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29 March 2015   -   Fr David’s Tour Blog #17

Travel Day – Philadelphia – Washington - Dublin

I wake at 8.30am. We have agreed to meet for lunch at 1pm so there's no rush to get up. I'd like to get back over to sleep if I can but it's impossible to get back over. I read the news online and check emails for a while. Eventually I drift off again at about 10.30 and sleep for another hour.

After a long steam in the bath I do some packing before taking the elevator down to meet Tom and Martin and Eugene for lunch. As I step out of the lift and turn the corner toward the restaurant I am greatly surprised to see Eugene and Martin standing talking to none other than Mark Camilleri. He should be in the air preparing for a 2pm touchdown in Toronto. Yet here is as large as life standing in the lobby of the Marriott Airport Hotel in Philadelphia. The Hercule Poirot in me detects instantly that something is amiss.

Evidently when Mark turned up at the United Airline desk to check in for his flight, he learned that somehow his booking had been cancelled and he was no longer registered for this flight. He was told he could have a seat on that flight but it would cost $700 and he had only eight minutes to make up his mind before check-in would close. Aware that he needed Tom's say so before booking a seat at that price, he tried phoning Tom back at the Marriott. But Tom was sleeping and had his phone on silent. There was little that Mark could do but return to the hotel to discuss the situation with Tom in person.

So here's what happened. Initially we did not have a concert planned for Canton. We were supposed to stay in Newark for three nights before flying on to our next concert. The various flights we were to take over a few days were all booked as part of a single booking. When the concert in Canton came along, the travel arrangements we had to be amended. Tom contacted United Airlines at that time to cancel one flight but apparently United Airlines misunderstood and cancelled all the flights that were part of that booking including Mark's flight to Toronto, Tom's flight to London and also our flights to Washington and Dublin. In some respects it was fortunate that Mark was travelling so early in the morning otherwise we could all have turned up in the evening to check in only to discover we had no bookings to travel. With a concert tomorrow evening in Belfast that would have been a disaster.

After spending an hour on the phone with United Airlines, Tom was able to rebook us on our original flights but we missed out on an air miles upgrade to more comfortable seats. We had hoped for that as we need to sleep on the flight to be better rested in preparation for our concert tomorrow in Belfast.

Tom has booked Mark on a later flight from Newark which is a couple of hours drive away. As Tom is going out of JFK airport, they have hired a car and are going to drive from Philadelphia to Newark, drop Mark off at Newark and then Tom will drive on to JFK, return the hire car and still be on time for his scheduled flight. Everybody's sorted.

The hire car is parked outside at the front of the hotel. We help Mark load up his and Tom's suitcases. Then we get to say a second goodbye to Mark and an earlier goodbye to Tom than we had expected. We stand and wave them off. It's emotional!

We head for the restaurant for lunch. This will be our first and main meal today. After this it will be airline food - if we are awake to eat it and hopefully we won't be. I have a starter of hummus and flatbreads followed by roasted organic chicken and assorted vegetables.

We go to our rooms and complete our packing and afterwards meet in Martin's room to celebrate Palm Sunday Mass. We remember to pray for the sick and think especially of R. and MC. It's my dad's anniversary tomorrow so he gets a special mention, too. We take time to be thankful for all who have played any part in our concert tour and for those who came to hear us. We remember especially the parishioners in our respective parishes, the troubled spots in the world and those who lost their lives in the plane crash in France.

At 4pm it's time to check out and take the shuttle bus to the airport. We've already checked in so just have to drop our bags. My bag and Martin's are both a bit overweight but it only requires a minor adjustment. Our flight to Washington DC is short and sweet. We have forty five minutes to make our connecting flight to Dublin. The departure gate is quite some distance away but we have enough time and don't stress ourselves.

We board our flight at 10.00pm, stow our overhead luggage and get ourselves settled down with everything we will need for the flight. At 10.30pm an announcement is made that the plane has developed a technical fault and will not be flying. We are instructed to disembark and move from C27 to C4 - our new departure gate for an estimated 12.00am departure. With a tight schedule tomorrow in Belfast, a delayed departure is the last thing we need. Well, I guess it could be worse. The flight could have been cancelled altogether and we could have been flying tomorrow instead of tonight.

So here we are still in Washington DC at 12.00am on Palm Sunday with an evening concert in Belfast on Monday. It feels like we're living on the edge!



28 March 2015   -   Fr David’s Tour Blog #16

Travel & Show Day – Neumann University/Mirenda Center in Aston, PA

Five hours later the wake up alarm sounds at 7.15am. Quick shower, last minute packing, final look around and then at 8am it's down to the lobby. As I exit the elevator E&M are stepping in. They've been down earlier and had breakfast. Frank Carroll is there, all smartly dressed and looking fresh even though he went to bed at 2.30am and got up at 5.30am. His assistant, Joanne who was looking after us yesterday, is there as well. I give her a nice bottle of wine as a little 'thank you' gift for all her attentiveness to us. She is pleased.

Frank's brother Tom from San Diego is there too, also looking fresh. He takes me into a private dining room that has been set up for us. I have orange juice and fill a plastic "to go" bowl with mini croissant, small muffin and Danish pastry, and a cup of coffee to consume on the journey to the airport.

Frank tells me that he is building a new chapel underneath the present St John's Church. It will be an exact replica of the Good Shepherd Church in Hollywood, known as the Chapel of the Stars. It will be dedicated in memory of one of his daughters. Rather unsubtly, I suggest a Priests' concert might be a nice way to celebrate its dedication. Well, you know, nothing ventured... and all that! He tells me that he will definitely have us back. "The people want you back", he says. I thank him sincerely for his great hospitality and for organising such a successful sell-out concert. There wasn't a single seat available in the 2,300 seater Hanover Theater last night. That's quite something. Frank definitely knows how to get results.

Tom, (Frank's brother) tells me that during the Vietnam war Frank built a hospital in Vietnam for poor people of a particular region and stocked it full of American medical supplies. After the area was taken over by the Vietcong Communists, the hospital survived but they changed its name. In recent times, however, the name has been changed once again and it's now called 'The American Hospital'. As he tells me this it's hard for him to disguise the great pride he has in his brother's achievements. He comments that what his brother has done just goes to show that it is possible for one person to make a great difference.

Just after 8am we climb onboard the bus for the drive to the airport. We're expecting to drive for an hour but the journey takes only 45 minutes. We're not sorry to get off the bone-rattler van. In fairness it's not so much the van's fault as the road's which is a bit bumpy after the harsh winter frosts. For a small supplement Tom has upgraded us to business class for the flight to Philadelphia. It will give us more comfortable seats and extra legroom if we want to stretch out and catch forty winks on the hour-and-a-half flight to Philadelphia.  

After passing security we attempt an entry to the American Club lounge only to be told that is is only for those on international flights. Not in the least put off we set up our own “Priests' On Tour Private Membership Club Lounge” around a table in the food hall. :-) We later discover that we could have used our Priority lounge passes but as boarding is less than half an hour away, it would hardly be worth it.

As we wait for boarding, talk turns to ideas for a possible future USA tour. Mark suggests a symphony tour, tapping in to the symphony orchestras' concert season. He also suggests some possible new repertoire for us that might be worth a look. He has a lot of orchestrations that we could use.

I receive an email update on R. from C. His condition has improved and he is now out of critical care and in a normal bedroom. That's great news. He will need a heart bypass operation and continues to be very ill, but the immediate crisis seems to have passed. Thank you to everyone who prayed for him. Please keep him in your thoughts and prayers.

When we arrive at Philadelphia, a representative of Neumann University meets us at the baggage carousel and accompanies us to the check in desk at the Airport Marriott Hotel where we will be staying tonight. He has brought each of us a gift bag with Neumann University memorabilia including a mug, squeezy toy mascot, a pen, a lens or glass cleaner, a notepad and a soft travel blanket. The first thing I do when I get to my room is to take out my suit and hang it in the bathroom to steam and let the creases fall out. I order a room service lunch of Philly steak sandwich. I rest until 3.30pm when it is time to leave to drive to the university for our soundcheck.

The Miranda Centre at Neumann Franciscan University is a brand new sports centre and the concert venue is the main sports hall which has been transformed into a stylish dining room with about fifty circular tables and the concert platform at one end. There are lots of uniformed personnel scurrying about setting tables and floral arrangements and hanging dramatic crystal chandeliers from the ceiling. The university is celebrating its 50 anniversary this year and they have chosen to invite The Priests to help them celebrate that significant milestone with a one-hour concert which is due to take place at 9.30pm after the banquet is finished. The sound check goes well enough.

Having just completed three concerts on three consecutive nights and this being our fourth, with all the driving and flying, we are all a little tired. Added to that, this is a sports hall and not a concert venue so the sound isn't perfect from our perspective, but the sound engineer has worked with Josh Groban so I guess he knows what he is doing. A makeshift green room has been created in a corridor with each end curtained off allowing us some privacy. We have access to the brand new, state of the art, locker rooms.

After the soundcheck we return to our hotel where we have three hours to rest before our pick up at 8.30pm. We have decided to dress for the concert at the hotel rather than at the university so we all assemble in the lobby, suited and booted and ready for the 20 minute drive to Neumann Uni.

Before the concert starts, Eugene is in one locker room and I am in the other. We have already put on our head sets and they are switched on but we expect that they are muted at the sound desk. This is normal practice. We're both getting on with vocalising as part of our warm-up routine. If you've never heard a singer do vocal warm ups, let me tell you, it can involve making some rather strange and unusual sounds. And the sounds emanating from the locker rooms were like that - a lot of squawking and sirening.

Within less than a minute of us starting our warm ups, Tom comes rushing in to tell us that we are broadcasting to the assembled guests at dinner in the hall. Oh Lord, how mortifying - to think that the great and the good of the university and wider educational world have had their dessert disturbed by our caterwauling! Not good! Tom goes off to speak to the sound engineer to make sure we are properly muted. He comes back quickly to tell us that our microphone had been muted along, that in fact we had not been heard in the hall at all. It was only Gerry, the van driver, who had heard our voices echoing down the corridor and had come down to Tom to tell him that we could be heard. We are hugely relieved.

Our guest artist this evening is Yukiko Ishida, a Japanese woman who is a member of the faculty here at the university. She gives each one of us a little gift of a Japanese tea bowl, beautifully wrapped with paper on which she has written in calligraphy our names in Japanese. It's a very thoughtful gesture. When I introduce her onstage she gets a big reception which I fail to understand at the time. It later transpires that she has just recently completed chemotherapy treatment for cancer and is clearly a popular and cherished member of faculty. She strikes me as a very gentle, refined and humble person. She is clearly delighted to be singing with us. I think it is we who are honoured to be singing with her.

Our concert is just one hour long. We are singing 14 songs. The audience seems a little more reserved than the audiences we've had up to now, so we're not sure how it's going down. Perhaps it's because it's a formal, academic event, or it could just that the sound of the applause is dissipated in this vast space with its high ceiling. When it comes to the end of the last song, "You Raise me Up" the audience are immediately up on their feet and they reward us with an enthusiastic standing ovation. Deo Gratias!

The Vice President of the university, Sr Margaret, an Irish Franciscan sister who has been working in the USA for many years, comes to the greenroom to congratulate and thank us. She is just delighted with the concert and comments how appropriate it was to have The Priests perform for this special 50th anniversary event.

We are brought upstairs where a photographer has set up his camera against a backdrop of a curtain with the Neumann University logo on it. The great and the good of the university including the President and her husband and tonight's honourees come to meet us and have photos taken. This lasts for around 45 minutes and then we return to the green room to gather our belongings and depart for the drive back to the Marriott hotel.

This is our last night together. Mark is flying out early tomorrow morning for Toronto. No one seems ready to go to bed just yet. A bottle of wine is produced and Martin shares his chocolates. The chat is good as we review the whole tour and each one chooses his highlight of the two weeks. Wichita seems a lifetime ago. In fact it seems an age since we said our goodbyes to Frank Carroll in Worcester and that was only this morning. It's amazing how much we seem to have packed into a single day.

By about 2am were all starting to fade. It's time to say a sad 'goodbye' to Mark who has been such a great addition to our team during this tour. A fantastic musician, a very confident and competent MD, great company, always upbeat and quick to laugh. I'm sure we will be seeing more of him in future. Thanks Mark for all you brought to the tour. Top man! And so we all head to bed for a well-earned sleep.



28 - 29 March 2015  -   Fr Martin’s Tour Blog #5

The American Odyssey by The Priests, coming to an end!

We flew from Worcester to Philadelphia on a most enjoyable flight and with a little more leg room, much appreciated. In fact I was able to film the touch down which gave me a great view of the city in the distance and all the shipbuilding and dry docks, not unlike Belfast!!

We bid farewell to Frank Caroll and his whole team after their wonderful work for the concert in the Hanover Theatre. We were welcomed at the airport by a representative from Neumann University called Nick and he very kindly brought us to the shuttle which would be at our service for rehearsals etc. We decided to go to the rehearsal at 3.30pm, leaving enough time for Mark, our musical director, to get the Orchestra sorted in the University. We were glad of the break for a little while and before you knew it, it was time to make our way to the theatre. We were staying in the Marriott Hotel at the airport so as to make it handy for us to catch our flight today to Washington and then on to Dublin from there.

The rehearsal went well, although it took some time for us to get used to the atmosphere of the basketball hall and the sound took a little getting used to. However we were content in the end and then made out way back to the Hotel as we were not needed until 9.30pm.

This event at the Neumann University was to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the university and had taken more than a year to organise. This evening was also the opportunity to give honours and awards to key people who have been instrumental in the University, originally set up by the Franciscan Sisters. Their presence is most evident to this day, encouraging areas such as spirituality in Sport among other programmes of study, with over 3000 students at the university. It was beautifully kept and in pristine condition in every manner.

