsellor in the Ulster Project, bringing Northern Irish teenagers, both Protestant and Catholic away from their sectarian environments in order to promote mutual understanding, and respect and tolerance for religious and cultural difference. The couple and two other friends came down from Alliance to Pittsburgh for our concert there last year, 2012, and it will be great to see them again.

After we get to Harrisburg and park the bus outside the theatre, we are free to spend the next couple of hours exploring the city. Frs E&M go shopping while I head off to visit the State Capitol building, which turns out to be pretty impressive with sculpted statues on either side of the entrance. The dome is indeed reminiscent of the dome of St Peters though on a smaller scale.

I make my way down the broad avenue facing the Capitol building and am very pleased to note that the Catholic Cathedral is dedicated to St Patrick. I venture inside and am impressed by the grandeur of the decoration and the beautiful stained glass windows. There are several long lists of names inscribed of those who have made significant donations towards the cost of the building and the vast majority of them are Irish. I am particularly taken by a beautiful statue of the Madonna and child and offer up some prayers for our various intentions.

Our soloist this evening is Alison Graham who explains that her family came originally from Co. Down, "the Protestant part" as she put it, and expressed the hope that we "wouldn't hold that against her". Indeed we won't!

The concert is a great success. Everyone is singing well and it is a most enjoyable experience. The acoustic is a little dry and we are happier when in the second half the sound engineer adds a little reverb to the mix on our on-stage monitors. It makes for a much more pleasant experience for us rather than feeling we have to battle against an unsympathetic acoustic.

After the show I get to meet and spend time with my friend and her son who is a major in the US Army and based at the Pentagon. They have driven at least five hours to be at the concert and bring me a bag of chocolates from "Heggys" - a favoured eating house and famous chocolatier in Alliance, OH. It is just lovely to see them again and to catch up with what all the family are up to.

Another friend who has sung for many years with the Washington DC Opera has also made the journey to attend the concert. I've known him for several years and am really pleased to see him there and especially pleased that he appears to have really enjoyed our concert.

We meet Fr Thomas who was a classmate of Fr Eugene's in Rome. He is now the administrator of the Cathedral here in Harrisburg. We also meet Fr John, the co-author of the book "Catholicism for Dummies", a charming man who has come to the concert with his mother and who presents us each with a signed copy of his book.

When all the visitors have gone, we do a quick change and tidy up and get onto the bus. We make sure to bring with us the lovely big Thanksgiving pumpkin pie that was kindly sent down to us by the wife of our concert promoter. On the bus we have a midnight feast!

So the plan for tonight is this: The tour bus will stay parked outside the venue till around 4am. Frank, the driver, who is hopefully getting some sleep himself at this point will come to the bus during the night while we are all hopefully in the Land of Nod, and take us to our next destination - Waterbury Connecticut where we have a concert tomorrow evening. All being well, we should arrive there at around 9am. So it's goodnight from me and the boys. Another good day, thank God.


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20 Nov 2013 - Fr David's Blog #11

Show Day in Easton, PA

On the Tour Bus somewhere between Cincinnati and Easton: It's been a night of broken sleep. I've been constantly woken by the rumble of the wheels of the bus on the broken road surface and thrown from one side of the bunk to the other as the bus takes the corners. By 9am I decide to get up and settle down to check emails and look at the Pennsylvanian countryside as we pass by in our tour bus. It's a beautiful sunny day. I wonder will we spot any Amish. We don't.

Tom is up next. He asks Frank if we might stop somewhere convenient to buy coffee. We pull up outside Perkins restaurant in the small town of Bethlehem (how nice is that!). Frank is singing the praises of the food at Perkins. I've been longing for a protein breakfast since I came here and I'm sufficiently persuaded by Frank's enthusiasm to order one. Gregg wakes and he too heads inside to get himself some breakfast. Then Fr Martin emerges from his bunk followed finally by a sleepy looking Fr Eugene who has been awake for a while but busy 'at work in his mobile office' - emailing etc.

It's only about 4 miles to our destination at Easton so we are there in no time at all. I am surprised to learn that Easton is only about 55 miles (89 km) to the north of Philadelphia, and about 70 miles (110 km) to the west of New York City. I hadn't realised we'd be so close to either of those great cities! We are staying at a nice hotel which has been arranged for us by the concert promoter. Tom checks us all in and hands us our keys. Without further ado we disperse to our various chambers to rest up before show time.

In the afternoon we take a taxi to the venue: The State Theatre Centre for the Arts in Easton. It’s an impressive plance: a historic theatre with 1,549 seats! The building began to take its present form in 1910 when it was modified from a bank to a vaudeville house. In 1926 it was extensively modified to include a larger auditorium, balcony, and lush decorations. To this day the building is asymmetrical, with a cut stone style façade and large overhanging marquee. In the 1980s it was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

As I explore the theatre, I come across in the foyer the statues of three military musicians, one of them a drummer boy. Look out for the photo on the website.

Our sound check starts at the earlier time of 4.30pm today and finishes at 5.30pm. We try out some of the numbers that we've had to omit in recent concerts due to vocal ill health. Turns out all the pieces are sounding pretty secure and we are able to do the full programme tonight.

The walls and ceiling of the dressing room are covered with the signatures of groups, bands and various performers who have appeared this theatre over the years. Among them we find the signatures of Luciano Pavarotti, Neil Sedaka, The Village People, George Jones, Celtic Fusion, the Irish Tenors to name but a few. Phil Coulter who arranged his piece Recuerdame for us and with whom we have performed in three or four concerts this year already recorded a concert in this theatre earlier this year for PBS.

We take one of our white plastic clerical collars and write our names on it with a sharpie and staple it to a pipe running just below the ceiling as a reminder that The Priests were here in 2013. We also write our names on the pipe itself, just in case the collar should ever be removed! The pipe is high above our heads and we have to stand on tiptoes on top of a chair to do the deed. For one or two of us it's quite a stretch and it makes for a moment of pure comedy.

I am very happy to report that the concert itself goes extremely well. In fact, I think it's probably the best concert we've had this tour so far. Everyone is singing well, we have a great band, a great guest artiste and a great audience.

The evening has been sponsored by a local catholic bookshop called Abundant Graces and we meet the proprietor and staff after the show. We also get to spend some time with some old friends which is great.

Finally we get a lift home in a great monster of a Cadillac SUV which has the deepest growl in any vehicle I very ever  been in. I wouldn't like to be paying the bill for the 'gas'! A very satisfying day, thank God.


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19 Nov 2013 - Fr David's Blog #10

Show Day in Cincinnati, OH

After a pretty decent night I am anxious not to miss the National Freedom Museum so I waste no time in the morning and hot foot it down there. It's only about 10 minutes away on foot. Frs E&M are going to the Taft Art Gallery instead. I'd like to see that too but it is second on my list of places to visit while I am here and I don't think I will be able to do both in the time available.

I spend a couple of hours there looking at all the various exhibits. The story is told of the circumstances that led to the Civil War and the exhibition also focussed on the prominent individuals who played a role in the eventual overthrow of slavery. It's a lot to take in but I find it very interesting  and I'm very glad I came.

With less than half an hour before our sound check at the theatre, I ask the receptionist to phone for a taxi and in three shakes of a lamb's tail, I am back at the theatre.

Tonight’s “Procter & Gamble Hall at the Aronoff Center (American sp) for the Arts” is an impressive venue with 2,719 seats that opened only in October 1995. It has a fully-equipped stage, state-of-the-art sound and lighting, and a beautiful ceiling studded with 3,000 fibre optic lenses that create a starlight effect. Now, you don't see that every day!

The facilities at the theatre are great. We each have our own dressing room. The band is very competent. So no problems there at all. There is even a very nice lady there called Madge who washes and irons all our laundry.

The concert itself goes very well indeed. We have a great audience in Cincinnati - extremely appreciative - double standing ovation at the end of the night and calls for encores etc.

After the show there is a Meet and Greet. We meet Dorothea, a woman of 104, who is as bright as a button, still lives on her own and has been brought to the show as a gift from her daughter and grandson. We have some photos taken with them and others besides. There are lots of CDs and DVDs and programmes to sign. The people we meet are really very warm and friendly and seem to have enjoyed the concert enormously.

After a quick change out of my clerics into my civvies, I am first onto the bus. The engine hasn't been running so it's dark and cold and I have to find my way about with the aid of the flashlight app on my iPhone. I quickly get changed into my lounge wear, boil up the kettle for a hot pomegranate pizzazz (herbal tea) and then settle down. I'm not going to delay too long as I am keen to climb up onto my top bunk and get the head down for the night as soon as possible. We've another show day tomorrow in Easton, PA.

And finally... I hear that there's been a fall of snow at home today! Apparently there has been a fair wee smattering this morning and there is still an impressive covering all around Divis/ Black Mountain and Hannahstown. I hope Fr Denis and Clara (my cat) are keeping warm!


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18 Nov 2013 - Fr David's Blog #9

Day Off in Cincinnati, OH

I wake around 9.30am having slept much better compared to the first night. The others also report having slept very well. So there are smiles all round. I take a bite of breakfast on the bus along with my daily meds, which are becoming almost routine now.

We arrive into Cincinnati around 11.30am and get parked directly in front of the Hotel where we are staying. The hotel is situated in the famous Carew Tower, a fine example of French Art Deco architecture that was used as the model for the Empire State Building in New York City. The hotel's Hall of Mirrors banquet room was inspired by the Hall of Mirrors at Palace of Versailles.

Famous visitors to the hotel over the years include Sir Winston Churchill and Elvis Presley. The most famous guest of the hotel, however, is without doubt the hotel's own resident ghost, 'The Lady in Green'. She is said to still haunt the halls of the Hilton Netherland Plaza to this day. Construction workers who helped in the hotel’s renovation in 1983 have reported seeing her on the Mezzanine level and the Hall of Mirrors. Spookie Wookie! Could this be a case for Scooby Doo?

My room is in a very quiet part of the hotel set aside for those who want absolute peace and quiet. And indeed it is very quiet! I head down to the fitness centre to take a bit of exercise for an hour or so. The others have been out and about doing some promo interviews. It was decided that I should not be involved so that I can let my voice rest as much as possible between the concerts. When the others get back we meet up and head out for a bite of lunch.

Afterwards we wander down to the The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. This is one of a new group of "museums of conscience" and offers insight into the struggle for freedom in the past, in the present, and for the future, as it attempts to challenge visitors to contemplate the meaning of freedom in their own lives. Its location recognises the significant role of Cincinnati in the history of the Underground Railroad, as thousands of slaves escaped to freedom by crossing the Ohio River to the city.

Unfortunately the 'Center' (American sp.) is closed on a Monday so we set off instead to take a long brisk walk along the newly developed River walk. It's a beautiful, mild day. The sun is shining and it feels great to get out into the fresh air and stretch the legs.

We see a couple of examples of old steamer paddle boats that used to populate this stretch of the Ohio river in great numbers. We pass a large bronze statue of Lucius Quinctius Cincinnaticus, a roman soldier c.458 BC after whom the city of Cincinnati is  named.

Towards the end of our walk, it turns breezy and a chill sets in. I'm anxious not to be out and about too long in the cold so we make our way up to the fountain square. We find a booksellers with a cafe attached and treat ourselves to a hot chocolate. Lovely! Afterwards we browse the bookshelves and Fr Martin picks up a beautifully illustrated children's story book called The Drummer Boy, written by a local author, which he plans to use at the children's Mass on Christmas Day.

After a quick walk around the fountain square, which is starting to look magical with the trees all illuminated with their white Christmas lights, we make our way back to the Hotel. I am not panning a social evening tonight. I'm going to take advantage of room service, have dinner there and get an early night. So it's now 10pm. Time for night prayer and bed. Night all!


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17 Nov 2013 - Fr David's Blog #8

Show Day in Collingswood, NJ

I am first up and have a long chat up front with Frank. We are travelling through the mountains. It's wet and grey, just like it often is at home. Tom's up next and sits for a while at the table working on the iPad. He's preoccupied with the day's business and already planning ahead.