We headed back to the hotel at the airport which was only about 20 minutes away and got ourselves sorted for the evening with a little down time, too. At 8.30pm we made our way back to the University and prepared for the concert which would last 1 hour. We would sing 12 pieces of music and we were joined by a member of the faculty who was going to sing as a contralto. She was very good indeed.

We waited in the area reserved for us close to the hall itself. The hall had been transformed into a banqueting hall, with tables well decked out. The food smelled delicious but the meal was over by the time we arrived. After the award ceremony was complete and after a big build up we were introduced and up we went a on to the stage and performed. It did take us some time to adjust to the conditions of the hall and the setting of the tables and guests all gathered together, about 450 in total.

The evening was reflective and the concert went well with enough variety to keep people interested and alert!!! The audience seemed to be engaged and responded with a standing ovation too, which was heartening for all three of us. After the concert we relaxed for a short while before being taken upstairs for photos with those who had received awards and with other staff members, young and more mature. It was a great night although by this stage we were getting very tired indeed.

We left this wonderful venue after meeting the President of the University and the staff. There was a chance to express our thanks to the staff and volunteers for the evening, and all their hard work. We then made our way out the back and into the car that would take us to the hotel.

We were conscious that this would be the last time that the four of us would be together and we had a little celebration at the airport hotel.

After a good night's sleep we emerged in the morning of 29/3/15. We thought that Mark would have been well on the way but by the time that I arrived at the lobby, there he was with Tom having sorted out a dilemma in regard to his flights and some confusion. It turned out that he and Tom had to rent a car in order for Mark to catch a flight to Toronto from Newark, and Tom was going on to New York and then on to London from there. So all go for them and so much so that they had no time to eat with us.

We said our goodbyes sadly after what was a marvellous tour with superb team work. It only remained for us to get our few bits and pieces from Tom and then off they went. We had a little bite to eat at lunch time and celebrated Mass for today's feast of Palm Sunday. Afterwards we gathered our luggage together for 4 pm and then, after checking out, it was off to the  Philadelphia Airport for the first flight to Washington.

By now we have checked in and are awaiting our flight and then the onward journey to Dublin from Washington. Summer time has come in Ireland with the clocks going forward, so we will arrive tomorrow morning at about 11.30am.

So that's us now! Thank God for the journey that we have experienced, it was both absolutely fantastic and yet also very busy. We hope that we have brought much joy, reflection and more besides to many people.

So catch up in Dublin and then we go onto Belfast for the first of the Holy Week reflective concerts on the 30th March in the Opera House in Belfast with Cappella Caeciliana. Over and out!!!  



26 - 28 March 2015  -   Fr Martin’s Tour Blog #4

The American Odyssey by The Priests, continued.

We arrived in Boston on the 26/3/15 pretty promptly and then carried on to Worcester. There we had the chance to meet the amazing Frank Caroll and checked into the Beechwood Hotel of Worcester. He welcomed us and after a quick change and sorting ourselves out we were in our way to Hartford (and Norfolk) for the concert.

Again we arrived at a very modern venue the Infinity Hall - in fact it was only about 6 months old and here we were treading the boards! All was well sorted for us and the sound check went quite well. It is great to have the expertise of Tom on this tour as he has the inside track and irons out any difficulties. The audience was about 250 in a theatre that caters for about 400. The experience was one of intimacy and the audience were woven into the whole experience and thoroughly enjoyed the evening.

We had the chance at most of the venues to meet friends and relations after the concert which was much appreciated. David met some cousins which was super for him. I have to say that music in its inimitable way reaches into the hearts of all: You can gauge the audience’s mood and how the music can help - almost like a medicine - to heal and uplift. The audience I am sure were somewhat curious about us and were glad that there was a light hearted atmosphere and humour.

Isn't that what it us all about? I am so grateful to God for this chance to be out there in the market place, engaging and dialoguing through the gift of music and so grateful to those who nurtured us in this journey too. The resonances of past experiences do shine through, my memory of going to the hospital with my mother as a child remains so important to me and how music was the healing factor.

There were a number of acts that came to play at the theatre such as Legend among others. We had a lovely soprano by the name of Caroline Fischer who sang beautifully and who herself teaches some 40 students or more. There is a real focus on Music Theatre now which is great as long as we hold into the patrimony of so many other types of superb music.

We had to sign the wall before we left. Tom, because of his height, was able to make a little design for us and while sitting on his shoulders we were able to sign the special design at a significant height - which was undoubtedly the highest on the wall as one descended the stairs and before going on stage!!! It was like a circus with the three of us resting on Tom's shoulders and the laughter and banter was just great.

I think this was one of our toughest days because we had only a few hours sleep and then straight into rehearsals and then the concert. I can assure you that when I got back to the hotel after the hour's journey from Hartford to Worcester I hit the pillow and never moved until 7 the following morning.

The next day (27/3/15) was the day of the Hanover Theatre Concert at which 2000 were coming to the concert. It was also going to be a day of experience, particularly the journeying to the St. John’s Food Programme at the St. Francis Xavier Centre.

However I must first mention Frank Caroll. As I said earlier, an amazing man! He gave us a hearty welcome and is a real mover and shaker who had everything so well organised. Indeed the promotion of this concert in aid of the St. John’s Food Programme was quite incredible. He has so many contacts but also the insight, expertise and courage to take this on, and he has brought a number of acts to Worcester in the past. He was delighted with the response as he had been trying to get us for the past three years.

Here is a man who is passionate about the practical application of the Gospel and how feeding the poor is so important. The programme, in conjunction with Fr. Madden, feed at least 500 people per day (that is approximately 130,000 meals per year!) and some 400 families benefit from food parcels each month as well. The centre caters for so many people who are unemployed, homeless, suffering from mental problems and more besides. It is an oasis of peace and connection. There are some 900 volunteers from students at High School, to local Parishioners, to Bill Reilly who as the manager is just wonderful.

We had the great invitation from Frank Caroll to visit the scheme and it was so humbling: the graciousness of all and the gratitude of those who came to be looked after. There were children, young people, elderly and they really made me stop in my tracks and think. Each face told a story and the sufferings that all experienced. How can this be in our civilised society? But all were nourished by the smile of the volunteers and in return the staff and volunteers were uplifted by the humour of the poor. I will always carry this experience: We are not what we have! This was indeed an eye opener and reminiscent of the fact that at home in the midst of the economic downturn we have food banks supporting quite a number of people.

We then headed to see the church of St. John, which was once a very much Irish parish as it was they who built the Church in the 1840's. It is still a vibrant Parish to this day and recently restored after the roof collapsed. It is in pristine condition now and a Church that is symbolic of faith in the middle of a community. Fr. Madden does great work in coordinating the Food Programme and instigating the Room for Growth aspect in the fundraising, aided by people such as Frank Caroll among others.

Soon it was back to the hotel for a light breakfast and then some downtime. At about 3.30pm we made our way to see Frank's family which was a lovely visit. We met his wife and daughters and it was a delight to be there and receive such super hospitality.

It was then onto the Hanover theatre right opposite the building that Frank works in. The Theatre is now fully restored. All I can say is that these theatres are treasured and restored with great love and affection by the American people! We have much to learn from this and the determination and spirit that enables things to be done and done well. At the theatre there are relaxing colours and chandeliers, giving it that touch of class and elegance. There has been a faithful restoration of this 1920's theatre and it would look the part in a Hercule Poirot series!!!

We had our rehearsal with a competent orchestra and then moved on to get a bite to eat at Frank's offices where he has a museum about the Founding Fathers of America, just superb and so informative.

We then made our way back to the theatre and the concert began with precision. Our soloist was Emily Suuberg who won the competition to sing in concert with the Priests. She sang very well indeed and with a wonderful stage presence.

The concert was met with great enthusiasm and the audience connected with us immediately. The evening proceeded with reflection and the usual humour and light heartedness. Before we knew it the first half was over and the break had come. Before the second half began a video was shown about the charity, St. John's Food Programme. It was most professional and slick and got the message across with effectiveness.

Then on we went to Funiculi Funicula, and with the corresponding clapping and the dark glasses of course the crowd were whipped into a frenzy - only to be calmed down again with the more reflective pieces as well as Mark's solo Jump for Joy, to the theme from the Secret Garden. The whole evening was electric and after the audience participation in Edelweiss and the impromptu photo by Tom, we then sailed into safe harbour with You'll never walk alone.

After some speeches from the local Bishop, Fr. Madden and Frank Caroll the evening finished with The Irish Blessing and the audience loved every moment of it. The atmosphere was undoubtedly electric and so exciting and we left the stage very uplifted.

We met some friends after the concert in the theatre and then headed to the hotel for a little light supper and a meeting with Frank 's family and friends. A wonderful night was had by all and then early to morning.

We caught the plane to Philadelphia on the 28/3/15 and had some down time afterwards, followed by our rehearsal at the Neumann University which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. We are singing this evening at the dinner as part of the entertainment and are looking forward to it. The concert is being held in the basketball court and hall, so the sound took us a little while to get used to, but we hope all will be well and that everyone will in fact enjoy themselves. The hall is beautifully decked out and looking a million dollars!!!  

This is our last concert of the US Tour 2015 - until next year, please God!



22 - 25 March 2015  -   Fr Martin’s Tour Blog #3

The American Odyssey by The Priests, continued.

Well we have now experienced Canton, Sopac in New Jersey, Infinity Hall in Hartford and finally Worcester in the Hanover Theatre. The following are reflections on the journey and the experiences that we have had which have been very moving as well as excitement.

The Canton experience was exhilarating and for a great cause: Catholic Schools of the Holy Cross Academy enabling children, through scholarships, to have the chance for education. There are some six schools in this Academy.  

We arrived at the a wonderful place on the 22/3/15 and we stayed in this beautiful retreat by the name of Gervasi Vineyard. It was so tranquil and just what we needed before the four consecutive concerts that were about to take place. The retreat experience was delightful and with a little downtime it was good to recharge the batteries!!! The whole area had vineyards North and South facing and indeed there is the hope of picking the grapes for the first time this year. Three swans gently glided effortlessly across the lake adding that air of peace and serenity, not a sound, superb!!

We were also conscious of the build up of snow in large piles that was slowly melting and there must have been some fall with winter still holding on with its grip. We spent time resting and on the 23/3/15 we soon made our way to the 1926 Palace Theatre in Canton which has been recently restored. Like so many theatres this, too, has been saved from demolition by the tenacity and courage of so many individuals - and thank God, for they are a vital part of the heritage of America and have been the scene of many acts and music making! The theatre staff were very attentive and the dressing rooms spacious.

We were singing with Dana Scallon this evening, which was wonderful as Eugene and myself have known Dana for many years. We had the opportunity of singing with Dana when we were children and when she had won the Eurovision Song Contest in the 70's. It all happened because we had a great connection with Mother Imelda who taught music in Thornhill in Derry where Dana was a student (as was our mum in times past, too!).

The theatre was very delicately decorated and the lighting was subdued but the detail of the theatre was quite super. The compare for the evening was Raymond Arroyo who is with EWTN and who was excellent in the concert.

The evening was wonderful and the concert flowed beautifully. We were well looked after and had a lovely meal in the local restaurant. And would you believe in the snow which had begun to fall that afternoon! The atmosphere was great, with over 1000 people at the event and all for a great cause. There was a lovely variety of music for the evening and the orchestra was very together under the capable baton of Mark Camilleri.

We thoroughly enjoyed the event and at the end the Monsignor responsible for the schools spoke warmly about the purpose of Catholic Education and the need to tap into the young to help reveal their potential and God's love to break through. The Diocese is quite young and in fact the Bishop, Bishop Murry is only the 5th one since the foundation of the Diocese.

After the concert we had a few photos and the opportunity to meet all the fabulous people associated with the cause of Education. We did get one or two photos with Dana, which was very special. Our retreat in the Gervasi Vineyard afterwards was very memorable and it's peaceful atmosphere was a real treat and just what we needed.

What impressed me about the evening in the Palace Theatre was the sense of the Catholic Family coming together and one that is equally inclusive of all faiths. In the midst of the hassle and bustle it was somewhat celebratory to have this chance to pull everyone together who have that focus or purpose. It was much appreciated as the gelling was most effective and would be very important for the future.

All in all Canton was a great experience and before we knew it we were on our way to the airport to fly into La Guardia airport in New York to begin the next leg of the journey: the concert in SOPAC in Newark which is very close to Seton Hall University. Letting go of a place that spoke of peace was not easy; it was a coming down the mountain experience but one that would sustain us as we journeyed.

As a little aside we were asked if we could call in to see a man by the name of J. who was suffering from cancer and was in the Aultman Hospital, on our way to the airport. He was over the moon about this. We arrived in what was a magnificent hospital, the front foyer was most welcoming and there was the shopping area, too, which normalised the experience for us and I am sure the patients and families.

We met J. and his daughter C. and her son. This was an overwhelming moment and as we sang Panis Angelicus, there was a sacred presence in the atmosphere and J. was visibly moved as were the rest of the family. The nurse was having a little listen in and the door of his room was wide open to allow the sound to cascade into the corridor and help as many as possible.

What an honour to have this short encounter with J., the organist in the local Church, and so much associated with the Holy Cross Academy. He was so aware of the power of the gift of music and its impact. I was deeply moved by this sacred encounter and how the little things can be so powerful, despite our ups and downs and weakness. We signed a CD for the family and then we made our way to the airport. This was a special moment and one in which the sacred was encountered. It echoed so much with me in regard to some of my experiences in the Ulster Hospital and how music can be a way in to hearts and for the staff too.

Before we knew it we were up in the air once more on the 24/3/15 and making our way to New York. The flight was not too long, just over an hour or so. However the views coming into New York were fantastic, with the Statue of Liberty in the distance and downtown Manhattan out there, too. The tall skyscrapers seem to defy gravity by their sheer height and the crowded buildings, all vying for space and yet all close together as if they were all at a serious Board meeting!!! How tiny we are when you look at these wonderful views from on high, tiny points of consciousness. Eugene captured the views very well and it will be good to savour these in the future.

Soon we landed and true to Tom's organisation we were collected very promptly and bought through the city, passing the Bronx and other areas and catching the views of the city in the skyline with the tall buildings in competition for that space. The weather was cool but within a matter of an hour we were at the Wilshire Hotel where we had the chance to rest before the concert at the SOPAC  (South Orange Performing Arts Centre) on the 25/3/15.

The journey we have undertaken this time round has opened us up to new venues and new experiences, so much happens that it is impossible to digest everything and we will need time to fully appreciate the experiences. All the staffs in the hotels made us so welcome and all our needs were looked after efficiently.

Soon we were on our way to the theatre which was smaller holding (about 400-500 people) and well attended for the concert that evening. The intimacy of the venue meant that the audience were right beside you really, and it was as if they were in the living room!!

However before we had the concert and after a night of good sleep, Eugene and myself had the chance to go and visit Seton Hall University and the seminary. It was there that our brother Francis has a class mate who lectures and he was most gracious and welcoming to us. We had the chance to look around the University called after St. Elizabeth Seton, and we saw the buildings from the 1830s-60s, beautifully looked after. The church on this feats of the Annunciation was just a wee gem and very Gothic in design.

I was very impressed by the young people attending the University who took an active part in the Campus ministry and also were dedicated to our Lady on the feast day. The priests were very steadfast in their ministry to the students and I must say I came away very heartened. We had the chance also to visit the seminary which caters for a number of dioceses. There I had the great opportunity of meeting a class mate of my own who now lectures in the faculty of theology and who I had not seen since my student days in Rome; a great guy and I was so delighted to encounter him again after all these years.

Time was passing quickly and we had to make our way to the theatre for the rehearsal and the sound checks. There is a real sense of commitment in all the people that we met and their interior witness was very evident as well as their impact in others. Very impressive indeed and the young people had a depth which was about a way of life, most uplifting.

We soon arrived at the theatre, very modern and our only concert in New Jersey and in the New York area (which is only half an hour away by train), but alas alac, we will have to wait for another time to explore the Big Apple!! After the sound check and meeting the staff and the orchestra we were all set. The audience enjoyed the banter and the variety and there was a standing ovation at the end of the night. M.C. looked after us so well as did all the staff and it was an absolute pleasure to be present there.

On my way out I noticed there was a concert coming up with Judy Collins who is a favourite of mine because I sing 'Send in the Clowns' (which also was a favourite of my mum). I just had time to take a quick photo and then Tom and myself made our way back to the Hotel to get a good night's sleep before the next part of the journey to the Infinity Hall in Hartford. We were flying from La Guardia to Boston first and then on to Worcester where we were staying in the Beechwood Hotel but travelling on for an hour later that day to Hartford.



27 March 2015   -   Fr David’s Tour Blog #15

Show Day - Worcester, MA - Hanover Theatre for the Performing Arts

7.00am comes all too soon. Time for quick ablutions and to get ready for our visit to St John's Soup Kitchens and Food Pantry. There will be TV cameras, and press photographers present. We will need to be clerically attired. I search my suitcase for my second pair of black trousers, but in vain. I realise I must have left them behind me in one of the hotels we stayed at previously. Darn! I have a pair of black jeans. Those will have to do.  

At 7.30am I have breakfast of poached eggs, bacon and pancake. Tom joins me around 8am. I tell him about my trousers. He says he will make a few calls.

At 8.10am we climb into the SUV for the trip to St John’s Soup Kitchen. The soup kitchen has been set up by Frank Carroll in memory of his son Kevin who died in 1998, aged just 38. Kevin was always giving and Frank wanted to continue somehow.

The soup kitchen serves over 500 not nutritious breakfasts daily, five days a week, totalling more than 130,000 meals per year. It also provides 'to go' food packages to over 400 families with children every month, totalling 4,800 per year. The food centre is staffed by over 900 volunteers from all walks of life including students from high schools and colleges. As the need for food is increasing, so the centre needs to expand. Our concert tonight has been organised by Frank Carroll to raise funds for the soup kitchen.

As we arrive, hundreds of people are already there waiting to be served. We are brought aside for interviews to camera. These will be edited and used for a TV news programme to be broadcast sometime today. We are also interviewed for the independent Catholic Press. Then we are brought behind the serving counter to form an assembly line to serve the breakfasts. We pull on the rubber gloves. Martin is looking after the chicken drumsticks. Eugene serves scrambled egg with crab sticks and sausage. I serve sweetcorn. Two others serve big spare ribs and ham salad. It's all freshly cooked.

The people who come there to eat are from all ethnic backgrounds and all ages, young, middle aged and elderly. Many of them are cheerful and courteous, others seem depressed and grumpy. Many of them are known to the saving staff and are greeted with nicknames in a familiar, friendly way and a bit of banter. We have a bit of friendly chat with people as they pass along the line.

The centre manager is Bill Reilly. He takes us for a tour behind the scenes to show us the large fridges stocked with food donated by some of the big stores. We also get to meet some high school religious studies students who are volunteering there as well as some Chinese students being educated in the USA.

After that we go to St John’s Church, the oldest church in Worcester, built in 1834. We meet Fr John Madden, the pastor who runs the  centre. He leads the prayers in the food center before the food is served. He gives us a guided tour of the church and tells us how the church was badly damaged at one point. The ceiling collapsed and  Frank helped restore the church to its original design according to a photo from 1916.

Back at the hotel around 10.30am I put a call through to Gervasi Vineyards to enquire about my missing trousers. I speak to nice young woman called Trish and she promises to send them on if she can find them. We have a few hours off now so it's back to bed for me, hopefully to grab a couple more hours sleep.  

At 3.30pm we board the SUV driven by Bob, a member of the AOH which has its headquarters just across the road from St Francis Xavier Center. We go to visit Frank Carroll's wife, Mary, who is unwell and is unable to attend the concert tonight. We will be meeting her at Frank's home. He tells us he bought his house from an Irishman who was the first Catholic who was allowed to live in their street.

At the house we meet his daughters Lisa and Kathleen and Kathleen's husband Paul. They are very friendly and welcoming and make us feel right at home. I think Kathleen would be great at a sing song. She's dying to get a party started. We also meet Frank's brother Tom who lives in San Diego. Mary, Franks wife, is a very friendly and charming woman. You can tell she is greatly cherished by her family. She is attended by her two little dogs, Bandit & Gracie (named after Amazing Grace). We sing the Casciolini Panis Angelicus and have some photos taken with Mary. Very soon, it's time to leave to go to the theatre.

The green room is one floor above the stage and is accessed directly from the lift. It's a great big spacious room with lots of mirrors and lights - enough to accommodate a whole chorus  or orchestra.

We meet our guest artist for the evening. Back in February a competition was held to see who would get to sing with the Priests. About 65 applied and over 40 auditioned. The winner was 21 year old Soprano Emily Suuberg. She has been studying voice for nine years and is a recent graduate of Manhattanville College where she obtained a BA in voice and performed leading roles in several college productions. This past summer she attended New York Lyric Opera Theatre's opera intensive and sang roles in Monteverdi's L'incoronazione di Poppea and Mozart's The Magic Flute.

After the soundcheck, we go directly across the road to Frank's business HQ, "Small Business Service Bureau, Inc." His building takes up half the Main Street. He started out with one building, then bought the one beside it and then the one on the other side and knocked them all through to create this one very large building. On the top floor he has created a museum of the US presidents which contains all sorts of memorabilia of the presidents and has artefacts and letters of fifty three of the fifty six signatories of the Declaration of Independence. Tom has seen the museum and says it is well worth a visit.

We are brought through to a Sir Alan Sugar - style boardroom with a long table with high-backed black leather swivel/reclining chairs. We can just imagine Frank Carroll sitting at the top of the table and telling some hapless employee "You're fired".

Dinner is served discretely by Susan, a uniformed employee. A light starter of mixed berry salad with balsamic glaze is followed by cod goujons and lobster ravioli in a very light spicy coating, green and white asparagus and baby carrots. This is followed by a selection of scrummy mini desserts which we can't finish. Joanne, our chaperone, takes them over to the theatre for afterwards. Brian, Frank's son and his wife pop in for a few moments just to say hello. He can't stay for the concert because he has volunteered to be at home with his mother, Mary.

We are all very happy with the onstage sound tonight. It's bright, vibrant, clear and well-balanced. The house is full to capacity - some 2,000. They give us a great welcome onstage and keep us well supported through the evening with their applause.

We're all very happy with the first half. Laudamus Te, Ave Maria (Awwww), Benedictus. Emily joins us for Amazing Grace then sings to solos to sustained applause. Then it's Stabat Mater and How Great Thou Art which always gets a great response. Mark plays his solo piece Jump For Joy and we return for the haunting Ag Christ An Siol and Gaelic Blessing. Be still My Soul and You Raise me up bring the first part to an enthusiastic end.

The second half begins with a visual presentation of the work of St John's Soup Kitchen and the planned $300,000 extension. We open to Funiculi Funicula and the audience enjoy us posing in sunglasses in verse two. They join in with the singing of Edelweiss with gusto. Then Tom comes out on stage. We turn up the house lights and he takes a photo of us with the 2,000 strong audience behind us - just to prove to our bishop that we do actually sing for live audiences when we are away.

The orchestra have a couple of wobbles in Danny Boy and in one or two other pieces, but not enough to throw us. Cliffs of Dooneen goes well. The audience respond well to the more light-hearted second half. They enjoy our "jazz hands" at the intro to "Have I told you lately". Phil the Fluter goes down well as it invariably does. Hail Glorious St Patrick is sung with patriotic pride - it's a great anthem - and Hacia Belen is a riot. Jenkins Ave Verum sobers us all up very quickly (from the ridiculous to the sublime) and we're into Eugene's words of thanks and You'll Never Walk Alone.

The Priests leave the stage to a standing ovation. The Bishop of the Diocese of Worcester - Bishop Robert Joseph McManus, Parish Priest of St John's - Fr John Madden and Frank Carroll come on stage to make their own speeches of thanks to various people who have worked to prepare for this evening's events. They call us back on stage to give our encore - The Irish Blessing and it's all over. A great night and a very successful one for all concerned.

Back at the Beechwood Hotel there is a reception with food and drink all provided. All the Carroll family are there as well as business associates and important people. I have invited my cousin and his wife to meet me here. We are able to send a bit of time together and get some photos.

We also meet soprano Maria Ferrante who sang with us in several concerts in one of our previous US tours. She is very complimentary about our concert and our singing. Her husband reminds us that Irish monks preserved the ancient pagan literature by transcribing and translating it. He comments mischievously that some of that literature is rather 'racy' and speculates as to what the early Christian monks must have been thinking as they read and translated it. His wife, playfully feigning mortification, tells us to pay no attention to him. We smile, and don't.

I have invited P.H. to the reception but there is no sign of her. She later sends a text message to explain that when she saw the tables set for a sit-down meal she decided not to stay but to go back to her hotel. She will catch up with us back in Belfast.

By 12 midnight I'm flagging a bit. I'm conscious we have an early start tomorrow and another concert tomorrow evening. Time to say my 'goodnights' and head upstairs. I spend a bit of time packing my suitcase for the morning and typing up my blog for the day. And then it's time for sleep. Nite all.



26 March 2015   -   Fr David’s Tour Blog #14

Travel & Show Day – South Orange – Boston – Hartford, CT – Infinity Music Hall

Thursday night - sleep is slow to come. My mind is whirring with all sorts of thoughts. The light goes on and off a few times. I try a few games of solitaire on the iPhone to distract myself. It must work because eventually after 2am I manage to drift off but the alarm sounds all too soon at 6.30am. Another day of travel and singing begins.

We assemble in the lobby at 6.45am. I grab a quick breakfast and a coffe-to-go and have them in the van that picks us up at 7.10am to bring us to Newark Airport for our flight to Boston. Tom has already checked us in online so we only have to drop our bags and pass security. Having given away some of my goodies to the cleaning staff, my bag is a whole two and a half kilos lighter at weigh-in.

In the departure lounge I make a call to C.N. I am really concerned about R. who is in critical care in York Hospital with pneumonia and sepsis. The crisis seems to have passed for now, but R. is still a very ill man. If you are reading this blog, please say a prayer for him.

The flight to Boston is a short one, only about 50 minutes. The heat inside the plane and the gentle vibrations created by the engines soon send me into a welcome doze. On landing, as we collect our bags, Mark's is missing. Enquiries reveal that it was taken for inspection at Newark and not loaded on the plane. It is there still. Arrangements are made for it to be delivered to the venue in Hartford later today in time for the concert - hopefully.

It's chilly in Boston and there is plenty of snow banked up in places. Our transport today is a stretch limo. Most of the luggage goes into the boot/trunk and the remainder travels in the cabin with us. It's fortunate that we don't have Mark's suitcase too otherwise we would be very cramped. Our plan is to drive for about an hour to the hotel in Worcester and deposit our suitcases and then go directly to the theatre in Hartford.

When we arrive at the Hotel, around 11.45am Frank Carroll, the promoter for the Worcester concert (which is tomorrow evening), is there to meet us. He is a smartly dressed elderly gent who has been promoting concerts for decades. He was, as they say, 'well in' with the Rat Pack back in the day. And here he is, still at it. He has everything organised to perfection. Tom has phoned ahead and arranged for a change of vehicle and it's waiting for us outside the hotel - a fourteen seater minibus! Frank's assistant has our keys ready for us.