After some cranberry juice and taking my meds, I take myself back to my bunk and sleep for another while. When we get to our destination, Tom wakes us all. He has already checked us all in. We can now get some proper sleep in a proper bed and relax. We don't have to meet up again in the lobby till 4pm.

The taxi takes us to the Scottish Rites Auditorium where we have a meet and greet with the concert promoter and some of his friends and family as well as some local clergy. There is a young man there, also called David, who on hearing of my voice problems asks if he might give me an anointing with St Philomena's Oil. I gladly welcome and accept the anointing on my throat and the very personal and prayerful blessing which accompanies it. It is a moment of grace and I feel truly blessed.

We have our sound check shortly after 5pm. After two days on cortisone, my voice is a good deal clearer and stronger than it has been in Montréal and Toronto. Fr Eugene, however has started to experience some problems as he is really very tired.

We start with Laudamus Te, Ave Maria, Benedictus,  Panis Angelicus. Then comes the soloist with two songs and an orchestral piece. Fr Martin sings My Lagan Love and we finish the first half with How Great Thou Art which the audience loves.

In the second half we open with Eleanor Rigby. Then comes Send in the Clowns. I'm still not confident enough to do my solo yet so we move on to Van Morrison's 'Have I Told You Lately’ in which I take the lead. This is followed by The Cliffs of Dooneen, Danny Boy and Eileen Og which we do a cappella.

Then comes the guest soloist Kimberly Christie again with Wishing you were Somewhere Here Again and the Holy City.  This is followed by the Orchestral piece from the Secret Garden. We finish the show with King of Kings and the Irish Blessing.

The audience give us tremendous applause at the end of the night with a double standing ovation. We can't ask for better than that in the circumstances. After the very challenging experiences I've had in the past two concerts the voice is working for me and I know how to use it to its best advantage. I think thanks are definitely due to my namesake, David and his St Philomena's Oil!

Our plan is to go back onto the tour bus now and drive through the night to Cincinnati. There's never a dull moment on tour with The Priests!


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16 Nov 2013 - Fr David's Blog #7

Show Day in Toronto, ONT

After another short night I am downstairs by 8.25am. Tom is standing at reception checking us all out, the others are waiting in the lounge area. By 8.45am we are packed into two taxis and en route to the airport.

We arrive back into Billy Bishop airport in Toronto and move smoothly through the arrivals to meet with Frank, the tour bus driver who will be taking us on the next stage of our travels. The tour bus has a kitchenette with a table and padded seating, a toilet such as you might find on an airplane, eight bunks - the snorers are assigned particular bunks -, and a quiet lounge at the back for those who prefer a bit of peace and quiet. We gather to get a little introductory talk from Frank about what to expect over the next few days and also a pep talk from Tom on tour bus etiquette, such as not taking people onto the bus without the agreement of at least one other member of the group.

We drive to the stage door car park of the Roy Thompson Hall and after a bit of manoeuvring of the bus, we get parked right in front of the door. We offload our bags into the artists dressing rooms. We have a room each with its own ensuite. The facilities are great here.

Afterwards we are whisked off to a hotel where we enjoy a wonderful meal. Frs E&M have a glass of white wine. I stick to apple juice which would not be my tipple of choice, but it is perfectly pleasant in the circumstances and won't dry out my throat for the concert.

Back at the concert venue, we get some photos and then it's time for us to head inside to so some work. I have to explain to the sound engineers about the difficulty I'm experiencing with my voice. I'm getting used to using my voice in a very different way than I normally do but I am more confident tonight as I now know how to use it to make it work to best advantage.

After the concert a few old friends come back stage for a chat, joined by some people from the Leprosy mission who have been benefiting from our Canadian concerts. Fr Eugene has been making an appeal each night before the interval. They are delighted with the response that they have got from the appeals.

Soon it is time to say goodnight to our visitors and then it's a quick tidy up and onto the bus. I waste absolutely no time and get over to sleep pretty quickly. The others sit up front and have a chat for a while before eventually settling down.

We are woken at 1.30am at the US border control. We all have to get out of the bus and into the immigration building. It must make for a very comical sight for the border officials to witness these three sleepy, tousled haired priests appear before them with their passports in the wee hours of the morning, looking admission to the US. They will have a story to tell when they get home to their loved ones in the morning.

Back on the bus we go back to sleep pretty quickly but it's a disturbed sleep. There are road works at regular intervals and the driver has to drive over the rumble strips which wakes us up every time. At one point there is also a very sharp braking that almost sends me sliding to the bottom of my bunk. I find out next morning from Frank, our driver, that a deer ran out in front of the bus and there was a collision. Nobody else seems to have noticed and the others are surprised when I tell them next morning what happened.


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15 Nov 2013 - Fr David's Blog #6

Show Day in Montréal, QC

Tom emails first thing this morning to ask how I'm feeling. He will call the voice specialist and see if they have time to see me this morning at their clinic. My concern is that my vocal cords may be swollen. If that is the case, then to sing on them would be disastrous: I would end up without a voice at all. The whole tour could be in jeopardy and might even have to be cancelled.

A short while later Tom gets back to me to say that he has booked an appointment. It's going to cost $200 and they only accept cash. So he has to nip out to the bank. I should be in the lobby and ready to leave in 10 minutes.

So Tom and I grab a taxi and end up outside the consulting room of the Laboratoire de la Voix in the Montréal General Hospital. I fill out a short questionnaire about my voice and the level of difficulty I experience and how it effects me, etc but it's mostly irrelevant to my particular circumstances. Tom hands over the cash. Now it's a waiting game for about 45 minutes (so we're told) as there are already some others in the queue ahead of us. Fr Martin very thoughtfully sends a short email just to say that the lads hope all goes well and to let me know that I am in their thoughts.

So I had a very thorough and comprehensive examination - camera down the throat etc. - and very useful conversation lasting around 40 minutes. There is, as I suspected, inflammation and some swelling of the vocal cords as well as infection of the upper respiratory tract which is interfering with the free action of the vocal cords. I've been given prescriptions for antibiotics to tackle the infection, cortisone to reduce the swelling on the cords and an alternative medication to treat gastric reflux.

Good news - there is no yeast infection (caused by inhaled steroids as part of asthma treatment) so I can ditch the Nystan. Bad news, I also have to ditch the alcohol, caffeine and sparkling water which are acidic, have drying effects on the throat and can exacerbate reflux.

More good news, the show can go on tonight with low risk of vocal damage as long as I take it very easy, skip the long sound check and warm up gently before the concert. If others can take the strain during the concert - all the better. So that's a good result in the circumstances!

The sound check goes as well as can be expected. Frs E&M are going to take care of all the spoken intros and pitch in to assist me where necessary on the solo sections. I'll be very pleased indeed to get through this concert tonight!

Concert starts at 8pm. My vocal cords feel very swollen and the sensation is of singing through cotton wool. The voice has no focus whatsoever: It's all breath with a minimum of discernible tune and it's a horrible experience to be on stage in front of the public and to be vocally so obviously under par.

Having said all that, the audience seem to be really enjoying themselves and particularly enthusiastic applause was given to the new composition ‘Ring Out Your Praise’ with 'Bravo' and 'Encore' ringing out throughout the audience. So that's nice.

After the show I would have loved nothing more than to relax with a nice drink but given the consultant’s advice that wasn’t possible – so while Frs E&M could have a glass of G&T to unwind, it was sipping lukewarm water for me!
 
Afterwards we returned to the hotel and now it is already 23.45 o’clock – time to turn in for the night. We have an 8.25am lobby call for our flight to Toronto and another concert there tomorrow night.

Night all!!


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14 Nov 2013 - Fr David's Blog #5

Hamilton to Montréal.

Our agreed lobby call is for 10.30. I wake up at 10.15 and it's a mad dash to wash the face, fix the hair, brush the teeth, get dressed, finish the packing. Tom, our tour manager, phones shortly after 10.30am to ask if I am on my way down. I tell him 'I will be'.

Just as I am about to leave I think, "now where did I leave my iPhone?" I can't find it in any of the obvious places. I'm aware of keeping everyone waiting downstairs but I need to find the phone. After much searching I eventually locate it, lost and buried amidst the tangled bedclothes. I arrive down at 10.40am - ten minutes late. Normally I am first down! But Tom acts cool. The bus is packed and everyone else is sitting inside, waiting.

We make a detour to the Catholic cemetery in Hamilton to pay our respects and say a prayer at the grave of Monsignor Vincent Kerr a priest of the Diocese of Hamilton who was born in my hometown of Ballymena and was a brother of Fr Aidan Kerr, a priests of our Diocese. He died a couple of years ago at the relatively young age of 60 after suffering from cancer.  

Soon we arrive into a foggy Trudeau airport in Montréal. While waiting at the carousel for our luggage, Gregg gets into a conversation with a woman who turns out to be a well known Canadian soprano, nominated for Music awards etc. She knows the top voice specialist in Montréal. She very kindly gives us the contact details and promises to phone ahead to let him know to expect a call from us as I am determined to get my voice properly checked out.

We transfer to our hotel and, taking advice from the concierge, we make a booking for an Italian restaurant for 7.30pm. Then we head out to attend a Son e Lumière performance at the Cathedral due to start at 6.30pm. It's advertised at $10 but when we come to pay, we are charged $35 per ticket. Seems very steep but there's a big queue behind us anxious to get in from the cold. Everyone's speaking French, things aren't clear, we are confused and so the deal is done.

Within minutes we realise there's a special Bach concert on in the Cathedral this evening and we now have tickets for that! Of course it won't be over till after 9pm and if we stay we will miss our restaurant reservation. It will also mean a much later night than we intended. There's nothing else for it but to try and offload the tickets to the punters still queuing. Fr Eugene assumes the role of ticket tout: "Would anyone like to buy three tickets for the concert and avoid queuing in the cold?"

The tickets are offloaded in short order and off we trot to the Italian restaurant a full half hour earlier than scheduled. We get a table immediately. The waiters are genuine Italian - Sicilian - full of that typical larger than life Italian bonhomie (although that's a French word) and bravura (which is Italian) for which Fr Eugene with his fluent Italian is more than a match. We immediately strike up a rapport. We are addressed as 'Dottore' and in return the waiters are upgraded to 'Professore'. They love it!

The food is delicious. After the main dish we share a dessert of chocolate soufflé with vanilla ice cream (three spoons) and a cup of decaf coffee (one each). No digestivi in deference to the impegni musicali di domani. We have to sing tomorrow.

I'm on a strict ‘no speaking’ regime to give the voice a rest but over the course of the evening Frs E&M become very adept at learning how to interpret my efforts at sign language!

We get home by 9.30pm. Time for a quick soak and steam and then it's off to bed by 10pm.



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13 Nov 2013 - Fr David's Blog #4

Show Day in Hamilton, ONT.

After a short night I eventually get up around 9.30am, complete my ablutions, brew a coffee, eat a banana and pack the bags. With around 10 minutes to spare before departure, I wrap up warm with coat, wooly hat, scarf and my new gloves - it's Baltic out there with sheet ice in the ground - and take a walk down the street to look for a corner shop where I can buy some things for the breakfast in case the boys haven't had a chance to get anything for themselves. I pick up some big chewy biscuits called "Big Daddy" in two flavours, chocolate, and apple and cinnamon for the health conscious!

When I get back to 'Ye Olde' Kent Inn (Not!) the limo is already waiting. It looks so incongruous parked there in front of our modest little motel. When all are seated in the limo I produce my "Big Daddy". Turns out Tom, our tour manager, has already purchased a bagel with peanut butter and Gregg, our musical director, has been down to a local eatery and enjoyed eggs and bacon and fried potatoes. Frs E&M, however, are pleased to receive a "Big Daddy" each and choose the apple and cinnamon variety.

The manager of our brand new and exciting website, www.thepriests.org sends through some info about tonight’s venue: The Hamilton Place Theatre has a capacity of 1,293 and is described as “an internationally acclaimed theatre with a gorgeous interior and a reputation for spectacular acoustics"! The attached photos bear out that description - at least in terms of appearance. As for acoustics, we shall see soon enough.