We go straight up to our rooms which are very spacious and comfortable. As well as a beautiful arrangement of fresh flowers, there is a welcome pack full of all sorts of consumable goodies and a nice letter of welcome from the hotel management which is a nice touch. This has to be a quick turnaround and there's lots to be done. I take out my suit jacket and hang it in the bathroom to steam for ten minutes. I iron a fresh shirt and my suit trousers which have become a bit crumpled in transit. The travel wash has burst in my washbag and the contents are covered in it. Everything needs to be rinsed and died including the washbag itself. That leaves me time to get together everything I need for tonight's concert in Hartford.

We all reassemble in the lobby at 12.30pm and board the bus which will take us the hour long journey to Hartford. Frank has very kindly organised a takeaway lunch for us - melted cheese sandwiches and crisps. Initially I decline the lunch - cheese isn't the best thing for a singer to be eating before a concert. The others, however, are happily tucking into theirs and my hunger gets the better of me and I eat one half of the sandwich.

It's a dismal enough sort of day, weather-wise. The sky is grey and it's raining. There's still plenty of snow in the verges and fields but the roads are clear. It must still be pretty cold as the lakes are still frozen over. I close my eyes to rest for a good part of the journey and we are soon pulling up outside the Infinity Theater. It's a modern, smallish theater but clean and nicely appointed back stage. There is a shortage of dressing rooms, though and so we three are sharing tonight.

The auditorium is quite a compact, intimate affair. Looking out from the stage, a fully stocked bar is visible at the back. Our sound check doesn't take long because Mark has to go out to shop for black clothes and shoes to wear onstage since his suitcase has not been delivered by the airport courier company and everything he needs is in that suitcase. Mark seems happy enough with the band though he remarks that we were spoiled last night in South Orange.

Our guest soprano tonight is Carolyn Fisher, a native of Connecticut who has performed all over the East Coast. Trained in classical voice at the Boston Conservatory, she now teaches over 40 private students at Summit Studios in Manchester. She makes her Infinity Hall debut tonight singing from one of her favourite composers, Giacomo Puccini.

It's a small venue and a relatively small audience tonight. But what they lack in numbers they more than make up for in enthusiasm. It's a great audience. The first half of the concert goes really well and the second half even better. Everyone seems very happy with how it all went. I go down to the auditorium after the show and meet up with old friends and a whole lot of other people who are all very positive and complimentary about the show.

Back in the greenroom we waste no time in getting changed and packed up. We've one more thing to do before we leave. We have to leave our mark. In the stairwell there are some autographs high up on the wall and we've been set the challenge of going higher. Luckily we've got Tom with us and he's tall. There are handrails on each side of the stairwell. He jumps up and stands with one foot on the left handrail and the other on the right and draws a great graffito for The Priests. Them we each have to sign it personally. We wonder about how to get up there. A solution is found. Martin sits on Tom's shoulders and is lifted up to write his signature. I jump onto the handrail as Tom did to write mine and Eugene follows Martin's example and sits on Tom's shoulders to write his. All this is accompanied with much hilarity and photos are taken to record the moment for posterity. It will be hard for anyone to go higher than ours!

By 10.30pm the Priests have left the building and are on the bus ready for the drive back to Worcester. We're all tired but very happy about how the day has worked out. Arriving back at the hotel at 11.30pm, Frank Carroll and Melanie, his assistant, are in the lobby waiting for us. They need someone to do a radio interview in the morning at 7.40am. Martin kindly volunteers. For the rest of us, breakfast is at 7.30am and then we are heading out to St John's  soup kitchen to serve breakfast to the poor and to meet the press. Frank has everything set up. He's quite the organiser.

And so ends a long day.



25 March 2015   -   Fr David’s Tour Blog #13

Show Day – SOPAC in South Orange, NJ

In the morning there's an email from Tom to say he and Mark will be going to the theatre and he will take our suits. I have a quick shower and steam before getting my things together. I drop down to the lobby a little early and it's just as well because Mark and Tom were just going out the door five minutes early. A few seconds later I would have missed them.

Martin and Eugene have gone out to visit a former classmate of their older brother who is on the staff at Seton Hall. They plan to be back around 1.30pm. I spend the time in my room, sending emails, reading the news online, and just relaxing. I appreciate having this quiet time to myself on a concert day, allowing the body, the mind and the voice to rest. A cleaner comes in to tidy the room. I give her some goodies I've been carrying around for a few days. It brings a big smile to her face.

A car is sent to take us to SOPAC - aka South Orange Performing Arts Center. Our driver takes us through the residential areas. Many of the houses are individually designed, built on a grand scale and are, I have to say, very attractive. There's obviously plenty of money in South Orange. The SOPAC is a relatively new building and is a lovely intimate venue. The acoustic is very good. Tom has spoken to the sound engineers in advance about our unhappy recent experience and they are determined to make this a better one. And that's how it turns out. We are all happy with the on-stage sound.

We order in some food from a local restaurant. Tom and Mark prefer to head out to eat. Martin tells me Archbishop Meyers of Newark will be in the audience tonight. Our food arrives - lentil and carrot soup and crab and avocado sushi roll.

M.C. is looking after us tonight. She works as a Special Ed. Teacher during the day and in the Theater in the evenings. She has interesting stories to tell us about some of the artists who come here and their various demands. One insisted on all the labels of the bottles facing out. Another said 'bring me puppies'. Another sent her to another town to pick up a piece of equipment from a guitar shop and when told the price of the item said, 'does he not know who I am?' Clearly he was expecting to receive the item for free. Another group asked M. where they could go to smoke cannabis. She told them it was illegal everywhere. She said you would be surprised how unpleasant and demanding many of the artists are.

The first half of the concert goes very well. The audience are very receptive and warm. The jokes are well received. The sound on stage is very satisfactory. The guest soloist for this evening is Christine Byrne, a music and theatre performance double major at Seaton Hall University. She has a lovely voice and performs to well-deserved  applause from her friends in the audience and from the audience generally.

The second half of the concert seems to go equally well. The audience are clearly enjoying the comedy moments as much as the singing. There's a lot of joy onstage. The band are symphony players. The string section in particular is really strong. The Nocturne is played as well as it has been on this tour. Christine sings well in the second half to strong applause. The concert ends with a lovely standing ovation. All in all, a very satisfactory experience all round tonight.

After the show there is a meet and greet with around thirty people which includes several religious sisters as well as a former pupil of Garron Tower, P.C., who was a couple of years behind Martin and myself and who is now working as an actor and married to another actor here in New York. We also met a former parishioner of Newtownards (with his daughter) who used to sing in the choir there but who moved to New York in 1962.

All the people we met were very complimentary and encouraging. One person said to me to "keep channelling the Spirit", which I took as a beautiful compliment. I also met a lovely couple, the husband originally from Germany, who were encouraging us to do a concert sometime in Singapore and South Korea where the faith is very strong and where there would be a receptive audience. You get to meet some really nice people on tour and the encounters are sadly all too fleeting. Perhaps people will link up on Facebook or Twitter. Who knows?

We have an early start in the morning and I am keen to get back to the hotel and to bed as soon as possible. I waste no time in getting changed and packed and am sitting ready to go. As soon as a taxi arrives Eugene, Mark and I are able to get away. Tom and Martin will follow when they are ready in the second taxi run. I get back to my room and pack my suitcase ready for the morning. It's the bewitching hour, and so, to bed.



24 March 2015   -   Fr David’s Tour Blog #12

Travel Day – Canton, OH  - La Guardia - South Orange, NJ

I wake at 8.30am and immediately get up. After completing morning ablutions, I go out to the shared lounge to discover that the Gervasio Vineyard elves has been and deposited the breakfast boxes. I slide back the wooden lid to reveal the same high calorie fare as yesterday except that yesterday's eggs and bacon rolls have been replaced by today's puff pastry bacon whirls.  

It's a beautiful sunny day and I enjoy looking out at the swans on the lake as I silently munch my brunch and sip the excellent coffee. Before long Martin arrives out in his white robe and we engage is a whispered conversation so as not to disturb anyone who may still be sleeping. Soon Mark also appears on the scene and chats away merrily in his booming Canadian twang. Clearly a morning person.

I head back to my room and proceed to pack my suitcase. We've been given so many chocolates and sweets that I'm afraid my suitcase will be overweight. I complete my blog from yesterday before donning coat, scarf and hat and head out for a wander about. I mosey over to the bistro and marketplace. Along the path I pass the lake and the swans come swimming over to me . There are three of them. Could be the children of Lir (or were there four of them?). I walk on and enter the marketplace. There are nice enough things there but the prices are hugely inflated and so I purchase nothing. Just as well really cos I'd no money with me anyway!

Yesterday we received a request to visit Jack Frient, a musician and cantor from St Paul's Church, who was excitedly anticipating our concert but who was brought unexpectedly into the Aultmann Cancer Hospital. We were unable to oblige yesterday but today we let them know we will swing by the hospital and pay a quick visit. Jack is delighted to see us and after a brief conversation we sing the Casciolini Panis Angelicus followed by She Moved Through the Fair. His daughter Carol and grandson Jake are there too and they enjoy hearing and videoing the performance. The Panis is nice but the other song is a bit rough around the edges. Not surprising given our late night.

Back at  Gervasi Vineyard we load the car with our luggage and when S. and T. arrive we set off for the airport. S. has thoughtfully given each of us a mug as a gift. At airport check-in we discover that my suitcase is overweight by 4kg. I transfer some things into Tom's second suitcase and we're good to go. After passing security we disperse to get a quick bite to eat. I head to Arby's and order a reuben sandwich which is pleasant enough. When we board the plane there is no assigned seating. I end up in the same row as T. who is flying back to her home in New York. After exchanging friendly greetings she settles down to read her novel while I get on with writing my blog.

Approaching La Guardia Airport we have clear views of the Statue of Liberty and the dramatic Manhattan skyline. At the baggage reclaim we bid farewell to T. After she's gone Tom lets us into the secret that she's seven weeks pregnant and asks us to pray for her. This will be a first baby for T. and her NYC firefighter husband.

Our driver arrives to pick us up. He is Stefdje (little Stephan or Stevie) from Macedonia. Our route from the airport takes us near Manhattan, the Bronx and Harlem. Tom tells Stefdje we are a group of priests on a concert tour and he should come to the concert tomorrow night. In puckish mood Tom suggests he might bring along his wife or mistress to which Stevie goes one better saying that he does taxi for a club of go go dancers and he might bring them instead. Ha Ha! Very droll!

Rush hour in New York is a situation to be avoided if possible. Progress is painfully slow. There has been accident on the incoming lane of the George Washington Bridge and cars on our lane heading out of the city are slowing down on the way past to have a good gander. Once we get past the accident the pace picks up and soon we are  clear of the city and heading south towards New Jersey. We pass through Newark and catch a glimpse of the magnificent cathedral. We once met one of the priests from the diocese of Newark, I think it was at our concert in the Egg in Albany. He was singing the praises of the cathedral in Newark and described it in the most glowing terms. He suggested we might come and give a concert there one day.

We arrive at our accommodation around 7pm. At 7.30pm I make my way to the restaurant and find Tom and Mark at the bar enjoying a beer. They're planning on going out to eat elsewhere. They might even take the train into Manhattan. I decide to go ahead and order something. My food arrives and I'm tucking into it when Martin appears and shortly after Eugene does too. Mark and Tom head off to wherever they're going. I finish my dinner and go back to my room. I watch some TV for a while. The news is all about the germanwings flight from Barcelona which crashed in the Alps with the loss of 150 lives including two babies and 16 schoolchildren. It's a sad end to the day.



23 March 2015   -   Fr David’s Tour Blog #11

Show Day – The Canton Palace Theater in Canton, OH

I sleep until around 7.30am and am ready when the breakfast is delivers to our Villa 'Portofino' at 8.30am. It comes in four wooden boxes with the number of each room carved onto the top which slides open to reveal warm bread rolls filled with egg and bacon. There is also a bread and butter style pudding, a flapjack and some grapes. All very calorific, I imagine. The coffee is really good. Martin and Eugene arrive out in their white towelling robes and slippers and Mark in his jammies. We all enjoy our breakfast looking out at the Swans gliding in the lake.

After breakfast I go back to bed and sleep until around 12.00 noon. For the rest of the afternoon I keep pretty much to myself in an effort to keep the voice rested. At 3.30pm Tom collects us to bring us to The Palace Theater.

Tonight's concert is a benefit concert for Holy Cross Academy. Raymond Arroyo from EWTN, whom we met both in Washington DC and in St Malachy's Church off Broadway in New York, will be the evening’s Master of Ceremonies.

We have not one, but three special guest artists: Derry's Eurovision Song Contest winner and past Irish Presidential candidate, Dana Scallon, is no stranger to us. Eugene and Martin know her personally for many years and we all sang with her in the Sons and Daughters of Derry concert when Derry, aka Legenderry, was the UK's first ever City of Culture in 2013. We are delighted that Dana will be singing with and for us tonight. The second artist is world renowned organist Mark Pacoe who will give a performance on the Historic Kilgen Organ. And thirdly there will be a performance by the Walsh University Chorale.

The sound check goes pretty well. Initially the sound on stage is great then I see Tom at the back chatting to the sound engineer and all of a sudden the sound dips on stage and isn't  quite so good. I ask Tom was an adjustment made and he said 'yes'. I told him the sound wasn't so good now as it was before. He told me we can build it up again if needed.

I run into Raymond Arroyo in the corridor and we greet each other warmly. We meet Dana too and spend a while chatting with her. She has flown from Ireland just for this concert and will be retuning tomorrow. She has a bad cold and is all gunged up. She notices that I've lost weight since we last met. :-) She comments that she's put on so much weight herself recently and I tell her I don't know what she's talking about - she's gorgeous! And she is, I have to day, looking very well.

At 5.30pm we go across the road to a Thai restaurant for dinner. The snow has come on so we wrap up well and put on our woolly hats for the short walk. The concert is scheduled to begin at 7pm. By 5.45pm we still haven't placed an order. Aware that it will take time to cook the meal and of the need not to be eating a meal too soon before a performance I am starting to get fidgety. Our dinner is served just after 6pm. I've ordered a Phad Thai with chicken. By 6.30pm I excuse myself from the table and go back to the Theater to get ready for the concert.

The concert begins with an organ recital and a contribution from the Walsh University Choir. This is followed by speeches by various dignitaries associated with the Catholic Schools and introductions by Raymond Arroyo. While The Canton Palace Ensemble plays the Hornpipe there is some squealing from feedback. And then we're on. The applause as we enter the stage is enthusiastic to say the least. The speakers go into big squeal mode.

We launch into Laudamus Te and for the first few bars the squealing continues. “Houston, we have a problem". It seems the sound engineer forgot to save the setting at the sound check and now has to try to remember and reconfigure the setting again from scratch. Eventually the sound settles down but there is no sound coming from the front of stage wedges. We have to endure this for four songs before we can get offstage. I mention the problem to the man at side of stage who relays it to the sound engineer at the desk at the back of the auditorium. In the second half, the problem isn't quite as bad.

Dana sings 'She moved through the Fair'. She is struggling vocally on account of her cold but being the seasoned performer she turns misfortune to her advantage by giving a very delicate and sensitive performance which makes the final verse all the more poignant.

For Phil the Fluter we don our kyaps as we normally do, then reconsider and put on instead the red Ohio State baseball caps that a friend got us. The audience roars its approval. When it comes to Hacia Belen, Martin is telling the audience about the chocolate, the nappies (diapers) and the sombrero. When it comes to the chocolate bit, I tell the audience that the chocolates were Heggy's chocolate and they absolutely love the local reference. (Heggy's Chocolatiers is a local institution with practically a cult following). All in all, it's a good concert and the audience are responding really well. They give a very enthusiastic standing ovation at the end and they, at least, seem happy.

After a very short break in the green room, we go back onstage to the official meet and greet with the sponsors. The three of us sit at a long table to meet people as they file past and we sign their programmes and CDs. They move on to enjoy a glass of wine and canapés. Then we move to a different part of the stage where we stand and pose with the sponsors for photos.

Our friends C & R were unable to be here tonight because R has taken seriously ill and was admitted to hospital. I know how much they were both looking forward to coming to the concert in Canton. They have been thinking about nothing else for practically the last six months and have made all kinds of preparations. I'm sure that after being worried sick about R, C is also feeling totally gutted about missing the trip. I tell the boys what has happened and we all agree to keep R in our prayers.

Back at the Gervasio Vineyard, the snow has fallen and the drive is flanked on both sides by tress illumine do with strings of lights. It's all very Christmassy.

We all assemble at the Villa where Tom and Raymond Arroyo and Mark Pacoe are staying. All the leftover food from the concert has been brought back. There are lovely  meatballs in spicy tomato sauce, an assortment of prawn and pork fillet canapés, assorted cheeses and crackers, fruit, and beautiful cakes and tray bakes. The whole gang gathers around the table, the two Marks, Raymond, Tom and EMD and we all tuck in. The conversation flows easily and everyone is in good form.

Mark Pacoe tells us how he felt jinxed tonight. He was playing a big Wurlitzer organ which was supposed to rise up magnificently and dramatically from below stage, but it got stuck and wouldn’t rise up so he ended up having  to play it from down below. Then, because the Wurlitzer had got stuck he was trapped below stage and couldn't get out. He was starting to feel claustrophobic and didn't know who to call to come and let him out. Oh dear!

We wind things up about 1am and head to our respective suites. I switch the light out at 1.45am.

Later on Twitter someone tweeted "’The Priests’, from Ireland, sang beautifully and were fabulous.  The pianist was fabulous, as were the other musicians.  Perfect evening”. Someone else wrote: “Sure was a great musical experience. All was great except the snowy ride home”.



22 March 2015   -   Fr David’s Tour Blog #10

Travel Day – Milwaukee drive to Chicago and fly to Canton

Bless me Father for I have sinned...

About 2.30am a group of people start making an awful racket in the corridor and it continues after they go into their room which is just a couple down from me. I'm furious! I get dressed and go down and bang on their door. The door opens and I go right in. There are two couples in their late twenties, drunk and loud. I read the riot act and tell them to "keep the bleepin noise down. There are people in the hotel trying to bleepin sleep." One girl bleats, "I'm a nice person." "No you're not," I spit back, "Have some bleepin consideration for other people and don't be so bleepin selfish". At which point I storm off back to my room - fuming! Isn't 'bleep' a great word? It expresses so much!

The noise continues so I pick up the phone and call reception. "I want to report a disturbance on the fifth floor. There's a group of people making a lot of noise." "Yes, Sir" comes the reply, "we are aware of the situation. We know exactly who they are. Security is on the way up now." A few moments later I hear security rap their door. I hear hushed words being exchanged and things seem to settle down after that. But the harm is done. Sleep doesn't come soon after that. Just what I need - another sleepless night. To make matters worse the pillow is uncomfortable. The whole night long, it seems, I'm forever trying to hammer it into some shape. I wake with a sore head and a painful creak in my neck. Is that how karma works? A creek in the neck in return for too much 'bleepin'?

The alarm sounds at 7am. Quick shower, grab stuff and out. Downstairs Martin and Eugene are already eating. I down a quick breakfast. Tom, with a concern for making our flight in Chicago on time, is cracking the whip this morning. By 7.30am pronto we're loaded up and on the road. Its over an hour to O'Hare airport at Chicago. Mark makes good time.

Eugene, Martin and I are dropped off at the entrance to the departure terminal with our luggage and instructions to go ahead and check in while Tom and Mark return the van to the rental agency. They will catch up with us later in the departure lounge. Having cleared bag drop and security without incident and in no particular hurry we proceed at a sedate pace, gliding like stately galleons along the concourse in the direction of the departure lounge, stopping off here and there along the way to explore the shops. By the time we arrive at the departure lounge Tom and Mark are already there. We don't have long to wait.

Waiting for us at the airport with two cars are Susi and her daughter. We met Susi about six years ago during our first visit to St Malachy's Church off Broadway in New York where she was a member of staff. She has since relocated to Canton and taken up employment with the diocese of Youngstown with special responsibility for Catholic Schools. When she was giving some thought to organising a fundraiser for the schools she thought of The Priests and how wonderful it would be if we could come and do that. She contacted our manager, Sam, and we were able to slot this concert into our tour programme. Had we not agreed to do this concert we would have had three days off in New York! Now, wouldn't that have been nice? But we can always visit New York another time. Better to do this concert for a very good cause - one that is close to our hearts - Catholic Education.

Susi drives us to Gervasi Vineyards where we are staying for two nights in the most beautiful Tuscan-themed villas set in gorgeous rural surroundings. It really is the last word in luxury. How lucky are we! I can't imagine what it would cost to stay in such a beautiful please as this. Thankfully our accommodation is being sponsored by a benefactor of the benefit concert.

As the villas are not yet ready for us, we drive off to Belden Village Mall. I’ve been here several times before back in the early 1990s when I was a counsellor for The Ulster Project in nearby Alliance and also subsequently when I came back to stay with friends on holiday. We enjoy lunch at Chilli's Restaurant before splitting up for an hour to browse the shops. In Macy's I spot a Levi's sweatshirt originally retailing at $45.99, marked down to $12.99 and with a further 60% off. I end up paying just over $5 - about £3! Go me! Am'nt I the boy for the bargains?

We rendezvous and head to TJ Maxx. Tom buys a new Samsonite suitcase. His was manhandled and destroyed during that time it was lost before it came to USA. Martin buys baby clothes as a gift for Tom's new baby, James. Eugene buys a snazzy new wash bag and I, my luck having already struck, find no notable bargains.

Arriving back at the Gervasi Vineyard Villas we check into our rooms which are absolutely beautiful, truly the last word in terms of quality of fittings and fixtures. Four individual suites are richly and uniquely decorated with marble floors, thick rugs, huge beds, gas fireplaces and lovely warm soft furnishings, a marble shower and bath room with luxury toiletries. The suites are linked to a shared, double height, timber beamed lounge, kitchen and dining area with large picture windows overlooking the tree-lined lake with gliding swans - the picture of tranquillity. Sigh!

We celebrate mass for the fifth Sunday of Lent in Martin's room before making our way along a dimly lit path to the bistro, situated in a beautifully converted old barn. Having eaten well earlier in the day, we settle for one course - Eugene has home made ravioli, Martin has a rigatoni pasta with creamy chorizo and tomato sauce while I have grilled salmon with mussels on a bed of wilted spinach and with a creamy mashed fennel and red pepper jam. Tom and Mark join us around 8.30pm and share with Martin a bottle of red wine.

At 9pm I head back to my room and am in bed by 10pm. Lights out at 10.30pm and it's straight to the land of Nod. Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz!



18 - 22 March 2015  -   Fr Martin’s Tour Blog #2

Reflections on the Journey of Five Musical Encounters.

It has been all go over these past few days and we have just completed five concerts, with four in a row. I have to say that the theatres are quite spectacular and reveal a history and indeed pride on the part of the citizens of each of the cities we visited.

We were in Joliet, Carmel, Green Bay and Milwaukee. Each of the cities has its own character and quite a number of the buildings, although modern are nevertheless from the Victorian era. All is in great condition and well looked after. The theatres are well prized and even though some were out of use for a while, they are treasured so much as they are a slice of the history of a city and the generosity of individuals.

The Orpheum Theatre was a wonderful insight into the history of Wichita, and Barney was undoubtedly the captain of the ship who along with the crew were fantastic. This was a familiar place for us and the welcome was overwhelming indeed.

Since this was the first concert we were a little anxious but thank God all went well. Our music director Mark was super and the orchestra was confident and well conducted. Our tour manager Tom to TC as we like to call him was just as brilliant as ever and we have become great friends He is a gem, looking after all the detail of the practicalities of the journey.

The audience in this historical theatre was so warm and again the palpable sense of absolute pride and joy in the place was beautiful to behold. Many of these theatres can tell a story and the acts that have appeared over the years have given much pleasure and healing. What a privilege it is to be part of this story and to be the storytellers in turn!

While we were in Joliet at the Rialto Square Theatre, I had the chance to speak to Gloria and Agnes, both volunteers for 25 years or more, one was 83 and the other 82, just amazing. They both love the theatre and told me that the only marble in the theatre  is the floor while all the rest is imitation. The entrance though is like something from the palace of Versailles, with mirrors surrounded by gilded frames and columns rising high and marrying with stucco of dancing figures. The lighting was amazing, with the perfume bottles neatly placed within the crystal chandelier.

But what was amazing was that there was an attempt to pull down this theatre in the past and build a Carpark, but through the auspices of a lady who was nick named 'the crazy lady', this theatre has been saved. The aforesaid lady died only a month ago but has left a legacy: She stood at street corners and asked people in Joliet for support to stop the destruction. The Rialto was built in the 1900's. An absolute pleasure to be there. 700-800 attended the concert.

The Carmel theatre was also stunning and very modern. It was built only four years ago through the kindness of the promotion of the Mayor. It is called the Palladium, built in the Palladian style. It was like an opera house and in such pristine condition.

The staff of all the theatres were superb and gracious and we just loved the whole experience. The interior of the theatre was expansive and it had a number of boxes for the audience, all with a super view. This was a real flagship in regard to the city and everything was no problem. The evening was just great and the atmosphere was electric, with some 700 people present. This was our first time in this area of America and it was an uplifting experience.

We also visited Green Bay, the oldest settlement in the USA, founded in the 1600's, a beautiful location on the shores of Lake Michigan. We were at the Weidner Centre for Performing Arts,  another beautiful entertaining space. It is situated in the University area and again so well looked after.

There was a wonderful burst of glass in the entrance hall that simply cascaded from the ceiling and the myriad of colours was breathtaking, created by the famous Wichita artist. The evening was a delight and the audience of 1200 really enjoyed the experience. Again this was a new experience for us and a new location, most rewarding indeed.  

Of course there is the diaspora of Irish across the States and there was a way in as it were, but the music appealed to so many and isn't that its strength, crossing all boundaries and lifting hearts? We also met the Bishop who was a lovely man, he commented on the healing nature of the music which was most encouraging for us.

Soon we were off to Milwaukee and to the Pabst Theatre which again was built from the thriving beer industry and throughout the kindness of a donor.

Like Joliet this theatre was going to be pulled down but a last minute offer from a philanthropist threw out a life line. He bought the theatre for 1 dollar and then pumped millions into the theatre. To this day it is treasured and the volunteering is just wonderful. We met some relations of friends from home at the theatre and you could see their sense of pride. Architects come from all over the world to see this building, with the two effigies of Beethoven and Wagner given pride of place. The hospitality was very warm and kind and the area for us to gather and prepare was like being in your living room, so comfortable and welcoming. I really enjoyed the pasta con pesto, yummee !!!

All in all these little pen pictures can give us an insight into the workings of a theatre and the wonderful staffs that behind the scenes enable the performers to give of their best. In many respects there is the gathering of kindred spirits at the concert: From the orchestras to the performers, the audience, the staff in the wings dealing with light and sound and those who nourish and keep the place so clean to those who welcome people, there is a tangible sense of family and it is wonderful to behold, thank God.