We arrive in Hamilton, ON shortly after 1pm and agree to meet in the lobby for a brainstorming session - a kind of taking stock on how things have been going and what we think we need to do to make things better. For example, it is important that we are able to eat around 6pm to allow for digestion and also for the voice to rest between the end of the rehearsal and the start of the concert. The over running of sound checks to 6.30pm is not helping. So we all agree to look at that.

Today’s rehearsal reveals that we have a great band: They are from the Hamilton Philharmonic orchestra and they are very capable and talented musicians. Both the rehearsal and the concert go very smoothly and end on schedule. I experience a bit of difficulty with my voice though and decide not to do my solo this evening. It's a good decision because by the end of the night I have no voice left at all!

After the show there is a Meet and Greet with the various sitting and retired bishops as well as with members of the Committee for Catholic Cemeteries - the charity that is benefiting form tonight's concert. There's no way I can spend an hour making small talk with the way my voice is at present so I opt instead to get changed and go back to the hotel on my own. I head straight to bed and am asleep by 10.30pm.


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12 Nov 2013 - Fr David's Blog #3

Show Day in Lindsay, ONT.

At 9.30am on Tuesday I am outside the door of the Hudson Bay Company for its opening and buy a pair of ear warmers that you wear at the back of your head. I've seen lots of men wearing them both in Chicago and Toronto. I guess they could come in useful on the tour not only to wear outdoors, but also at night on the coach to keep ear plugs from falling out and to dull the sound of snoring and other night time breathing and sleeping sounds from my colleagues. Could turn out to be a godsend!

I make it back to the hotel in good time to check out at 10.30am. A few hours later we arrive in Lindsay, Ontario. The choice of accommodation is limited. VERY limited. TOTALLY limited in fact. There's only one establishment in town capable of taking in paying guests - the Kent Inn. With a name like "Kent Inn", you might expect to find faux "Olde Worlde Englishe Charme" but the reality is a one-storey clapboard motel - the kind you see on American TV shows - where you access your room directly from the car park without going through reception - where people stay just one night, perhaps passing through on business, and move on next day to some more happening place.

No sooner do I let myself into my room, and before I even have a chance to take off my coat, the phone rings. It's a journalist who wants to interview me for the Dayton Daily News to promote the concert in the Arnoff Center in Cincinnati on 10th November. He has seen the online photo of me inside the burnt out church of St James at Aldergrove holding the hand of the broken statue of the Sacred Heart that was published in the Independent in 1998 and wants to know what was happening. It opens up a conversation about the sectarian tensions that existed then and still exist in many quarters of N. Irish society today.

After a short while Tom, our tour manager comes around to see that we're all okay. He seems a bit embarrassed about bringing us to this 'joint' but says he had no other choice. Of course, it's not a problem for us in the least. And I really mean that. We're not on holiday here's. It's bigger than my room at home. Anyway, I've often spent the night in a small tent, once under a tree in a car park in Heidelberg and once, believe it or not, in a telephone box in Zurich. Compared to that, this is pure luxury. It's only for one night. It'll be fine. I unpack and leave out beside the bed my ear plugs, ear muffs, wooly hat - in fact anything I can think of that might facilitate a decent night's sleep as we have another concert tomorrow in Hamilton and a good night's sleep in the interim will be highly desirable.

At 3pm a taxi arrives to bring us to the theatre. Our guest artist is Patricia O'Callaghan who sang with us during our last tour, in April/May 2012, when we came to The Roy Thompson Hall in Toronto. She is singing “Nella Fantasia”, “Somewhere over The Rainbow” and “O Mio Babbino Caro”. We don't get started our sound check till 5.40pm and finish at 6.30pm.

The first half of the concert goes very well indeed. Second half, by and large, also went very well but is a wee bit ropey in parts, largely because the band isn't together. There is always going to be the potential for this problem recurring throughout the tour as we are picking up a different band in every place we visit and the quality of musicianship can vary enormously.

The audience love the show judging by the applause and the standing ovation. After the show we meet a large group of young people from a third level Catholic and have some photos taken. They sing a motet for us and at their request we give them a blessing.

Two elderly ladies with the surname O'Hagan come backstage after the show to meet Fathers Eugene and Martin. They have brought their family tree to try to ascertain if they are related. The matter of family relationship is inconclusive but the O’Hagan boys enjoy the encounter all the same. We get back to our clapboard palace before midnight and so to bed.

Okay, now where did I leave those earmuffs?
:-)

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11 Nov 2013 - Fr David's Blog #2

First Concert and Promo Day.

Our first concert on Saturday went extremely well. Nuala Murray's "Ring out your Praise" receives its debut public performance to sustained and warm applause. It's the first time we've heard Nuala's orchestral arrangement and it sounds great.

The other new addition to our repertoire is Karl Jenkins' Ave Verum. This too goes extremely well. We close the first half with Phil Coulter's "Recuerdame" - Remember me". I tell the audience I'm remembering my great grandfather Francis O'Hanlon who in the 1890s disappeared with the proceeds of the sale of beasts at the Armagh market and showed up some time later at the Chicago State Fair. This goes down exceptionally well with the audience!

All in all it's a good opener for the tour in somewhat challenging circumstances. The audience, giving a double standing ovation, seem well-pleased and the feedback at the after-show 'meet and greet' is extremely positive.

After the customary post mortem back in the green room, we travel in 'the stretch' about 50 mins to our hotel - a Holiday Inn convenient to the airport for our flight tomorrow to Toronto. It's 1am. We all depart to our respective rooms - pretty worn out.

On Sunday the 10th we travel to Toronto where we have a Promo Day scheduled for the next day. So on Monday morning we meet downstairs at 7.45am, our van is there to pick us up and bring us to Global TV Studios for “The Morning Show TV” interview. We do Hair and Make-Up at 8.15am - it helps to conceal the dark under eye circles caused by lack of sleep and to give us all a healthy glow for the cameras! It is Remembrance Day and everyone, including ourselves, are wearing poppies.

We have a pleasant 6-minute interview to plug our up-coming Roy Thompson Hall concert. We finish the interview with a short blast of the chorus of Shine by Take That.

We head off to Salt & Light Television to record a 10 minute interview for "Perspectives Daily” update show which airs at 7pm. After the interview we concelebrate mass in the little Salt and Light chapel for around 20 members of staff. It's the feast of St Martin of Tours and Eugene invokes his intercession for our Tour, to the great amusement of all!

We head back to our hotel for an hour of down time before heading out again, this time to the studios of Classical 96.3FM for an interview during a one hour live radio programme. The idea is that we get to choose some favourite music and say a few words about them in between general chit chat and promoting our Roy Thompson Hall concert.

It's a very easy, relaxed format that works well. Alexa Pertovka remarks how amazed she feels that we've only been around as a classical act for five years because to her it feels as if we've been around much longer. In such a short time we made "such an impact on the classical music world that she can't even imagine classical music without The Priests”. I think to myself, wow! That's some compliment!

We get to tell her and the audience about meeting both Placido Domingo and Jose Carreras, singing at the Vatican and meeting Pope Francis, hearing Jonas Kaufmann at the Royal Albert Hall and meeting him again later at the after show party for the first night of the Bayreuth Festival, where we also met and chatted with Angela Merkel. Some shameless name-dropping going here!

Around 2pm we head off to the Roy Thompson Hall for a 10/15 min interview with Hugo Straney for his Irish/Scottish radio show,  SONGS FROM HOME, on CHIN multicultural radio. The programme will air on at 10am on Sunday 17th November but he will promote our concert on Sunday 10th with a ticket giveaway.

Hugo is originally from St Peter's parish in Belfast. He has been living in Canada for almost 40 years and doing his radio show for 25 of them. Turns out we know a lot of people in common including someone who was in primary school with me back in the late 60s/early 70s. Small world!

We finish our promo and head back to the hotel where we have a light bar lunch and then all agree that, with a concert tomorrow and the late night last night, it might be best to get an early night tonight.


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9 Nov 2013 - Fr David's Blog #1

Tour of Canada and America.

On Thursday, Nov 7th we complete USA immigrations pre-clearance in Dublin - a very swift and painless procedure compared to what we have experienced on previous occasions. The flight is uneventful.

On arrival at Chicago, we meet up with Tom Cleary, our tour manager, who has flown in from London and is arriving around the same time as us. We struggle to put off going to bed for as long as we can to try to lessen the effects of the time difference. I eventually get to bed around 10pm (4am Belfast time).

Friday (the 8th) is a bright but nippy day as I head out on my own and mosey around a few stores. I buy some Timberland leather gloves which might come in useful in the cold weather we are expecting up in Canada and at home in Belfast later in December. Frs Martin and Eugene take a boat tour on the river to get their bearings, which they enjoy, but say it got a bit cold sitting outside so they retreated to the inside cabin.

Before we three head off to our rooms for an earlyish night, Fr Eugene and I explore the hotel on the way up in the life. It's been a very grand hotel in its heyday with an interior decor style which is like the set of an old fashioned Hollywood epic movie.

On Saturday morning (the 9th) I intend to do some sightseeing in Chicago since we are not leaving the hotel until 1pm. Frs M&E head out for a walk to the Navy Pier which turns out to be hub of activity and so beautiful with shipping, tour boats, cinemas and a Ferris wheel which gave them a superb view of Chicago.

At checkout, a big white stretch limo waits for us in front of the hotel and is attracting a fair bit of attention from passers by. It seems a bit ostentatious to be travelling in such a vehicle - what would Pope Francis say!  - but apparently the stretch limo is a good deal less expensive than hiring two cars to bring the five us with all our luggage us to the airport.

We're not all that cool about it though and make sure to get some photos as a record for that day in the future when the Priests will be no more and we, in our dotage, will recall that there was a time long ago when we were chauffeured from the Intercontinental on the Magnificent Mile in Chicago in a white stretch limo! Fun memories are made of moments like this!

Joliet is about 40 miles from Chicago. Our venue, the Rialto Square Theatre, celebrating its 85th anniversary this year, and once a favourite haunt of the gangster Al Capone, is a true architectural gem that you might expect to find in the great European cities of, say, Paris, Prague or Budapest rather than in a relatively small American town that was founded as recently as 1833.

This is our first concert of the tour. We have a thorough on stage rehearsal from 3pm until 6.30pm and are fortunate that the musicians are able to play to such a high standard and are so accommodating of our needs in the present circumstances.


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25 Nov 2013 - Fr Eugene's Blog #3

A relaxing Sunday morning.

A relaxing Sunday morning and early afternoon was had and welcomed by all of us on the Solemnity of Christ the Universal King.

A nice meal in the hotel in Corpus Christi sent us all off to bed on Saturday night with the promise of undisturbed sleep. After a light breakfast Fr Martin and I headed out for a walk along the broad sea front at Corpus Christi... it was hard to believe we were now on the Gulf of Mexico.

We past various historical plaques detailing the arrival of the first Spanish galleons and, indeed, the first Moor to the new world. It was an overcast morning with a drop or two of light rain but very pleasant climate wise for us if not a tad too chilly for Corpus Christians who were well wrapped up in heavy coats and scarfs.

A short walk brought us to the Cathedral for the 12.30 Mass and where we would perform in the evening. What a choir! What instruments! Wow, the Entrance hymn was a musical tour de force. Just fantastic. The good people of Corpus Christi are lucky to have such wonderful musical resources.

A skip back to our hotel allowed us some well earned downtime before he concert. It was the most relaxing afternoon we've had in the last eight days (during which time we've performed 7 concerts).

The sound check at 5pm proved challenging as the cathedral is a vast space and the sound bounced all over the place. The technicians soon tweaked the sound desk to adapt to the environment and to our individual voices. The instrumentalists were excellent and our guest soprano, Dee Donasco, was simply outstanding. Lee Gwoaks, the man who organises the concert series at the Cathedral and himself the Choir director there, was really welcoming and couldn't do enough to help us.

The concert was a sell out and we had an excellent evening making music in a special place and for the most enthusiastic of audiences. Several people regularly stood up to augment the applause during several individual pieces. A really, really wonderful experience for us in Corpus Christi where many Irish priests have served over the past 50 years. Our final song King of Kings rang out to enthusiastic approval on the Solemnity of the same name. How lovely is that.