So thanks to all of you for journeying with us. We have now arrived at Canton to prepare for the next concert this evening. It is good to have a few moments to rest and gather ourselves now that we are at the half way stage on this fantastic journey - and what a privilege it is, thank God!

The Five Stages.

We have journeyed now to Wichita, Carmel and Joliet, too
To Green Bay and Milwaukee, to savour all things new.
The theatres are clothed in pride and joy and tell a story profound
Echoing out upon the stage are acts of every sound.

The lights, the instruments, the laughter galore
Resound throughout the space,
Inviting us to come to a calmer shore
Which is about a different race.

We leave refreshed, renewed and completely at peace
Abandoning our cares and woes,
To be ambassadors of art and life-giving grace
And to savour the Sower who sows.



21 March 2015   -   Fr David’s Tour Blog #9

Travel & Show Day – The Pabst Theater in Milwaukee, WI

I managed to get a pretty good sleep last night, long enough to leave me feeling somewhat more refreshed. I'm delighted. At breakfast Tom and Mark are happily regaling us with tales of their exploits last night with the band. They said the band were so positive about the experience of working with The Priests that they didn't want the evening to end. They went first to one bar and when that one closed they moved on to an Irish bar. Apparently the craic was great. Certainly Mark and Tom are both on top form this morning and neither of them look any the worse for wear.

It's a beautiful, bright sunny morning. We load up the van and Mark drives the one hour - forty minutes to Milwaukee. The journey passes largely in silence, as all these journeys tend to do. Mark concentrates on the road. Tom, sitting up front, has hushed telephone conversations. Eugene and Martin sitting in different rows have their eyes closed and I am right in the back typing away on my iPad, writing up my account of the previous day. It helps to pass the journey.

We arrive into Milwaukee around 12.30pm and drop Tom off at an Apple Store at the Mall. It's not really a Mall as we know it. It's more like a carefully designed-from-scratch town-centre with all the big-name high-street shops. He needs to get the screen on his iPhone fixed. He arranges to follow us to the hotel in a taxi. Our route to the hotel takes us through a beautiful residential area, Bayridge Street, where the houses are all individually designed and so quaint. We haven't gone too far when a call comes through from Tom to say they couldn't fix his screen and, if we're not too far away, can we come back to collect him. It's a challenge for Mark to manoeuvre our big van through the narrow streets of the Mall area but he manages well. Tom is waiting for us and we head off again to the hotel, our route allowing us a second look at the beautiful houses.

We are staying at a hotel downtown, just a few minutes walk away from the Pabst Theater. After checking in I go out with the intention of having a look around. But it's quite chilly and I think better of it. I go instead to a mall across the road and spend an hour or so browsing about. I stop off in Culvers for a light lunch of grilled chicken and cashew nut salad - making sure to leave aside the grated cheese. Returning to the hotel I have an hour or so to rest before joining Martin and Eugene for the walk to the Pabst Theater.

"Built in 1895, the Pabst Theater is the fourth-oldest continuously operating theater in the United States, and has presented such notables as pianist Sergei Rachmaninoff, actor Laurence Olivier, and ballerina Anna Pavlova, as well as various current big-name musical acts. The auditorium itself is drum-shaped and is decorated in reds and maroons with gold and silver accents. A large, 2-ton Austrian crystal chandelier hangs over the auditorium. The theater also boasts a staircase crafted from white Italian Carrara marble and a proscenium arch highlighted in gold leaf, which frames the stage."  (Wikipedia). And believe it or not, there's an Irish pub called Cudahy's in the lobby!

It's a lovely old place, built by beer money apparently. Below stage has been converted into an atmospherically lit lounge with comfy leather sofas, a football table, old vinyl records, book shelves and a tea/coffee stand manned by Cody. It has a nice selection of Steve Smith luxury herbal teas. I choose hibiscus.

Tom and Eugene are enjoying an enthusiastic game of table football. Judging by the whoops I think Eugene has just scored a goal! (Go Packers, Go!)

Mark has flown through the band rehearsal so we are able to start early with our sound check and we rattle through that too. Sound on stage is clear. All is good from our perspective. Twenty minutes does it. Loads of time to relax in the green room before pasta dinner (a selection of spag bol, chicken carbonara and creamy green pesto penne) at 6pm.

Alicia Burnesh is our guest soprano. She's lovely, and reminds me of a younger version of Dana Scallon. An internationally renowned soprano who has performed leading roles at the Met and a lyric Opera Chicago, she performs regularly at the Skylight Music Theater in Milwaukee. She is currently writing an opera for Milwaukee Opera Theater which will have its debut in October this year.

I'm really happy with how the first half goes. Martin and Eugene are doing a sterling job as usual. My voice is benefitting from the long sleep last night and all the care I've been taking with it, not to mention all the prayers that have been offered up. At the interval everybody seem very happy with how everything has gone so far.  

The second half, I feel, goes even better. It's great fun on stage and the laughter and banter flows. Mark at the piano is entering more and more into the fun with well timed glissandi and comical sound effects at appropriate moments, particularly when the Hacia Belen gossips are introduced to the audience. He's really become a great member of the team. The audience seem to be loving it tonight and so, I have to say, are we. The concert comes to an end with a lovely standing ovation.

After the show three sisters of MJM (a friend of Martin's and member of Cappella Caeciliana) come backstage to say 'hello' and enjoy a drink. I'm relieved to be told that there's no official meet and greet tonight. I take advantage of that to slip away as soon as I politely can and get back to the hotel early. As we have a 7.30am departure in the morning, I pack the suitcase and leave everything in readiness for a smooth getaway.



20 March 2015   -   Fr David’s Tour Blog #8

Travel & Show Day – Weidner Center for the Performing Arts in Green Bay, WI

At breakfast Martin informs us that this is International Day of Happiness. My first thought is, who decides these things? My next thoughts are that I'm going to be happy today and I will try to contribute to the happiness of those around me. Not quite sure how I'm going to achieve all that but I'm sure opportunities will arise.

Mark reports that he had a great sleep last night and is feeling refreshed and ready for the day ahead. He loads up the van and at 8.15am we start on our four hour drive to Green Bay, Wisconsin. Our venue tonight is the 2000 seater Weidner Center for the Performing Arts which presents an astounding array of performances from Broadway to chamber orchestras to pop acts and comedies. It is the premier performing arts center of Northeast Wisconsin and is the venue of choice for the entertainment industry's best performances and talent ... apparently.

On the road I do a little research on Green Bay. Established as a small trading post in 1634 makes Green Bay one of the oldest permanent settlements in the USA. The Fox river which divides the cities of Green Bay and De Pere is one of the few rivers in the world that runs north!

Their football team is the Green Bay Packers who play out of Lambeau Field. This 80,000 seater, just footsteps from where we will be lodging tonight, is one of the most hallowed stadiums in the United States and the only football team in the National League to be owned by the fans. Each August there is the Packers training camp. It's a tradition that young fans line up near the stadium waiting for the players to come and choose a bicycle to ride to the stadium. Kids get their exercise while running alongside the player to carry his helmet - a bit like an altar boy running after the priest with a thurible.

Northeastern Wisconsin is also known for its production of artisan beers and its family owned wineries which produce an impressive selection of Cabernets, Rieslings or speciality 'ice' wine. Green Bay sits on the shore of Lake Michigan which is exceptional for all year round fishing. The lake is well stocked with a great variety of fish including rainbow trout, brown trout, lake trout, king salmon, walleye, perch, smallmouth bass (apparently that's a fish) and muskellunge (Musky), northern pike and crappie. Apparently that last one's a fish, too -  though maybe not such an impressive one.

I am intrigued to discover that there is a Marian Shrine located near Green Bay. The Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help is situated on six acres of peaceful farmland in Northeastern Wisconsin. The site preserves the spot where the Queen of Heaven appeared to a young Belgian immigrant woman named Adele Brise in 1859. The message of the Blessed Virgin to Adele was simple: Teach the Catholic Faith to the children of a people who were losing their faith through neglect. Adele took this message to heart and for thirty-five years dedicated her life to this mission. Today the red brick convent and school that Sr Adele and her little community built in 1885 stands as monument to their hard work. Amazingly this is the only site in the entire United States where an apparition of Mary has been officially approved by the Catholic Church. We shall be sure to invoke the intercession of Our Lady of Good Help and her faithful co-worker Adele Brise for our concert this evening.

We arrive in Green Bay around 12.30pm and get checked in. I immediately organise what I will need for tonight. Though worn out from lack of sleep I am determined to stay awake all day in the hope of resetting the body clock and getting a good sleep tonight. I go out for a walk along Lombardi Avenue to the Green Bay Packers Stadium. It's 10 degrees and feels a bit fresh but I walk quickly and soon warm up.

The place is pretty deserted apart from passing cars. There's not much to see. I retrace my steps and make my way to a bar/restaurant close to our hotel. It's obviously equipped to cater for the coach and car loads of football fans coming to the games at the stadium. It's a cavernous space with a large circular central bar area surrounded by tables. There are oversized TV screens on all sides showing football matches and sports commentaries. The sound is cacophonous and deafening. I manage to place an order for a Philly steak sandwich which arrives quickly and disappears the same way. I hadn't realised I was quite so hungry. I pay up and go back across the expansive parking lot to the hotel, passing a huge mound of dirty black snow which at some point has been scraped off the car park and now is slowly melting leaving behind the accumulated dirt and detritus.

The director of sales for the Green Bay Hilton Garden Inn drives us in the hotel shuttle van to the Meyer Theater by mistake before taking us on the much longer route to the Weidner Center for the Performing Arts. She plans to attend the concert tonight with her two daughters. The Weidner Center is part of the University's of Wisconsin. It's a model building, bight, clean, well equipped, tastefully decorated with an amazing Kask glass chandelier and a marvellous state of the art theatre. It's a great venue all told and absolutely perfect for our kind of show. We're expecting over 1200 in the audience tonight.

The band are friendly and welcoming and the sound check is blissfully brief. We have a lovely dinner of roast chicken, mashed redskin potatoes and boiled baby carrots followed by a peach and berry pie with fresh whipped cream.

Our guest soprano tonight, Courtney Sherman, is on the faculty at the University of Wisconsin Green Bay where she teaches courses in vocal music and musical theater. She is an active concert performer having recently performed the soprano solos in Handel's Messiah, Beethoven's 9th Symphony, Mozart's Requiem, Rutter's Requiem and Carmina Burana. She is also the musical director at the Congregational United Church of Christ and enjoyed singing for her friends in Green Bay. She is a lovely warm person and has a fine voice.  She makes a very positive contribution to the evening.

After the concert we meet a few people including the local bishop, David Riken, who studied canon law with Eugene for a time in Rome. He tells us his diocese will be celebrating their 150th anniversary in 2018 and he would love us to come back to give a concert for that occasion. We also meet two old friends with two little girls who have travelled four and a half hours to come to the concert. They are staying in a hotel and are planning to do some interesting things next day on the way home. They have kindly brought gifts for all three of us, wine, cheese, chocolates and a t-shirt for me. We get to spend a bit of time with them, take some photos and sign the children's programmes. Then I excuse myself from the company, get changed and packed up and head up to the green room to wait for the others. It's so good to sit down and chill. Peace. Bliss.

The boys arrive in and the mood goes instantaneously from serene to manic as if at the flick of a switch. They're in hyper form. Eugene has on his head what looks like a giant triangular wedge of yellow cheese. It's the official headgear of the Green Bay Packers fans, which Eugene is now pretending to be. He is chanting loudly, 'Go Packers Go!' Tom and Mark are finding these antics utterly hilarious and are taking video and Eugene, ever the showman, is playing up to the receptive audience. I look on in silent bemusement - but this is international happiness day, after all!

Back at the hotel the clergy disappear off straight to bed while Tom and Mark head out to meet up with the members of the band for a few well-earned bevies.



19 March 2015   -   Fr Eugene’s Tour Blog #1

En route to Joliet

Where are we? It's Thursday 19th March and on St Joseph's Feast Day we're en route from Carmel, Indiana, to Joliet on the outskirts of Chicago.

We've had two very successful concerts in two very different venues. David has described our Wichita Orpheum concert and that has given you a flavour of our first night. A truly lovely venue, nearly 100 yrs old, with that patina of age, experience and flair that only a seasoned venue can evoke. All thanks to Barney and his team at the "old lady" for a warm welcome on our return.

The Palladium, on the other hand, is just four years old and is a stunning venue. What it may lack in age it makes up for in state of the art facilities, design and natural acoustics. More like a Palladian villa, inside and out, the advantages of 21st century ease of access for everyone, hi-speed digital technology and computer controlled suspended glass sound panels (deliberately designed to be unobtrusive to the eye) are combined with the decor I've seen in theatres in Mantua, Modena and Parma. The quintessence of Palladian architecture. A gem of a building well worth visiting in the bespoke performing arts district of the newly recognised City that is Carmel which has grown up on the outskirts of Indianapolis. It is now a desirable residential, cultural, economic and retail city in its own right.

Enough waxing about the beauty of the theatre, what about the concert? With some 700 in the audience (not bad for a mid week event) and an excellent band of two violins, viola, cello, keyboard and a state of the art Steinway grand piano at which our MD was seated we launched into our programme on the dot of 7.30pm. One hour later, with the help of our guest soprano, Shannon Love (who sang divinely), we went into interval time after a seamless first half. Everyone was happy with the tempi, introductions, players, sound and pace of the first half. Whew, always a relief when things come together. Similarly, the second half, with our customary Irish section, banter and fun was, I think, as enjoyable for us as it was for the attentive, warm and encouraging audience. All in all, a great night.