Film Will Chart Rise Of The Priests



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23 Nov 2013 - Fr Eugene's Blog #2

The "big bus" bit of the tour.

The "big bus" bit of the tour has come to an end with our arrival at Washington DC (Dulles Airport) this morning Saturday 23 November. The overnight journey from Waterbury CT was a bit bumpy... those road works again... but we grabbed some (little) sleep.

After a quick re-packing of our belongings to ensure our bags were not overweight and a quick shower in the Crown Plaza Airport Hotel (kindly organised by our super efficient Tom Cleary... tour manager par excellence) we bade our farewells to Frank Pagliocca, our excellent and companionable driver, and headed for the airport.

Despite pre-booking we have to redistribute weight across our bags to get them through... seems to be the default position for any group travelling nowadays. I'm syphoned off to go through the pre-screening zone which means I don't have to take my coat, shoes or belt off, nor do I have to take my iPad out of the case etc. Fantastic. But, I still had to take out my bag of gadgets. I'm beginning to regret having packed so much stuff which I haven't yet used. Still, we have 2 week's work ahead and some of my gadgetry might come in handy!!

We have extra leg room on the flight to Houston which will help us stretch out a bit. We get a connection flight to Corpus Christi in the afternoon and should reach our final destination... the hotel, around 5pm local time.

Looks like a full concert turnout for tomorrow night's concert in the Cathedral... that will be around 1000 people. It will mark the Feast of Christ the King and the end of the Year of Faith opened by Pope Benedict XVI last October. What a year it has been for everyone since then.

Signing off for now with more to follow later in the blogs BUT don't forget the audioboos / tweets and pictures etc!

Fr Eugene

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20 Nov 2013 - Fr Eugene's Blog #1


A Little Cincinnati / Easton Blog

We had a great evening at the Aronoff Theatre in Cincinnati. Everyone at the theatre was so warm and welcoming and that made our visit all the more special.

Martin and I spent some of the early afternoon visiting the Taft House and Museum which comprises the collection of the Dinton / Taft families who settled in Cincinnati in late 1800s. It is a beautiful federal style house with later architectural additions that compliment the house. Full of beautiful paintings from Europe and USA plus some medieval and renaissance artifacts it was a joy to visit.

The ladies in the cafe / shop were quick to confirm, once they found out who we were, that there'd be a big warm welcome for us at the Aronoff and that the Irish connection in Cincinnati was as strong as ever. We found that to be true even down to some of the audience who gladly admitted I have numerous Irish linen tea towels with abundant Irish sayings. It all made us feel completely at home.

We headed off towards Easton PA shortly after the concert ended and we now find ourselves at the beautiful Easton Theatre and Centre for the Arts. It's a bright sunny but chilly day in Easton....a perfect autumn experience for us.

Rehearsals are underway with our guest artiste whom we'll meet soon. She sounds lovely from our dressing room.  Our rehearsal begins shortly so posting this now. Between us we'll keep you up to speed on our Easton experience.

Tuning up in Easton


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8 Dec 2013 - Fr Martin's Blog #27

So it was up early and then we went into the centre of Omaha for some breakfast. We had not slept too much last night as we were trying to readjust our rhythm of sleep. The breakfast was delightful and just enough for me, some bacon and sausages!!! Of course we woke up to the snow, which had fallen during the night and it was a winter wonderland indeed!!

After breakfast we made our way to the hotel to do the daily ablutions and into the car to the airport for the journey ahead. The airport was very close and we then went for the weigh in and we all got through, yepee!!

The flight to Newark would take about 3 hours and after a slight delay we were on the journey. Our Tour Manager and our Musical Director were heading for Chicago and we then said our farewells and then it was off to the plane.

The journey was very smooth  and we arrived in a snowy Newark, but we had a short delay at the airport and then we went to the next plane for Dublin. The flight would last 5and a half hours, it was very pleasant and I did not sleep a wink, but managed to watch a couple of films which were very good indeed.

The time passed too fast and we arrived back in Dublin at 6.45am and very much on time. Soon we were back on terra firma and we then were collected and brought up to Belfast by a very good friend.

It was then back to the Parish and since then it has been a time of settling in and catching up with all the various aspects of Parish. It is good to be back again to the very well springs that influence the music and that nourish vocation.

So this brings the blog of the Tour to a close for the moment. We do have two concerts in Derry and at the Waterfront Hall in Belfast on the weekend of the 21 and 22 December respectively.

So thanks for all the wonderful support and kindness as companions on the journey, until the next time!


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7 Dec 2013 - Fr Martin's Blog #26

We all had a good night 's sleep and were ready to do a little exploring of Omaha. Once the daily ablutions had been completed we ventured downstairs to get some refreshments to keep it going, especially when it was -17 degrees Celsius outside.

We relaxed a little while and then decided to dawn the coat, scarf, gloves and anything else that would keep us warm. Fr Eugene and myself headed to the shuttle bus and Fr David remained, to catch up with a few things.

In no time at all we arrived at the Joslyn Art Museum on this very biting cold morning. The building itself is beautifully covered with a pinkish marble that immediately attracted the eye and soon we were into the warmth of the building with a “oh thank God!”.

The museum was fantastic and a collection of paintings that gave a great slice of life from the Medieval through to the modern era. It was a feast for me and the environment of the museum was so relaxing and warm!!!

There was so much to see and  yet we managed to savour it all, with the beautiful fountain in the centre of the museum, delightful, and refreshing. We were transported into the minds of the artist and places from all over the world and we got an insight into the whole of the new America and what happened to the Native American people.

It was time then for a little retail therapy and then off to the hotel to get ready for the concert. The museum is well worth a visit when you can. It was bitter cold outside, that sort of cold that just was biting.

We arrived at the venue in Omaha, the Holland performing centre of Arts, and what a fantastic hall, very modern. We settled in and everything was so well organised right from the directions once we arrived, superb. The orchestra were just great and the concert was well supported and it was an absolute treat to be there.

The whole evening was one in which everyone was very responsive and enjoyed the content and the banter. The staff were delightful and so welcoming too and the whole evening was smooth.

There was a certain sense of ‘wow this is the final concert of this Tour’, but it had all been worthwhile and what was great was bringing joy and lifting hearts, this was so important. A memorable night and please God we will get the chance to return again.

So it was back to the dressing room and after a little relaxation we made our way to the hotel. We would have an early start in the morning. It was to be a travel day home to Dublin. So sleep well.


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6 Dec 2013 - Fr Martin's Blog #25

We were so tired after the concert that a good rest was called for. I surfaced at about 9.30am and then after a while Fr Eugene and myself headed out. Fr David was planning to visit the memorial to the World War I which is a national monument. So Fr Eugene and myself made our way through a fantastic series of glass tunnels to Union Station.

The city of Kansas, Missouri, was very crispy today and the temperature has dropped quite a bit. So we went in and we were taken aback by the sheer size and grandee of the place. Now, Union Station was a train station and at its height is had some 271 trains pass through in the period of the First World War and yet by 1973 some six trains were passing by daily, incredible has been the change because of flights and technology.

At one point it was almost decided to pull it down, but then there was a desire to keep it as it represented quite a number of railways that were united and had close connections with the station. So it was saved and some 250 million dollars came from the two Kansas cities and the whole station was restored lovingly and is now a centre for science, attractions, exhibitions, displays, the Irish Centre, restaurants and more and of course there is the fantastic history of the station well displayed and helped to understand the essence of the place.

We had a little cup of coffee to get the system going and then went to the Irish Centre for a visit and met the staff who were delighted that we called and said they the concert was well received last night and that they want us back, I hope we can do just that. We enjoyed the chat and looking at some pictures of Ireland and some of those were of Belfast, Waterfoot, St. Malachy's Church and Ore besides but all from 1898, they were a wonderful insight  into the past. We also saw a beautiful book from 1574, fantastic and in such great condition.

So after this lovely visit we explored more of the Station, the galleries, the Science area and the train displays in terms of the model trains all decked out for Christmas, fab. Then we met Fr David and stopped for some lunch which was so tasty, it was a sandwich for me of BBQ sauce and some beef called the Burnt bits, tasty!!

We continued our journey and Fr David went to visit the Station, but he thoroughly enjoyed the National monument to the First World War. We then made our way to the other tunnel of glass that winded its way to another part of the city. These tunnels connected places so well that you did not have to go out in the severe weather.

Soon we had to rendezvous with Tom and Gregg as we were leaving at 4pm for Omaha. We promptly met in the lobby and then began the journey that would take us about 4 hours. Gregg and Tom were just fantastic and got us safely to Omaha in good time, we drove through the darkness and on the way I watched a little Poirot movie that Eugene had downloaded, superb and gripping, must get more of them.

Soon we were on the outskirts of Omaha, where we will perform our final concert for this tour in the Holland Centre before we make our way home to Ireland on Sunday. We arrived at the hotel and hot checked in and then we got the hotel shuttle to Sullivan's and had our last meal together on this particular occasion. It was a beautiful meal and nice and light for me. The company was wonderful and the chat great, the food was, of course, fab.

Well it has become so cold tonight that once in to the shuttle and back to the hotel it was straight to bed to make ready for tomorrow. So good night everyone and thanks for all the support and kindness. Hoping to have a little time in the morning to see Omaha, lovely Christmas lights throughout the city centre. Sleep well.


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5 Dec 2013 - Fr Martin's Blog #24

We awoke this morning and it was a 10am start in the lobby. So it was up and packed and down for some breakfast and then down to the lobby. All cases were packed neatly in by Tom and then it was all aboard and off we went in the car, roomy, to the motorway for Kansas, Missouri. It would take a few hours to get there but would provide an opportunity to catch a glimpse of the countryside on the way.

It was great to see some other parts of Wichita on the way and some of the architecture too, just lovely and the weather was so crisp this morning, but thankfully no snow like some others areas of America at the moment. It is hard to believe that we are at the second last concert of the Tour, the time has gone so fast, incredible but fantastic.

So on the way we passed the Flint Hills which was the only part of the route that was not entirely flat. The countryside seemed to go into the horizon and all brown with the winter and crops already harvested. Everything seemed so still and I spotted an eagle hovering listlessly in the air, master of all it surveyed. Some wells of oil were being gently pumped by the pumps above ground to a gentle rhythm and the roads were well maintained and so straight. We had only one toll to go through and soon we came to Topeka Lake, which looked as if it was a man made reservoir as there were trees in the distance standing in the depths of the water, quite alone.

We passed houses which had that little indication of heat emerging from the chimney pots and people going about their business in this cold spell. Along the side of the road we could see the flurry of snow and a light sprinkling of snow in the fields or on the roofs of the houses. We then passed by Eldorado, I felt that I should be in Spain, it seemed to evoke lots of memories, wonderful.

Gregg drove the car and I must say it was a great journey, I just loved spotting all the countryside and all it had to offer, I have to confess I did fall over into a slumber at times, but only a few times!!!

Soon we were thought the toll at the other side and we arrived on the outskirts of Kansas, with the sky scrapers in the distance towering over the rest of the city and the River Missouri flowing near. A city of fountains, a bit like Rome!! We soon arrived at the hotel and got settled in and since we did not have much time really before the rehearsal it was time to rest a little and prepare for the evening.

The Midland Theatre looks wonderful indeed and I looked forward to experiencing it very much. Fr Eugene and myself took a look around the area where the hotel was for a half an hour and it was so well placed near shops and restaurants and by means of glass tunnels you could access the shops and the Union Station, which looks superb and perhaps tomorrow I will have the chance to explore this beautiful building.

The city has many landmarks and places of interest, a museum dedicated to the First World War, galleries, the Union Station, wonderful statue of George Washington and more besides. The hotel looks over the city which is quite spectacular and so well kept and maintained.

Soon it was off to the theatre and what a surprise was in store. This Midland theatre was built in 1922 and it is magnificent, the mirrors, paintings, entrance hall, carvings, lighting superb it is like a palace and reminded me of so many of the wonderful theatres here in America and Canada, it would be great to take one home!!! At the very top of the theatre id a bird's eye view of the whole interior and this is by the chandelier bar area, just stunning.