After a quick bite in the concierge's well stocked hospitality room... it was more than just a "snack bar" … we headed back to our hotel just five minutes away from the venue. You can't get much better than that.

After a good night's sleep for one and all, a phone interview with the Irish News in advance of our Grand Opera House concerts in Belfast, I'm back to where I started ... in the car en route to Joliet. Mark (who's driving), are we there yet?



19 March 2015   -   Fr David’s Tour Blog #7

Travel & Show Day – Rialto Square Theater in Joliet, IL

Another night passes with little enough sleep. But I plan on getting some more rest on the van on the road up to Joliet today. I manage to make it to the Marriott Club lounge in time to enjoy the scrambled eggs and fried mushrooms and zucchini. Martin is there before me and Eugene arrives shortly after.

We assemble in the lobby ready for departure at 10am. Mark tells us it's about a three hour journey to Joliet. Loads of time for a lie down in the back seat and a bit of shut eye. It's hard to sleep though. The seats aren't flat and the seat belt fittings seem precisely positioned to cut in uncomfortably. In addition the back seat is directly over the rear wheels and so I feel every bump and jolt on the road. Still, it's possible to at least close the eyes and relax and that will be good enough for now.

Joliet is  about 40 miles from Chicago. The Rialto Square Theatre, once by all accounts a favourite haunt of the gangster Al Capone, is as we discovered on our previous visit, 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.

The town is only about two hours west of South Bend where my nephew is studying at Notre Dame University, IN. He plans to attend the concert with his girlfriend and two friends. I've heard from his mum, my sister, that he has run into some transport difficulties and things are all a bit up in the air at the moment. We shall have to wait and see he manages to get something sorted.

Joliet was our first concert of the 2013 tour. On this visit we have two concerts already under our belts. Gregg Mangiafico from Nashville who replaced Andrew Synnott as our MD in 2013 had a lot to do then to rehearse the whole set with the band and the two guest artistes. The sound check that day was very tricky for the musicians and for us. Hopefully that won't be the case today. I'm confident that Mark Camilleri will get through things in short order. The first violinist in 2013 had worked before with Il Divo and was MD for Paul Potts on one of his tours. I wonder will we meet him again on this occasion.

In the Joliet concert of 2013, Nuala Murray's "Ring out your Praise" received its debut public performance to sustained and warm applause. That was the first time we'd heard the full orchestral arrangement and it sounded great. We are not doing ROYP on this tour as we feel it's a big enough sing and would be hard to sustain vocally night after night but we are looking forward to performing it again in Belfast's Grand Opera House in the two Holy Week concerts with Cappella Caeciliana.   

Back in the van, Tom lets us know that while he was in the hotel lobby checking us out, he dropped his Iphone on the marble floor and managed to shatter the glass screen. He depends a lot on the phone for his job each day as tour manager. He will need to get it fixed quickly - today if possible. He makes a couple of calls and locates an iPhone repair business close to where we will be in Joliet later this afternoon. No panic. Problem sorted. I'm a bit in awe of his resourcefulness.

After a chance to rest a while at the hotel in the afternoon Tom picks us up to bring us to The Rialto Theater. Mark is finishing up with the band and rehearsing the two sisters, Claire and Sarah. We begin with the Amazing Grace and run through a couple of others. Our sound check lasts all of half an hour which is great.

Dinner of tomato & vegetable soup, roast beef, salad, and mixed sandwiches is served by Cathy at 6pm. She tells us that she is a walking miracle having been rear-ended while stationary by a driver doing 80mph. She is very lucky to be alive.

Tonight at The Rialto we have not just one, but three, special guest artistes. Sisters Claire and Sarah Halbur grew up in Joliet. They have been singing together since they could talk. Claire currently works at the cathedral of St Raymond as vocalist and associate director of children's choirs and is finishing her music degree at the university of St Francis. Sarah also sings at the cathedral of St Raymond and works at the Thomas More Society in Chicago. She is also preparing for her wedding in May. They join us in the first half to sing Amazing Grace.  

Agnes Giedraityte, from Lithuania, is just 13 years old and won the Rialto Junior Idol at the tender age of 10. She has performed at Carnegie Hall and has won the American Protégé International Competition. She tells us that she just loves to watch The Priests singing on YouTube. Well, the pleasure this evening happens to be all ours because Agnes has a beautiful voice, quite remarkable and beautifully controlled I think for a girl that age and her O Mio Babbino Caro is truly a delight to hear.

We have a good audience in tonight. Bigger than last time. The onstage sound is very dry and after our first set of four songs I race around to the far side of the stage to ask the sound man to warm up the wedges a bit as we can't hear ourselves. The general feeling is that the concert went very well. The audience clearly appreciated it and showed that with their standing ovation.

We meet take some photos with the sisters Claire & Sarah and their family and also Agnes. Then we move across to where others have gathered. There's a large extended family of 11 Catholic homeschoolers and their cousins waiting to meet us. They have lots of CDs and DVDs and tickets for signing. They are a really lovely family.

I get to meet up with my nephew and his girlfriend and two other lads who have come with them. We chat a short while and take some photos before they have to head off. They have to contend with an hour and a half drive back to Notre Dame and a time change which loses them one hour. I don't want to delay them and put them under pressure for the drive home. I'm really pleased that they came though.

We chill out in the green room for a short while before leaving the venue at around 11.45 and are home for midnight. With an 8am departure and a four hour drive in the morning we waste no time in getting to bed.



18 March 2015   -   Fr David’s Tour Blog #6

Carmel, IN – Center for the Performing Arts, Palladium

After a short night I join the lads in the Club lounge on the 8th floor at 10.00am. The complimentary cooked breakfast has already been cleared away so I enjoy yoghurt, a banana and a small cereal bar instead. We chat about various concert tours we could think of doing next year - only idle chat really at this juncture but, who knows, it might come to something. Before splitting up we arrange to regroup at 12.30pm in the lobby with Mark to fine-tune some musical issues ahead of his rehearsal with the band in the afternoon.

After that particular meeting we enjoy a light lunch in the hotel grill bar. Feeling pretty wiped out I take to the bed for an hour before rising at 3.30pm to gather my bits and pieces together to bring to The Palladium. Tom picks us up from the lobby and drives us the short distance to the concert hall.

'It's a modern building which looks old', Tom quips, 'like someone I know ... not mentioning any names'. Martin suggests he must be referring to Eugene and Eugene reacts with mock indignation and umbrage. All in good fun!

The Palladium is the grandest of three theatres which together constitute the Center for the Performing Arts which was opened in January 2011. It is a truly 'state of the art' performance venue which describes itself as providing "three of the finest stages in the world playing host to the globe's most gifted artists. There isn't any other complex built in North America where so much attention has been paid to acoustics."

This is no idle boast as 'in the flesh' the venue is everything it claims to be. Acoustics are crystal clear. The band is fantastic and the sound check goes seamlessly. We also meet our guest soloist for the evening, Shannon Love,  a native of Ponca City, Oklahoma. Her official biog says this:

"Since her debut on the operatic stage in 2005, she has performed many leading roles including Violetta (La Traviata), Queen of the NIght (Die Zauberflöte), Lauretta (Gianni Schicchi), Fiordiligi (Così fan tutte).  In November, Shannon was honored to be a participant in the American Voices Festival and Master Class Series at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., hosted by Renée Fleming. … Shannon is an alum of the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University, where she received her master's degree in vocal performance.”

She does have a beautiful voice. Her rendition of the Caccini Ave Maria was beautifully controlled and sustained. And she comes across as rather humble and self-effacing which is very refreshing and endearing.

There seems to be a unanimous feeling that the concert went very well tonight and that everyone played and sang well. Tonight's concert was the first of four in a row of consecutive nights so the next few days will be pretty demanding. Please God the voices will hold out.

There is a short 'Meet & Greet' and official photo op with some of the big corporate sponsors of tonight's event, many of whom are of Irish descent. Typically after the show we all get the munchies and once we get back to the green room get stuck into the cheese and crackers, M&Ms and roast beef and mustard sandwiches. Yum.

We leave the venue by 11pm and in just a few minutes Mark gets us all safely back to the hotel. Tomorrow's another travel and show day so it's straight to our rooms without delay. Tired but with a feeling of contentment.



13 - 18 March 2015  -   Fr Martin’s Tour Blog #1

The American Odyssey by The Priests

The journey thus far has been very exciting and with the great travelling companion. Tom our tour manager is just superb.

Our travel to the USA and particularly to Wichita went very well indeed. The flights were comfortable and after the 8 hour journey we landed in Chicago and then transferred to Wichita, by plane, in preparation for the first of the concerts on Sunday the 15th March.

The countryside is so flat and after the ravages of winter the landscape looks quite brown but with the oncoming Spring this will all change. It was certainly much warmer than our previous visit in 2013 and we enjoyed the temperature of 26 degrees on the 16th of March.

The people have been amazing and so welcoming. The Old Town Hotel welcomed us once again with open arms. The few days there were very good so that we could catch up with our sleep and prepare for the concert in the Orpheum theatre, a magnificent place of the Arts. Barney and the crew were just fantastic to us, allowing us to rehearse on the 14th March with our Musical director Mark Camillieri, which consolidated the music so much. He is indeed a very talented guy.

We had a little time to see around Wichita, with the churches of St.Anthony (originally German, then Irish and now Vietnamese) and the Cathedral of The Immaculate Conception, both stunning Churches with clear roots of the Irish who played their part in the past. These are beautiful places of worship and so well kept with homilies in stone, wood and stain glass.

The old town itself has many of the old factory buildings that are now restored such as the Old Town Hotel which was a factory for Keen Kutters, making razors and the like. There are some lovely restaurants and when one orders there is always a healthy helping - super, but one has to watch the figure!!!

It is also the centre of aviation (Bombardier have headquarters there among others) and the people are very proud of this. Then there is the association with glass: There are a number of sculptures in the area which give an insight into the City and all are very much appreciated. The farming community is also crucial here and is vital for the economy.

We also saw the St Patrick’s Parade in Wichita. All the citizens were sporting that little bit of green which made us feel even more at home!! The festivities were held on the 14th March because of work commitments on the actual feast, but as someone said there is now the opportunity to celebrate twice!!!

The concert was a very rewarding experience and the audience appreciated the banter and the humour. (As it was the first of the series there were those “little moments” but the fun and laughter compensated for these!!)

There was a superb atmosphere in the theatre and the staff made us feel at home. The lighting, sound, backdrop, environment, art and frescoes, all added to the experience, thank God. The Orpheum Ensemble played beautifully and the evening finished with a standing ovation and the chance to meet people afterwards that we have had the honour of meeting in the past. After the concert we headed to our Hotel.

The following day we had the chance to enjoy the city and explore and relax a little. The weather was super.

Then we had St. Patrick 's Day, which was well celebrated. For us it was a day of travel - from Wichita to Chicago by plane and then a three to four hour journey to Carmel. We headed to the airport and before we knew it we in the air and crossing that vast expanse of flat land that seemed to roll on forever, all neatly boxed with the occasional circle here and there for farming purposes. The flight went well and the temperature had certainly dropped in Wichita from 26 degrees on the 16th of March to 7 degrees on the 17th of March, same temp as at home in Belfast!!

We touched down smoothly in Chicago and then collected our van to take us to Carmel, so after a short wait we were on our way through the spaghetti of lanes out from Chicago into the suburbs and then on to the main roads for Carmel. After a pit stop in a café we soon arrived at our destination - only to discover the change in the time with an hour added on!! Off to bed therefore and a good night's sleep.

Today, the 18th, is a day to prepare for this evening's concert in the Palladium which looks fantastic. So that is us up to date now; we have a rehearsal with our Musical Director Mark later and then it's onto the stage to tread the boards!!!

Thanks for all the support as you journey with us. Catch up soon.
God bless, Fr. Martin.



17 March 2015   -   Fr David’s Tour Blog #5

Wichita – Chicago – Carmel

Happy St Patrick's Day everyone! Social media, it seems, are overwhelmed by postings and messages on the theme of the day. Online greetings and good wishes are exchanged with one and all even before the day begins.

Today's a travel day. The plan is to fly to Chicago and then drive in two separate vehicles to Carmel, IN. My bag is packed already and all is made ready for the off.

I make my way across the road to Eggscetera and order the same bagel breakfast as yesterday. Martin and Eugene join me shortly afterwards and place their orders. Martin's Eggs Benedict look particularly impressive and I experience a fleeting flicker of food envy. Over breakfast we discuss the business of the day and various other matters of interest.

M&E depart to go and view the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception which I visited yesterday. I set out to visit St Anthony's where a Latin Mass was celebrated on Sunday. It's only a short walk away. The temperature has dropped sharply overnight and a wind makes it feel even cooler. I'm glad of my scarf which I use to cover my mouth so as to avoid breathing in the cold, drying air.

St Anthony's is the first, and logically therefore, the oldest Catholic Church in Wichita. Built by the Franciscans in 1902 for the German speaking residents, it was subsequently used by the Irish and now the Vietnamese. It has a very unique and distinctive tower which has become a landmark on the Wichita skyline. After going around and trying all the doors I'm disappointed to find the church completely locked up. A pity because I would really have liked to see inside.  I will have to make do with whatever photos I can find online.

We load up at 12.45 for the short trip to the airport. On the way we swing by a JCPenny. A couple of days ago while Tom was waiting for his bag to arrive from London, he bought a few essential clothing items here and discovered only when he got back to the hotel that the security tag hadn't been removed from a black Levi's hoodie. Speculating that they might think he had stolen it and he might end up in the penitentiary, we consider whether a character reference from three Irish priest might carry any weight. Mark offers to help out but, well, with his being Canadian and all that, it might actually be counterproductive. Maybe he should just stay in the van. Cue hearty laughter from Mark.