The rehearsal went really well and the orchestra were fab. Our soprano is Slyvia Stoner who is a native of Kansas City and has a lovely voice. Tonight's concert had been well promoted by the Irish Community in Kansas, which is very strong indeed and will be well represented this evening. So I am in the dressing room as I type and must go to get ready for the concert which I am looking forward to very much indeed.

The concert was great and the audience with a very strong Irish link , was most responsive. Those who had invited us to come included the Irish Centre in Kansas City and the sponsors were so kind and connected to the fundraising project of the Centre.

We had the chance to meet Bishop Boland who was from Ireland and who worked with Bishop Farquhar in our Diocese of Down and Connor, particularly at the time of the peace process and for some 10 years before the Good Friday Agreement. He was a lovely warm hearted man and has made a great impact on Kansas.

It  was a great night and a good blend of material for everyone in the audience. I will also remember this day as the day that the news of Nelson Mandela's death broke across the world, a modern day prophet in so many ways and I trust that his legacy will speak across the years to come.

We had the opportunity to meet some of the sponsors and PBS guests after the concert and this was most enjoyable indeed. Then it was back to the hotel for a good night's sleep and then we had the day off in Kansas City, Missouri to explore and we would leave at 4pm in the afternoon. So good night all and hope you are enjoying the blogs!!!


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4 Dec 2013 - Fr Martin's Blog #23

We were up reasonably early this morning and down for breakfast at about 8.45am, which was delightful and very quiet as most people seemed to have headed off to work.

We had the chance to read the Wichita Eagle, the local paper and my goodness there is a lot of information in the paper, but it is the only paper left in Wichita which began in around the 1870's. In fact there was an article in the paper on the 29th November highlighting the concert here in the Orpheum, looks good and hope to have a wee read later and it is already in the scrap book for the events of the theatre which itself has a fascinating history from Gypsy Rose Lee to the Priests!!!

We had some time off today and we went for a bit of a walk and it was very crisp and cold, so it was on with the hat, coat and gloves, such a contrast from Galveston which was so like Summer!!!

We arrived back at the centre of the Old Town, after Fr Eugene had his hair cut and we stopped off at the local Catholic Church of St. Anthony, lovely Church and very European, in fact it was started by the German population and originally dedicated to St. Bonaventure and  then the German Franciscans came and looked after the Parish until 1988, incredible.

Now there is a very big Vietnamese, Mexican population and about 150 original families. We happened to meet the Parish Priest who escaped Vietnam in about 1985 and he cares for the Parish now. The Bishop has been called to another Diocese and so the Diocese is vacant!!!

The statues were all from Europe and the windows from Germany, and so vibrant. There was St. Bonaventure, St. Joseph, Our Lady of Mount Carmel, The Good Shepherd, and of course the statues of St. Anthony , St. Francis and St. Clare above the main altar. Thankfully we arrived just before the Church closed for the day and we saw that it had been built in 1902 and completely refurbished in 2005 and looks so well, with a moorish twist in the bell tower which looks like a lantern, quite striking!!

We stopped off for some soup and coffee in a gift shop and then back to the Hotel to get some rest before the concert.

So we have arrived at the Orpheum a theatre built in 1922 and like all theatres had an illustrious career but fell into hard times and then remained abandoned for 17 years but is now under the microscope for restoration, much to do but where there is a will there is a way!!

The rehearsal went very well and Matt has done a great job with the sound. So I am down in the dressing room for a while after a beautiful meal to keep us going, and wonderful bread which reminds me of Italy, mmmmmmm!

Oh by the way Wichita is a name that comes from the Indian tribe that lived here and have made their own mark on the history of this country.

Well the concert was most enjoyable and everyone entered into the spirit of the evening, there were some 900 people in the audience and the soprano, Emily Sternfeld-Dunn was terrific and from San Francisco originally but now living in Wichita.

The whole evening and the wonderful welcome from Barney and all the staff was superb. Soon we were off to meet people and some whom we have met before and we were delighted to see them again.

Then it was back to the dressing room to make ready for the short journey to the hotel for a good night's sleep as we have an early start to Kansas, Missouri in the morning. So sleep well everyone. Ciao for now.


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3 Dec 2013 - Fr Martin's Blog #22

Well it was up earlyish this morning and all of us had to be in the lobby for 10am. Needless to say, I was trying to sort out the case so that all would go well at the weigh in at Houston Airport.

However there we all were at the door and after checking out it was out and on our way to Houston Hobby to leave Peter off for an internal flight and then we headed n to Houston George Bush Airport for our own flight to Wichita.

Everything went fine and before we knew it we were through security and had time to get a little breakfast. Now feeling more human it was onto the plane and away.

The flight was just great and I could see form my window seat the vast central plains of the USA and just how gridded they all were, neat squares all like a patch work quilt, amazing and some beautiful lakes and quarries all hard at work.

Soon we arrived at Wichita and made our way through the airport to baggage reclaim. You could see that there was a strong farming sense to this part of the world and also Bombardier are a great employer, so we had arrived at the centre of aviation and of course the land of Glen Campbell, there is the famous Wichita Lineman that Glen sang, 'I am a lineman for the county....'

We then got into the car prearranged for hire and Gregg kindly drove us into the centre to the Old Town Hotel, very well kept and we received a great welcome too.

Once established we decided to head out and explore the area. We saw many of the older buildings most of which had been built from 1905 onwards and reflected the history of manufacturing and business, there were companies like Simmons, and other businesses.

We walked around the old town district and some new developments had been added to create meeting places and also provide new growth. We made our way into the Old Chicago Restaurant which was again very welcoming and we enjoyed the food but were beginning to get a little tired, our waiter Alex was most accommodating and loved to speak to those from different countries and came from Irish roots!!

So we then journeyed back to the hotel and relaxed for a while with Tom and Gregg and then decided to hit the sack early and to get our strength together for the concert tomorrow evening. A great day travelling and good to get in safely. So sleep well everyone, hope to explore a little more of Wichita tomorrow. Ciao for now.


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2 Dec 2013 - Fr Martin's Blog #21

It was just fantastic waking up this morning knowing that we had the full day to ourselves and to explore Galveston. We were of course on the island itself and there was a different feel to being here and we already had a lovely insight into people who came to the concert last evening, welcoming and thoughtful and showed us tremendous hospitality.

David and Peter were already out and about before Eugene and myself were ready so we knew that we would have the chance to catch up in the evening. So Eugene and myself headed out into brilliant sunshine and a temperature of 16 degrees, what about that and the sun glasses came out for the first time!!!

We wanted to get something to get us off to a start re coffee so after asking about what we could do from the lobby desk we went out to explore. Galveston is a well kept city and the buildings are all Victorian in style and in period in the historic centre. The buildings reminded me of Belfast.

We then moved down towards the Pier 21, and saw a couple of Cruisers docked at their own terminal and we sought refuge in a Starbucks cafe to gain some refreshments. There we were outside Starbucks and the Cruise ship in the distance. We noticed some workers from the ship coming onto shore with some time off, a tough life indeed.  

We then made our way from the dock with the Essisa tall ship in the distance. The city has a proud past and survived the natural disaster of 1900 which devastated the city and few buildings survived. A sea protective wall was built 7 miles long and this was extended later to protect the city and the level of Galveston was raised by some 15 feet. Then hurricane Ike struck in 2008 with devastating effect, but all were prepared and damage is still being repaired.

We then walked down to the Bishop's Palace, which was built by Walter and Josephine Gresham and was in the 1920's bought by the Archdiocese of Galveston for the Bishop, at that time Bishop Byrne. A finely finished house with spacious rooms and wood work that was superb in detail and yet functional in that there were rooms in the house that the family could use in the intense heat.

It was very well thought out and judging by the black and white photos it was a delightful place to be in and acted as a place of refuge in the terrible storm of 1900. We used the audio guide for all the rooms, the stairwell to the landing was beautiful with the star of Texas in the centre of what was like a pulpit. The Greshams had a large family so there was plenty of room for them all.

Some of the family' s possessions are still there and indeed some of those belonging to Bishop Byrne, some crockery, his dining room table and liturgical artefacts and the oratory worth the painted ceiling of the Four Evangelists. We made our way thought the whole house and enjoyed the views so the Sacred Heart Church, very moorish in its design, beautiful.  It was Nicholas Clayton who designed the palace and he is of course an Irish man from Cork, whose mother brought him to America in the time of the famine, amazing and how he developed a career in architecture.

We then headed to the promenade to savour the Gulf  of Mexico. It was glorious and with the sun and the breeze it was like Summer, fantastic, so we stopped off to have a little refreshment and then on to the historical pier with a host of rides and experiences for everyone, this area must be buzzing in the Summer!!! So much to do.

We then made our way back to the centre, past the train station and the museum, really interesting but we were too late to catch it, the next time!!!

We got back to the terminal area for the cruisers and they had all left and the piers were still now. It was into a little cafe for a hot chocolate as we savoured the gas lighting in the street and the lighted shop windows, all selling unique gifts, just great.

We also had time to see some of the beautiful architecture and the variety of housing all on stilts because of the flooding in the past. We also saw the trees that had been damaged by the storms and how artists and come together to transform them into shapes, so we came across the dog and the water stop, both so well carved. Soon it was back to the hotel and after a little retail therapy too.

So we are here now and just gathering ourselves before we have something to eat. I will keep you posted.

Well we met in the lobby and made our way to the Pier which has a number of restaurants and we decided to go to Nonno Tony's Restaurant with a speciality in fish. It was a great experience and important that we all met as the next few days may not provide the opportunity.

The company was fab and the food delicious, I had snapper myself and the sauce and the veg was just yummy. Yes, I gave into a little dessert too, so it looks like another cross country walk is looming!!!!

We returned to the hotel and relaxed for a while and then it was off to bed as we have an early start tomorrow morning and making our way to Houston for the flight to our next destination. Sleep well.  


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1 Dec 2013 - Fr Martin's Blog #20

Well we up quickly this morning and down for breakfast at about 8.10 am, not bad at all. Slept reasonably well. Breakfast was lovely and then it was up to the room to get things sorted, a quick check and then to the van where Dean was waiting for us, bags in and all packed, hoping that I forget nothing!!

Soon we were on our way to Galveston, down near the sea and only an hour and a half from Spring. We passed by Houston with all the large skyscrapers and the hub of the city and crossed the great motorways on to Galveston. Lots of shopping Malls on the way, storage and industrial units, amazing, and all well kept. Soon we could sea the salt waters near Galveston and the houses on stilts because of the flooding in the area and the odd hurricane too. All looked very calm today as we journeyed.

We have arrived at our hotel built from the renovated storage buildings from the 19th  century, beautiful because of the airiness and decor, we have a concert this afternoon at 4.00pm and we have the rehearsal at 1pm. All go and the concert will be in the Old Opera House of 1894, looking forward to seeing it very much.

So we are settled in and we are being collected at 12.45pm for the rehearsal and we will be passing a couple of Cruise ships which are docked in Galveston such as Carnival Magic, maybe some of them will come to the matinee concert!!! Ciao for now.

Well we have had our rehearsal and it was fine, just gathering ourselves before the concert this evening. Time to reflect on the journey is so important. The 1894 Opera House is very beautiful and is the Opera House of Texas according to the 73rd Legislature. Some generations of families have worked here and it suffered a flood  a number of years ago but has been lovingly restored with more to be done especially with the brickwork. The staff have been more than welcoming to us and very accommodating.  

The concert went really well and the audience entered into the spirit of the occasion. The orchestra was very together and the soprano, Danica Dawn Johnston was just great. The whole atmosphere was full of a sense of being relaxed and the music and song lifted everyone who was there. I am sure they wondered just who these guys were.

After the concert and with Christmas given a great introduction we met some of the sponsors, Chuc and his son Matt and family. They were so gracious and we met some the others clergy in the Diocese of Houston. Then we were invited to come and dine with everyone, this was most kind and after packing up we went to a restaurant close by.