Speaking of Mark, when I wrote about him initially, shortly after meeting him in Chicago, I said,  "He seems to have a pretty good musical pedigree. He played for us at a concert we did a while  back in Toronto, ON and we were impressed enough with him then. Hopefully it will work out well." Well, on reflection that's a big understatement on my part. Silly me! What was I thinking? And apologies to Mark for being so ill-informed and for representing his considerable talent and musical expertise in such a lacklustre fashion.

The smallish plane flying us to Chicago takes a bit of buffeting from time to time. Tom looks around from his seat and gives a look of concern. We are all reminded of our bumpy arrival into Billy Bishop Airport in Toronto in 2013 which had us all offering up a fervent act of contrition. But this was much tamer by comparison, but there's never any harm in saying a wee Hail Mary!

At the airport while the clergy guard the luggage, Tom negotiates a great deal on a single vehicle that will be able to accommodate all five of us and our luggage comfortably instead of the two separate vehicles that had been booked previously. It's a twelve-seater! Plenty of room to spread ourselves out. There's little chat on the road. People seem happy to just be quiet, to read or listen to music through their earphones. I take up the back row and am able to stretch out for part of the journey to get a bit of welcome shut eye. When I wake up there's a very beautiful golden sunset across the fields.

After about an hour and a quarter, Mark pulls off the highway and we stop off for a convenient bite to eat at a Denny's. The images of the food on the glossy printed menu look great and I'm anticipating something really fresh. Time passes ... a good sign, we suggest, that the food is being freshly prepared and won't be something pre-prepared and reheated ... More time passes ...  I do my best meerkat impression, casting  about a glinty eye for waitress attention. Just as we are on the verge of becoming 'hangry' the trays arrive with a poor wilted facsimile of the beautiful images on the menu. Hunger, as they say is the best sauce. Conversation ceases. Food is devoured in short order. Straight down the hatch. Nothing gets wasted.

Back on the road by 9pm, it's another two hours to Carmel. I have time I watch a movie on my iPad - an Australian drama called Mystery Road about an indigenous detective in a small town who finds himself dealing with murder and drugs. As the film ends we arrive at our hotel. Beautifully timed. At check in it emerges that we've also checked into a new time zone and gained an hour. It's midnight already. Straight to bed.



16 March 2015   -   Fr David’s Tour Blog #4

Day off in Wichita, KS

Last night I was asleep by 1am. I wake at 4.30am and that's the last sleep I see all night. I read the news and send a few emails, then have coffee at 8am. Afterwards I head across the road to a place called Eggscetera, which serves up all things eggy in various permutations. With temperatures warming up nicely, I head back to the hotel to ditch the gansey, pick up the shades and take a good brisk walk on this beautiful morning.

My one and a half hour walk takes me to parts of Wichita I hadn't seen before including the Wichita Center for the Arts, the Mid America All-Indian Center and the Wichita Art Museum which is situated in a very pleasant landscaped area called The Museums on the River. There's a very attractive riverside walk which bypasses a reflecting pool and an impressive large scale metal sculpture of 'The Keeper of the Plains' depicting an Indian chief constructed in 1974'.

I end up at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, a very impressive and beautifully restored Church which features some impressive, newly installed, larger than life, bronze statues of an unusually young Joseph in his carpenter clothes and a not much younger, pregnant Mary who gazes across the sanctuary with a troubled expression to the crucifixion scene opposite.

Back at the hotel I doze lightly for an hour or so, but it is enough to refresh me. I walk out, looking for a light bite to eat and, lo and behold, the fratelli are at their usual spot in Larkspur having just consumed a light lunch. I join them and order an appetiser of hummus and pitta bread washed down with a few large glasses of ice cold water with lemon. Just perfect for such a beautiful warm sunny day as this.

We have arranged to travel out by taxi to the home of friends who have kindly invited us to spend a couple of relaxed hours with them. The afternoon passes quickly and soon it is time to return to our hotel.

8.00pm, we go to join Tom and Mark who are waiting for us at the Old Chicago Restaurant. Tom has been sitting in the sun and is all burnt red. In this restaurant everything is served with lashings of cheese. Tom and I have spaghetti with red meat sauce and meatballs. Eugene and Martin have fish and chips and Mark has the biggest deep pan Chicago pizza pie! We discuss arrangements for transport to the airport tomorrow and onward ground transport to Carmel, IN.

We are back at the hotel by 9.45pm and head to our rooms.



15 March 2015   -   Fr David’s Tour Blog #3

Concert Day in Wichita, KS  –  The Orpheum

When I open the curtains to the double window doors that open onto a Juliet balcony overlooking the atrium four storeys below, I have a birds eye view of E&M breakfasting down there. I whistle down and get a wave back. Imagining I am too late to avail of the hotel breakfast service I resolve to greet the boys briefly before venturing out for something further along the street. But my luck's in. There's plenty of food available and the staff are happy enough to accommodate me even at this hour. Fruit salad, followed by a small plate of scrambled eggs, a slice of streaky bacon, slice of bread, apple juice and coffee does the trick.

M&E are both in good form having slept well. We chat about our strategy for tonight's concert. We also arrange to meet up in Eugene's at 3pm to have a look at a couple of pieces of music that were a little insecure yesterday in rehearsal and also to celebrate Mass together which was brief, devout, sincere and reverential - a moment of prayerful communion with the Lord and one another around his table.

Afterwards we have a run through some music and go our separate ways to gather our bits and pieces together to go up to the theatre for the sound check which is due to begin at 5pm. We walk the short distance. The sun is hot on our backs and I remove coat and scarf. The sound check goes well.

A dinner, delivered from a local restaurant, is served at 6pm: delicious pulled pork and black bean soup followed by grilled salmon on a bed of prawn rice and asparagus spears with a side orders of oven roasted vegetables and buttery onion mashed potato. It all tastes really good. There's a lot of it and the temptation is to eat it all up, but I don't want to go on stage with an overfull stomach so I leave some aside - I might revisit it after the show when the adrenalin is flowing and I get a dose of 'the munchies'.

I change into my black suit and then do a bit of a physical and vocal warm up for about ten minutes before the concert begins. The first half of the concert goes well enough. M&E are both in fine voice, Mark is doing a grand job at the piano and the band is pretty good too, though they are a little straight faced and unsmiling when we acknowledge them and evoke applause from the audience for their efforts.

The second half is more enjoyable. Something went wrong in the orchestra with The Cliffs of Dooneen and for a while we were all at odds with each other although we somehow managed to get back on track for the last verse and finished beautifully. I elicited a ripple of amusement among the audience with my comment that we might have to go back to the drawing board with that one.

Thrown somewhat by the preceding fiasco I proceeded to introduce the next song. Unable to make out the running order at my feet in the semi darkness and my eyesight not being the best, and thinking it was Hail Glorious Saint Patrick, I gave a whole spiel about that before noticing a bit of general consternation develop around me from singers and musicians alike. Clearly something was amiss. Eugene whispered me an aside that we were actually supposed to be singing Danny Boy.

By this stage the MD and band and were in a state of barely disguised panic as they furiously flicked through their files to try to find the right piece of music. Eugene rescued the situation somewhat by telling the audience that I had announced the wrong song and I should now go to the back of the class. I began to slope off the stage in a hang-dog fashion, pausing to stop and look sideways at the audience with head hung low and bottom lip out as if looking for sympathy and lenience. They were having a great laugh at our antics.

Having got the desired laugh I went back to centre stage and announced that in fact we wouldn't be singing Hail Glorious St Patrick just yet after all and, now that they heard my words of introduction to that song I hadn't a clue what I might say next time around, but for now we would just stick to the pre-planned running order - all this much to their continued amusement and, it must be said, the great relief of the musicians. So without further ado or introduction I announced Danny Boy.

It was Martin's turn next to make a mess as he dashed upstage to fetch the props for Phil the Fluter even though we still had to sing Have I told You Lately. So all in all, that Irish section isn't our slickest moment on stage tonight but seems to be diverting and amusing enough for the audience who get to see us three tubes interact and improvise in a spontaneous manner, which I suppose is a bit refreshing too, in a light-hearted, slapstick sort of way. Though you don't want to overdo that!

The show ends to an enthusiastic standing ovation and calls for an encore. We end with Love can Build A Bridge. After the show Tom wastes no time and we refresh ourselves with a tonic on the rocks and lime. The mood is generally upbeat after the show and all are pleased that it went as well as it did. The hiccups will be easily ironed out for the next show.

After a quick drink we go to meet people who are sponsors of PBS and who have paid extra for their tickets to have a meet and greet with the artists and have CDs and DVDs signed and their photos taken. It lasts for about half an hour and we retire to the green room for some more laughter and chat before the theatre supervisor lingers in the doorway to hint politely that this might be a good time to move on. We walk home and soon head to bed. Exhausted!



14 March 2015   -   Fr David’s Tour Blog #2

Rehearsal Day in Wichita

After breakfast down in the lobby I head out for a walk about the town. It's bright and mild out but I'm glad of my jacket and scarf all the same. I browse through a few shops just to pass the time but make no purchases. The roads are long and wide. Some traffic about but hardly any pedestrians at all. The place looks pretty deserted and dead. It's Saturday and it seems that most of the businesses are closed up for the Spring Break.

I stumble by accident across The Orpheum where our concert will take place tomorrow. There is a large sign above the front entrance advertising The Priests in scrolling lights. It amuses me to see it. Never did I ever dream that one day I would be part of something that would entail having my name in lights over the entrance to a theatre or opera house. It still feels very bizarre.

I make my way back towards the hotel and spend a while looking through music and trying to familiarise myself with words of a couple of the songs that we haven't sung for quite some time. We assemble in the lobby at around 1.45pm and together walk the short distance to the theatre. It's a nice big theatre in the style of the Grand Opera House in Belfast, though in need of a lot of spending. The piano tuner is there, finishing his tune up. From 2.00pm until 4.30pm we work through the whole programme.

Walking back to the hotel it's really quite warm, warm enough to sit out. But I go to my room where I take warm drinks to rehydrate. I discover that there is to be a jazz evening in the hotel lobby and as my room is overlooking the lobby I think it could be useful to have ear plugs.

I spot E&M sitting outdoors at a restaurant called Larkspur. I join them for a coffee and then order the starter of fresh homemade crab cakes (three small ones) served with macerated tomatoes, sweet red onions and peppadew aioli sauce.

Making my way back to the hotel I pass lots of young people all decked out in green for St Paddy’s Day. They seem to have spent the afternoon in the bars but are being well behaved. I wonder how many of them are Irish? Back at the hotel I spend a while channel-hopping on the TV but there's not much on to interest me and I turn out the light at 10pm.



13 March 2015   -   Fr David’s Tour Blog #1

Belfast – Dublin – Chicago – Wichita, KS

The iPhone alarm sounds at 6am. All the packing had been done the night before so everything is plain sailing. I feed the cat and leave everything ready for the caretaker who will pop in each day to set out her food.

During the last couple of days before USA Tour D-day, the good luck and 'bon voyage' messages start arriving in via email, Twitter and FB. It's always great to receive these messages of support.

MJ and the lads arrive at around 7.25am. Surprisingly, in spite of the public workers and Union members' strike, the roads are virtually clear. It is a beautiful, bright, sunny morning. We make good time and arrive in Dublin airport at about 9am. After a relatively trouble free check in and bag drop we pass two security checks and immigration clearance without any difficulty. We enjoy a quiet coffee before embarkation. Flight scheduled 12noon to Wichita via Chicago.

11.00am - Tom phones from London to report that his flight to Dallas has been delayed by 3 hours so he has changed his flight to Chicago instead and we will meet him there and travel in together to Wichita. So that's good. It means we will all arrive together but the only hitch is that his bags might not arrive for a day or two so he might have to borrow our suits! :-)

During the 8-hour flight to Chicago I watch a couple of films: 'Fury' starring Brad Pitt is about a US Army tank battalion in WW2 and 'Riot Club' set in Oxford Uni about a 'Bullingdon-type-Club of the sons of the filthy rich and powerful going berserk'. Both very good.

In Chicago we change to terminal 2 and go in search of something to eat. After checking out the various options we end up at Wicker Park Seafood and Sushi bar on the lookout for something tasty and healthy.

Around the corner from where we are sitting there's some Irish jig music playing and it turns out there's a troop of young Irish dancers in their colourful costumes and curly wigs entertaining the crowd. Looks like things are hotting up here for St Patrick’s Day. A Mexican waiter in the sushi bar explains that the river running through Chicago will be turned green for the day and all the beer will be green too! Poor St Patrick has a lot to answer for. Still it's great that the Irish are so celebrated here.

We adjourn to the United Airlines lounge to relax before the onward journey. Tom's flight arrives in from London and he joins us there. His wife had a baby recently, their first child. Tom is full of tales of how the new baby has impacted on their lives. He tells an amusing story about the baby soiling all its clothes. Tom having no idea how to get the clothes off  without making a complete mess takes a pair of scissors and cuts them off!

At the departure gate for the flight to Wichita we meet our MD, Mark Camilleri. He seems to have a pretty good musical pedigree. He played for us at a concert we did a while back in Toronto, ON and we were impressed enough with him then. Hopefully it will work out well. We are planning a rehearsal tomorrow afternoon at the Orpheum Theatre where the concert will take place on Sunday evening.

Arriving at Witchita, Tom's luggage is missing - as we expected. Hopefully it will arrive tomorrow.

We arrive at the hotel at about 10.45pm local time - 3.45am according to our body clocks. It's been a very long and tiring day. We check in and head off straight to bed.


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