Peter Donaldson very kindly came to the concert and we know Peter through Cappella Caeciliana and has been a great support to all three of us. So the night was lovely speaking with and getting some insight into the Diocese and Galveston itself.

The evening came to a close and we said goodbye until the next time and sang a little Panis Angelicus to bring the proceedings to an end, hopefully we will get the chance to return. So it was back to the hotel and then off to bed, but what was great is that the matinee performance left us with the rest of the day, and we have tomorrow off to relax and explore Galveston. Sleep well.

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30 Nov 2013 - Fr Martin's Blog #19

The night's sleep wasn't too bad, I did toss and turn a lot but probably had more sleep than I realise. The room was comfortable and then after the normal ablutions I made my way downstairs for breakfast. The breakfast was very good indeed and a lovely choice too.

After breakfast Fr Eugene and myself decided to go for another experience of the Mall and Fr David was being met by relatives of his on his grandmother's side of the family, from the McVeigh branch. They were also coming to the concert that evening so Eugene and myself knew that we would have the chance to meet them again.

Now the shopping Mall was much more tame today and there were the shoppers and bargains to be had, but things were at a more even pace, thank God. Fr Eugene managed to get a few things and very reasonable, eye for a bargain!!! Then we made it back to the hotel by foot, it was such a warm day, the first time I did not have to use my coat and had a light jumper on, like a summer's day at home, delightful.

After arriving back at the hotel we prepared for the concert and went off to the venue for about 4.30pm and it was a familiar place to us as this was a return visit to Cypress Creek Centrum in Spring. As soon as we arrived everyone was working to get things in place, the sound man was at work and the ensemble and we met Danica Dawn Johnston who had sung with us before last year, a lovely soprano.

The rehearsal went well with a particular emphasis on the Christmas music as this would be the first time we were singing it in the concert tour now that it was post-Thanksgiving. All came together and tempi and speeds seem to be going well. After all was worked out we went down for something to eat.

The concert which went really well indeed and with the Centrum absolutely full, people were there to have a great night of music, banter and humour and hopefully they experienced all three together. Danica sang beautifully and the orchestra players were great. The Christmas music went very well and with a few corners to look at, we were delighted with the whole concert.

There was a standing ovation at the end and please God left with a lilt in their step!!! It was all well received and then after we met some of the organisers and with a few photos taken we were into the pecan pie, delicious, and then we patterned a plate with the Christmas theme.

Soon we were in our way to the hotel after saying good night to all those who had made the evening possible and all were setting up for the Church for the following day being Sunday the first Sunday of Advent, hard to believe. We arrived back and then it was straight to bed as we would have an early call and leaving at 8.45am. Good night y'all.


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29 Nov 2013 - Fr Martin's Blog #18

We flew into Houston and arrived at about 2.45pm and we had arranged to meet Gregg who was returning from his break with his family for Thanksgiving. He was arriving into a different terminal and as soon as we had the luggage packed into the van with Dean helping us we were on our way to the other terminal. Gregg was there as Tom had planned, then we were off to the Hilton Garden Hotel at Spring and only a few miles from the venue the Cyprus Creek Centrum at Spring which thankfully was sold out.

Soon we arrived at the hotel at about 3.15pm and had time to unpack and then we thought that we might visit the shopping Mall near by with the hope of getting a bargain especially as this was Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving and a chance to buy things without the tax, what an incentive to shop, shop, shop!!!

But before we could go we needed to look at the music for Christmas that we were singing at the concert, and it was nearly 4.30pm at this stage. We  did all this over a nice cup of Manuka Honey and once we had copper fastened things we were on our way in the hotel shuttle to the Mall. We arrived when it was pretty dark now.

Well the shopping Mall was absolutely packed to the hilt with shoppers who seemed to be in paradise!!! We decided to split up and meet in an hour, it was incredible to see such a vast centre and the wide range of brands that were available. The food hall was bunged with people eating and there were so many different nationalities especially Spanish speaking, wonderful.

Soon we decided to make it back to the hotel on the shuttle, but before we did Fr Eugene and myself needed to find some Christmas decorations and props for the show the following day, and we found all we needed in Macy's and Sears. Oh I did get a bargain of a carry on bag in the sales which will relieve the bits and pieces that I have for the journey home!!!!

Once we arrived at the hotel we went for a bite to eat at the Bonefish Restaurant. It was a lovely experience and the waiter explained all the dishes. It was a great experience and we were the second last to leave!!!

So it was back to the hotel where I gave Tom a hand with the music for the various instruments for the Christmas part of the concert, he breathed a sigh of relief and then it was to bed to get a good night's sleep. So that's me off to bed for a rest and to gather the strength for the concert tomorrow evening. Sleep well.


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27/28 Nov 2013 - Fr Martin's Blog #17

It was great to have a little time off and we simply spent the time exploring New Orleans, which had been devastated by the Hurricane Katrina  a number of years ago and yet had come back with a real sense of hope.

The French Quarter was not flooded and is full of lovely streets and character. Of course the Mississippi River meanders its course right beside the city and the city was actually called Crescent City because it was built on the crescent of the river. It is a mighty river and the steamer Nantchez was there but moored to the dock because of Thanksgiving Day. So in my description of New Orleans I am weaving the two days off together.

We had the opportunity to explore the city streets the beautiful shops, although we had to be careful as we still have our luggage to get home!!! It is a bit of an antique shop paradise, which was great to view and feast the eyes on the beautiful things. There are the praline chocolates to experience, it is the home of Tabasco sauce, and the phrase Dixieland.

We had the chance to see the gas lights outside some of the homes and the elegant architecture of the houses with their verandas and balconies and a few Mardi Gras beads swaying in the breeze. There was a myriad of colour in the city and the French  Quarter retains its European style and yet with a clear American twist.

All the shop windows were decked out for Happy Thanksgiving and indeed for Christmas, one window had a Hall of Angels and paintings drew our attention too. The Beignet and cafe au lait specialities were delicious as we went to the Cafe du Monde near the Cathedral in Jackson Square. It was absolutely packed given the day that was in it.

We were very impressed by the politeness and graciousness of so many people and this came to the fore in the restaurants which we had time to savour. We tasted some of the delights and local delicacies like Autumn Chowder which is like a Bisque soup. We can recommend Mr B's restaurant. The streets have many names, Bourbon, Royal, Dauphine, Frenchmen's Street among many.

People were being taken around in horses and traps being shown the sights of the city and a very strong voodoo culture which seemed to live side by side with what Christianity has to offer, interesting.

There is so much to see but our time did not allow us, a little trip in time to come would allow us to see the Plantation Houses, or go to one of the Swamps not too far from New Orleans. There are a number of lakes that surround the city which means  there are a variety of activities that can be experienced. The city is called the Big Ease, because of its relaxed atmosphere and that things will be done in their own time!!! Under all of this we were aware of a subtle poverty, homelessness and a system of health that would be very difficult for all to access, except for the basics.

At night the city was buzzing and people were rambling all over the city window shopping or heading out to a restaurant. The neon lights attracted your attention and the gas lamps added that particular character. Some of the hotels were already decked out for Christmas and the decorations were amazing, in one hotel lobby there was the sense that you were standing right under the Christmas Tree, with a profusion of lights and clear globes hanging from  the ceiling. The decor was beautiful and the lobbies felt as if you were sitting in the front room.

All in all New Orleans is just full of character and the days off were most welcome indeed, so we feel that little bit more refreshed now as we head on to the final leg of the journey with five more concerts to go. We are currently flying to Houston on today the 29th November after which we journey to Spring for a concert tomorrow evening with our post Thanksgiving programme and then we have a concert in Galveston on Sunday afternoon, a matinee performance.

So if you get to New Orleans, there is so much to see and the weather even at this time of the year was very kind to us except for the first evening which was very wet. It can be very crisp indeed so I was glad of the coat and hat!!!

So that's me, hope you enjoyed the little summary of our couple of days off which was much appreciated. I will catch up later in regard to today the 29th November but it will be mostly travel and we arrive at our destination later this afternoon. Ciao for now.


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26 Nov 2013 - Fr Martin's Blog #16

It was so good to get a great rest and a little sleep in after the travelling yesterday. After I had competed the daily ablutions I went down to the lobby of the Inter Continental Hotel  and waited for the tow confreres. We made our way our to the Commerce to have some brunch and I had the poboh which can be a T- Chicken with salad, tomatoes and onion and more besides, well it was very filling and all I needed was a skipping rope!!!

We then went for a little walk around the downtown area and savoured the city a little. So many lovely pieces of architecture, there are the trolley buses, people putting up Christmas decorations opposite Starbucks and just a most relaxed atmosphere. We had a cup of hot chocolate to aid digestion and then back to the Hotel to make ready for this evening's concert in the Loyola university  in the theatre called  the Louis J. Roussel Performance Hall which can set about 600 people. Over and out and catch up very soon, watch this space.

The concert went very well and we were joined by Sarah Jane McMahon, soprano, who sang with us last year in April. It was great to see her and since then she has been married and a little girl has been born. The audience were very warm and welcoming and enjoyed the variety of music that we had to offer. The venue is just very intimate and cosy and the  Dean gave us a great welcome. The venue is situated on a wonderful campus and so well maintained, we were looked after so well and after the concert we went back to the hotel to gather ourselves and to rest.

We have been looking forward to a couple of days off, the first since we arrived. It is only when we stopped that we realised just how tired we actually were. Over and out.



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25 Nov 2013 - Fr Martin's Blog #15

No sooner had I put my head to the pillow than it was time to surface and make ready for the journey. Then with a little time to tidy up emails and the like I was heading down to the lobby of the hotel to get the shuttle to the airport and drop the bags. All went smoothly as we passed one of the tall metal structures that gushed out fire at it's top like a dragon!!

Soon we arrived and got all sorted and went onto the flight for Houston which was very enjoyable and I must say that I slept and rested the eyes for most of it.

As soon as we landed in Houston from Corpus Christi it was a big rush from the arrival area to C20 which involved a shuttle ride to Terminal C and we had a tight 15 minutes to get there, well the legs were going hammer and tongs and thank God we just made it and then came the miracle of trying to find a place for things on the plane and there wasn't much room, however we got there and the bags fitted eventually.

The flight is going well and will be touching down soon into New Orleans where we have the concert on Tuesday evening. Some music to discuss and sort as the Thanksgiving date approaches and we have to look ahead to the concerts at home too.

We arrived to a very wet New Orleans indeed and quite cold, but we bundled ourselves into the taxis and made our away to the hotel right in the heart of the city. It is great to be back again in a city that must have a real sense of spirit after all it has come through with Hurricane Katrina a number of years ago.

Our concert is tomorrow evening and we are looking forward to it very much indeed. We went for a bite to eat and then sat down with our musical director Gregg to go over the music for the concerts after Thanksgiving Day which is on Thursday of this week, and it the first time I have ever been in the States for this celebration, lots of people travelling home to be with their loved ones.

We got through all the music for the concerts and this was very fruitful and we took a look at the concert content for those concerts at home in Derry in the Millenium Forum on the 21st December and Belfast in the Waterfront Hall on the 22nd December, can't wait for these too.

So I am a tired wee individual and am heading to the bed for what I hope will be a good night's sleep. So take care and thanks for all the support and following us on our journey. Sleep well.


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24 Nov 2013 - Fr Martin's Blog #14

Feast of Christ the King.

Just to mention that we had a lovely meal last night after we celebrated Mass and the view from the 20th floor of the hotel was quite something. The weather has changed dramatically with temperatures falling to some 5 degrees from what had been pretty hot. Oh well it reminds us of home!!!

Once the rain was over we decided to have a good brisk walk and off we went out to the promenade, while it was blowy it was refreshing and we picked up some information on the way in relation to the history of the place and how some Spanish Galleons were shipwrecked off the coast and how some of those who survived were put into slavery, quite amazing. All this happened in the 1500's.

Then we found out that in 1800 the first Mission was established on what is called Padre Island, which has a nationally protected coastline running for some 80 miles. The promenade walk was delightful and the marina full of yachts of varying sizes.

Soon we ventured in behind the hotels and towards the Cathedral, originally built by the Irish and called St. Patrick's Church but has undergone major changes over the decades and is now called Corpus Christi Cathedral. It is a beautiful 1940's building and vast inside with a fantastic choir, trumpets, drums and organ, just wonderful and a very welcoming community.

We returned to the hotel to rest and then at about 3pm I decided to head out again for a good brisk walk and went tin the other direction towards the Lexington ship. The walk was great and I saw the American Bank Centre and the Art  Museum as well as the Science and History Museum, although I had no time to visit them but viewed the lovely Water Garden and went down to have a closer look at the immensity of the Lexington, quite  incredible.

I was conscious of the time and ventured back to the Hotel with just enough time to get ready for the concert. We made our way to the Cathedral and then we settled in to the sacristy and began the sound check. It took a little time to get the balance right givens the large Cathedral, a very different sound from a theatre but after much patience all was well. We then went for a lovely bite to eat in the basement which was a superb place for gatherings and well used.

Then it was back to the sacristy for the final  preparation for the concert. It was going to be a full church of over 1000 people. The scene was set and our soloist Dee Dascon form the Philippines was absolutely wonderful and such a vibrant sweet voice filled with such great interpretation too the music, just a delight and a lovely personality.

The concert was just fabulous and the reception we received was overwhelming indeed. The orchestra was very much together and made a great rich sound that makes all the difference.

The whole atmosphere was electric and Lee Gwoats the organiser of the concert and  the Director of music in the Cathedral was delighted as this was the first concert in the Concert Series for the Cathedral. It was a wonderful night to remember and hopefully all those present were uplifted.

We then went downstairs to meet people and again it was a warm experience in that people were very grateful and we signed some cards and DVDs, just a lovely journey and uplifting for us too.

We then got ready and left for the hotel and we relaxed for a while which is important after the concert just to allow the adrenalin to calm down. So after a while we went to bed for what we thought was going to be a good night's sleep but in fact at about 3.30 am I suddenly heard a voice coming through the system in the room to say that the hotel was being evacuated and after coming to as they say, I put on the dressing gown and headed down the 10 floors to the exit and out onto the street.

Wow it was very fresh to say the least out there and everyone was thrown together and were of good cheer. I must say it continued to get colder and then Tom said to go to the lobby which we did making sure of course that all of us were present and correct. We gathered safely and then we were given the go ahead to return to our rooms. Well we were now at nearly 4 or 4.15am but nevertheless the sleep came once again and all was fine.

So that's me off to bed and we have a start in the morning heading to New Orleans via Houston. Ciao for now.


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23 Nov 2013 - Fr Martin's Blog #13

The bus rushed through the night and I think Frank was anxious to make sure we got to the hotel before the flight from Washington DC to Houston. I am not sure how much sleep I actually had as I tossed around a number of times.

Soon we were up and gathering our stuff quickly and into the hotel. We rushed up to our day room to perform the miracle of the packing and ensure that we might stand a chance of getting the bags through at the checking of the luggage. After we had packed  it was a quick shower to be refreshed for the journey by shuttle to the airport and we arrived from the Crown  Plaza in no time. We did say goodbye to Frank who had been so good to us and he commented on how we had left the bus so tidy, something quite unusual!!!

We checked in the bags and with a wing and a prayer and sharing the load we were through and into the security section and then on to the flight to Houston. It just shows the sheer immensity of America as the flight took us 3 hours and we would gain an hour once we touched down in Houston, Texas. So our body clocks are now 6 hours behind the normal time in Ireland.

The flight was great. Soon we touched down in Houston a very large airport and after a short wait and a little catch up with the emails and info we were at the Gate for the next flight to Corpus Christi which is the destination we are going to for a concert tomorrow evening in the Cathedral where they are expecting some 1000 people, so I am looking forward to exploring the city tonight and tomorrow.

It is good to have a break for travel today and some time just to relax after the 7 concerts in 8 days. So I am enjoying the flight as I type looking out onto a white cloudy scene with a blue sky above, another world!!!

Catch up in Corpus Christi: We have just landed after a very relaxed flight and the skies are somewhat grey, reminds us of those grey days at home at times!! We were collected and brought to a hotel on the waterfront and overlooking the Gulf of Mexico, looks very well and we hope to explore in the morning. Looking forward to the concert very much indeed. Heading to bed now after a little bite to eat. Take care!


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22 Nov 2013 - Fr Martin's Blog #12

Feast of St. Cecilia and the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President JF Kennedy in 1963, I was only a few months old. Arrived in Waterbury and have come to the hotel to rest and freshen up. Afterwards we got something to eat and explored the city for a little while.

It wasn't very long until we were in the main part of the city of Waterbury, a town that seemed to have had the impact of the recession as shops were closed and there was a sense of just not being sure about the place.

We visited the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception which was vast and very prayerful indeed and so Italianate in style. There was a beautiful statue of St. Patrick in the entrance Hall, a clear connection with Ireland.

We left and outside saw the American flag at half mast in honour of JFK 50 years on and an Episcopalian Church in the distance with a tapering spire. We also caught sight of the Elton, now a place of care for the elderly, but it was on the balcony that JFK stood as he pursued the Presidency of the United States and there was a plaque outside from the Kennedy foundation put there by JFK's brother Robert and quoting their father. It was a moving moment indeed.

We then made our way back to the Palace Theatre and took some photos outside and saw the posters. We had a good rehearsal and the band is great and very together. The soloist is very good indeed and is very confident too. Afterwards we got ourselves ready for the 10th performance, we have had 7 concerts in 8 days, wow but it has been just great.

Well the concert went extremely well and the band was equally great and very together. The theatre was fantastic and the audience was superb, I would like to think that they enjoyed the  evening and all the banter.

We had the opportunity to meet some people after the show who had booked through PBS or were very anxious to meet us. It was a  lovely moment and an honour to meet so many who shared our sense of music and all that comes with that gift.

Soon we were packing up and heading for the bus just parked at the stage door. It is our last night on the bus and there is a sense of sadness but we have to venture on and Frank who has been superb will leave us at the airport in Washington DC and then we will fly to Houston and then on an onward flight to Corpus Christi.

So goodnight and hope we get a good night's sleep!!!!



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20 Nov 2013 - Fr Martin's Blog #11

The bus journeyed throughout the night through the road works and on the highways and smaller roads until we reached a little diner where some of the gang got breakfast, we were only a few miles from the Holiday Inn in Easton. We headed to our rooms and got to bed but had not much time until the rehearsal.

Tonight’s venue is called the State Theatre; it is just beautiful and the staff so friendly - fantastic welcome and everything was in place. The rehearsal went very well indeed with a great band, lovely mellow tone. There will be some 800 here this evening.

The show went really well with an enthusiastic audience who were with us from the very start. Our friends loved every moment and of course it was great to see them after the show and spend some quality time with them.

We had some photos taken at the venue then went upstairs for a little refreshment and having put our rems on the pipe and the collar attached to the pipe along side rems such as Luciano Pavarotti, we were taken in the lift tot the back stage entrance and then were left back to the hotel by one of the staff, a magician.

A truly wonderful evening indeed and having left all  the bits and pieces in the room I went downstairs for a little discussion about all things American with the rest of the group. Night night!



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19 Nov 2013 - Fr Martin's Blog #10

The staff at the Aronoff theatre where we were performing are just delightful and so welcoming and friendly. We had some free time until about 4pm so Fr Eugene and I headed to the Taft Museum which thankfully is open on Tuesdays in November and December. It was a delightful distraction for a couple of hours with lots of wonderful paintings, sculptures, bronzes and a Christmas Antique collection right back from 1889 or so to the present.

We really enjoyed the experience and I bought a book to remind me of it when I have a moment of tranquillity!!! So we have arrived back at the Aronoff and have just finished our rehearsal, now listening to a little Classic FM to keep the nerves calm!!! Over and out for the moment!!!

Continued:
The concert went very well indeed, I really felt a sense of being at home in this theatre. Everyone was so friendly and the band playing was superb.  

The evening was well received and the audience enjoyed the banter and the stories. It was  good to be able to talk about Cincinnati and what we had gone out to see and explore, this brought with it a sense of connectedness. The audience was quite substantial given the size of the Theatre. Everything was so beautifully kept and the staff were just fantastic. We met many people who were just delighted to be there.

Afterwards it was soon off to bed to get as good a sleep as possible. Night night.



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18 Nov 2013 - Fr Martin's Blog #9

I got up at about 9.30 am and headed for the front of the bus as it was now stationary and Frank needed a cup of coffee to keep him alert. We were still an hour away from Cincinnati. So it gave me time to gather myself and get my things together and soon we were there at the heart of the city and right outside the hotel entrance.

We got our bags out of the bus and then made our way into the hotel and got booked in and boy, it was great to get showered and ready for the promo work that morning. I did an interview with Diane for New Orleans and then we were met by Van and taken to a TV station for a very quick interview re the concert tomorrow evening.

Then it was off to what was the old seminary and what's beautiful place, sold by the Diocese but now being used thanks to the kindness of so many who came forward as a group of investors and saved the place. It is used for retreats and perpetual Adoration and so many other things. The interview with Matt went well and he was very pleasant indeed, the interview  will be aired tomorrow.

We got back to the hotel and then after a quick change we went for a quick bite and then for a walk along the River bank near to the stadiums and we could view the city from different angels. We went to the landing place of the first settlers and saw some paddle steamers now resting after the Summer rush, hibernating for the Winter. The sun was shining and it was a crisp evening. We got back to the city centre and had a nice cup of chocolate, this went down very well indeed!!! I bought a little Christmas story by a local writer and artist, great.

Soon it was back to the hotel, so I am here now in my room quickly typing up my memories of the past couple of days lest I forget all that has happened to me!!! Then in for a good night's sleep in order to prepare for tomorrow night's concert at which there will be 1700 people!!! Sleep well.



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16 Nov 2013 - Fr Martin's Blog #8

It was an early start this morning. I had a good night 's sleep which I hope will stand me in good stead for tonight's performance at the Roy Thomson Hall, in Toronto. We also had the opportunity for a little something to eat before we left which was much appreciated.

During the flight to Toronto the view of the Saint Laurent river was quite spectacular and the island right in the middle of the river. Canada is a Country where the pace of life seems to be much better than the constant go go go at home, things seem to be at a much better rhythm and there is time just to reflect. I am sure that there are the same problems but maybe just a different attitude to things.

We are meeting up with  friends this afternoon and then back to the Roy Thomson for the rehearsal, it is going to be a busy number of days that are ahead, but we will do our best and conserve the energy.

We were soon out of the airport and after hauling our luggage we arrived outside to be met by Frank who would be our driver for the next seven days. He is from the Bronx and  has just come off a tour - 27 gigs with a band! - and my goodness, he has covered some 3 million miles since he began this somewhat pressured life!

Anyhow it was over to the bus and a guided tour of the inside and a little settling in time. There are 8 bunks in the middle of the bus and a kitchenette at the front with a seating area and then beyond the bunks another sitting area which could be helpful if we were not sleeping right.

We deposited our luggage and before we knew it we had arrived at the Roy Thomson Hall in the heart of Toronto. It is a great venue and the staff are fantastic and everything is run so well. We settled in to our rooms and we had our own rooms, fab, and afterwards Fr Eugene and myself headed into town for a little retail therapy.

Soon we had to venture back to the Roy Thomson. We were back at the venue and in for our rehearsal at 5 pm which went well and an excellent band. Patricia O Callaghan joined us for the meal and it was a chance to chat to her about her life and she mentioned  that she has been invited to come to Ireland next August and to feature the songs of Leonard Cohen, and please God we will have the chance to meet, lovely girl indeed.

Then we were off for some prep before the concert and the it came to 8 pm and we were on that stage performing - and wow it was a wonderful experience and everyone was in good voice. The whole concert was also encouraged by a delightful audience who were warm and inviting, there were some 1,200 persons in the audience and I think that they left uplifted and this was shown by the standing ovation which we received and which has been the case at every concert since we came to America and the USA.

We were able to meet and greet after the concert and then say a proper goodbye to our friends.  Then after packing up we were up and into the bus for the first of the night rides and we kept awake as much as we could because we had to go through the border and when that came about an hour later at Buffalo, we all stepped out in our dressing gowns and were interviewed by the police, I could not help but giggle at the scene!!!

Soon we were back on the bus and heading to the hotel in Collingswood for the next concert. It took me some time to get used to the bunk bed and the constant motion of the bus and so I was a little apprehensive and hope that the bus would be a good experience. Here's hoping and good night.


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14 Nov 2013 - Fr Martin's Blog #7

We had the chance to have a good lie in and I did not surface until 9am and then decided to get up and pack the case once again and just to check with Fr Eugene that we were meeting rapt 10.30 am. So up I got, did the ablutions and then after a little manuka honey I was ready for the road.

I got down tot the lobby and saw Dwaine outside waiting for us. He mentioned that everyone loved the concert and that he was relieved that all had gone so well. He also mentioned that they all loved us and our parishes were blessed to have us as Parish priests, very humbling indeed. So we all assembled and Fr David was not feeling the best, a little cold working on him.

Dwaine very kindly took us to the cemetery where Msgr. Vincent Kerr is buried and we had the chance to pray a prayer there, this will be a comfort to Aidan his brother at home. Dwaine kindly brought us right into the airport, Billy Bishop (second world War hero)in Toronto. We got through the necessary hurdles after checking our bags and after exchanging goods all was well.

The flight was delightful and the views of Toronto were exquisite  in the distance. The landscape that we saw on the journey was fascinating, you could see the wildness of the countryside and the numerous lakes all running in a particular direction reminding us of the impact of the ice age. The wooded area seemed spectacular and then gave way to the controlled farming and the vast fields that were so ordered and streamlined.

Soon we could see the outskirts of Montreal meaning the Royal Mount. The tall sky scrapers began to appear and soon we landed at the airport and we were asked away in a taxi for all 5 of us and brought straight into the centre of the city to our hotel, just elegant and nicely designed and in the heart of the city not far from the Basilica du Notre Dame.

We settled in and soon after a little rest we ventured out to the Basilica for what we thought was a lumiere spectacle but in fact turned out to be a concert of Bach music; much as we would have loved to stay for the Bach, we thought it would be important to rest as we have the two concerts in succession tomorrow and Saturday night.

So we went for a lovely meal to Quattro very close to the Basilica, only after we managed to sell the very tickets we had purchased for the Bach concert, a pleasure postponed!!!

It is hard to believe that we are here in both Canada and the States a week!!! So good night and see you in the morning. Ciao for now.



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13 Nov 2013 - Fr Martin's Blog #6

Well it was very crisp morning when I stepped out to get into the car. I could see the squirrels playing in the distance. The journey to Hamilton only took a couple of hours and we passed through the flat countryside with farm steady dotted about the landscape. Everything was undoubtedly autumnal in character and the hues do russet and browns merged one into the other.

Soon we arrived in Hamilton. We got checked in and then with some time to relax it was down to a meeting of the team for the concert. This proved to be most helpful as we ironed out some corners re the music and worked with Gregg, who has been valiant in regard to picking up the baton and running with it.

The rehearsal went well and after a lovely meal we left to get ready for the show. Now each of us had our own dressing room and it gave us a chance to be divas!!! No, I mean to get ourselves ready. Before we knew it we made our way to the stage to begin after our prayer.

The concert went really well and Gregg was settling in all the more this evening. All seemed to flow better and the new pieces of music are becoming more consolidated and bedding in, never taking for granted the familiar pieces.

The audience was very receptive indeed and warm and enjoyed the banter and the participation. After the concert the meet and greet went well.

It was a great evening and after a little rest and gathering ourselves it was time to return to the hotel. Fr David  was not feeing so good so he went off to his chamber to get a good night's sleep.  So after saying good night it was into the bed for me and the hope of getting a good night of sleep. Night, night.



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12 Nov 2013 - Fr Martin's Blog #5

Well we set off from Toronto having gathered our stuff and only before we had the chance to meet Simon and Sam from Sony who very kindly took time to come and see us this morning at about 10.30 am.

We arrived at Lindsay after a great journey: The countryside is just beautiful with lots of small farms dotted about and there has been a little skiff of snow but nothing too alarming. There is just the biting cold but the sun is shining!!!

After a rest of an hour it was off to the Academy Theatre, our venue for tonight. The theatre is lovely and well kept and soon it was time to rehearse before the concert at 8pm. So we were on the stage and topping and tailing the music with a particular emphasis on the new pieces. We established the speeds and endeavoured to have a thorough sound check. Once again  the rehearsal went well.

Some 500 were coming to the concert this evening and I must say the audience were warm, encouraging and enjoyed the banter and chat. There was a real sense of inclusion and  the music went really well in the first half. Fr Eugene made the appeal for the Leprosy campaign as we had done last year and he will be doing the same at all the Canadian concerts. The second half also went great. The atmosphere was highly charged and everyone loved the evening.

After the thanks and the final piece of music, King of Kings there was a standing ovation and a call for another piece which we honoured with The Irish Blessing. I think everyone went home very uplifted indeed.

After the show we met some students who had travelled some 2and a half hour to get here. They were from a Catholic College at University level and really loved the performance. The students were delightful and so respectful  and sang a beautiful piece of music Adoramus Te. They were a very international group from the States, Indonesia and Canada and asked for a blessing which was most revealing and refreshing  too.

It was now getting late so we made our way back after packing up and headed to the hotel and after a little night cap (!) it was straight to bed. Night night!



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11 Nov 2013 - Fr Martin's Blog #4

It was up early this morning as our body clocks are still adjusting to the 6 hour difference from home. The first port to call was to a TV station, Global TV right in the heart of the city where you could see people being interviewed from the street which was innovative. We went in to get the makeup sorted and we met a young girl from Derry who had studied at the Ryerson University and decided to stay but gets home to Derry as often as she can, what a small world!!

Soon it was into the studio and we were interviewed by Rosie who was very pleasant indeed and the whole interview was well received. Stephen who was representing the Roy Thomson Hall was most gracious and intrigued by our story as he has met many others guests in his time.

After the interview we went to Salt and Light which is very close to our Hotel in the Richmond area. There we met all the staff, Pedro and all the others and what commitment and faith. We went for a smoothie and a bagel and soon we were back again to do an interview called “Perspectives” in the Salt and Light Studio, most enjoyable and we were asked about Pope Francis, our story and more besides, it was lovely. After this we celebrated Mass for the staff on this the feast of St. Martin of Tours and of course it was Remembrance Sunday.

After the celebration it was time to leave and head back to the hotel for a break, and it was there that I was interviewed by a Steve from a paper called The Morning Call and it went well, and then we were off to 96.3fm Classical Station. We had the chance for s quick bite to eat in the Hotel which was very welcome, a little Destructed Salad for me, thank you very much!!!

There we were met by John who gave us a hearty welcome and then into the studio to be interviewed for one hour, picking pieces of music that we love  and had sent on in advance. The interviewer Alexa Petrenko was super and the whole experience was delightful and relaxed, and I think that people got an insight into what makes us tick. Stephen had asked us about the fact that people seemed to get more from meeting us, we were not selling ourselves but had something more to offer, a lovely comment.

After the interview we went to the Roy Thomson to be interviewed by Hugo who was originally from Belfast but has settled in Canada at the height of the Troubles in the North, the interview was great and meaningful.

After all the promo we were back to the hotel and then we decided to have an early night. Fr Eugene and myself went of to the Eaton Centre to get a carry on case for him,  the centre is very close indeed. We were back very soon and then we met for a bite to eat. So it' s good night from me, let's hope I can get a reasonable night's sleep. We are of to Lindsay tomorrow for the second concert, it is only an hour's drive from Toronto. Night night.



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10 Nov 2013 - Fr Martin's Blog #3

Toronto.

Well we had an extremely bumpy ride into Toronto on the 10th November, we were very restless indeed as we swayed to and fro in the air, buffeted by the winds and then coming close to the ground. It seemed we were going down very fast and then with an almighty bump we hit the runway and bounced back up again. Thankfully we arrived with a sense of relief into the Billy Bishop Airport built on an island right next to the City of Toronto.

We headed straight onto the ferry and were the last on - and soon, in a matter of minutes, we were at the mainland looking over the Ontario Lake and we were off to our hotel in the Richmond area.

We had a little time to rest and then we went off to visit friends who had kindly invited us for something to eat. We celebrated Mass and then were collected by our friends. We arrived at their apartment and we had a delightful evening. Soon we were beginning to wilt and we went down to get a taxi home to the hotel as we had a busy days promotion ahead of us for the Roy Thompson Hall. Straight to bed then.



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10 Nov 2013 - Fr Martin's Blog #2

Remembrance Sunday.

Our first concert in Joliet on the 9th November, only about 45 mins from Chicago, went remarkably well given the fact that we had a new musical director and it was the whole newness of some of the programme.

The venue it self was indeed a palace for the people, Versailles like with the main entrance like something from the Hall of Mirrors in Versailles. Whoever had the vision for this was far sighted. It reminded me of a European theatre and the staff were most accommodating. The whole inside of the backstage was covered with rems from different acts that had performed there and our own names were ceremoniously added at the end of the evening just as we left the stage door, a little bit of history in the making, wow.

Soon it was into the car and back to the hotel, the room was most comfortable and we had time to rest and gather ourselves for today which is of course Remembrance Sunday. I still think that the body clock is adjusting but hopefully with time that will be sorted out.

In regard to the concert, the band was just superb, and it would have been ideal to have the band with us for the whole tour but wishful thinking. We worked hard for the two and a half hours and also helped Gregg to settle into the rhythm. Mark the violinist had worked with Il Divo and was in fact the musical director for Paul Potts, so we had someone who was very proficient indeed along with the others members of the band. All in all it went really well and the new pieces of music were well received and the audience went home uplifted, there were some 900 people in the auditorium and the audience was most receptive with a standing ovation a la fine.

I should note that Joliet is sometimes called Prison City, Steel City and other names, we did pass the prison on the way to the theatre. Also the theatre was a haunt of Al Capone in the past. The theatre had images of the arts, figures swirling in the air and a veritable apotheosis of a god into the air just before the stage. It was most elegant and tasteful. There was a very large chandelier in the main entrance of striking beauty. Thanks God for the person who had the vision to restore it as the authorities were planning to pull the theatre down some 30 years ago, it is a real gem!!!


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9 Nov 2013 - Fr Martin's Blog #1


Tour of Canada and America.

Well, we arrived on the 7th November (Thursday), after an 8 hour journey into Chicago; the flight was very smooth indeed and before we knew it we were into the taxis for the centre of Chicago. Wow, a wonderful city of skyscrapers and all in a variety of styles. By the time we got to the hotel it was really time for our evening meal and then it was time for rest and allowing the body clock to adjust!!!

The following day, 8th November (Friday), was time for ourselves in the morning and after a lovely breakfast it was time to head out to orientate ourselves in such a great city. We woke to a sunny day and as we emerged from the hotel we were dazzled by all the reflections in the glass of other buildings as the sun played with the architecture.

Eugene and myself headed down to the river and decided to go on a boat tour covering the architecture of the city. David did some exploring of the city on foot. We had a fabulous tour and  we saw how everything had developed in the city after the city had been destroyed in a fire so many decades before.

Then it was back to the hotel where we had a rehearsal for about 4 hours, going through all the songs and copper fastening the lovely music with our musical director Gregg. Soon it was time for some sustenance and then an early night as we were heading off the next day to Joliet for the concert venue, not too far from Chicago.

We did get one chance, on this the 9th November (Saturday), to head down in the morning for a walk to the Navy Pier which is a hub of activity and so beautiful with shipping, tour boats, cinemas and a Ferris wheel which gave a superb view of Chicago form a new perspective.

Back to base and then off to the venue for the concert, just arrived and settling in for this evening's concert. Brilliant. Rehearsing with the orchestra very soon.

Ciao for now.
Fr Martin & The Priests


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