Tour of Ireland: Limerick

1800394_10203303731140718_1493578143_nAnna Nicholl, a first year Geographer and Soprano Choral Scholar, writes about a fantastic few days spent in Limerick as part of the Choir’s tour of Ireland…

After a wonderful time in Dublin, the Choir departed for Limerick where we would stay in a nearby monastery. We certainly left the rain behind us and were greeted by beautiful sunshine in the idyllic setting of Glenstal Abbey. There was little time to soak up the sun, however, as we soon headed to St John’s Cathedral in Limerick to rehearse for an evening concert.

Our evening concert was scheduled as part of the Limerick City of Culture 2014. In addition to performing our own programme, we were fortunate enough to hear the atmospheric plainchant as sung by the Glenstal Abbey School Choir and a couple of uplifting gospel numbers from the University of Limerick BAVAD Gospel Choir. After receiving a double standing ovation from our audience, our very own Director, Mark Williams, was congratulated by the Glenstal Abbey School and presented with a hamper of their delicious chocolates. It was with high spirits, therefore, that we headed to the local pub where the Abbey had kindly arranged a post-concert supper – definitely what we all needed! With our time in Ireland approaching a week, drooping heads and lagging footsteps made their way back to the Abbey Guesthouse in search of a comfortable bed…

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Awaking was rather more difficult on our last full day in Ireland. With this said, the idea of getting up for breakfast at 8.15 was made infinitely better by the lure of brandy infused porridge! The morning began with an engaging tour around the grounds of the Abbey, made to look all the more glorious in the sunshine. We were told of the histories of each of the buildings and also shown some fascinating icons, stored underground, and told of their meanings. Our tour finished up in the school and just in time for the students’ morning break – an opportune moment for the request for a rendition of a couple of pieces…

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As ever, there was no time for rest as we headed towards our final concert destination of the tour: Limerick University. It was here that we were faced with the challenge of performing to an audience whilst being able to see ourselves in the opposite mirrored wall! Continuing the wonderful hospitality that has been received throughout the week, we were given a roast lunch that even the men amongst the Choir had trouble finishing. Despite this, some managed to save some room for dessert!

One of the monks from Glenstal Abbey, who had an important role in organising our events in Limerick, then took us to both King John’s Castle and St Mary’s Cathedral. The Cathedral was party to a performance of Britten’s Noah’s Flood. Not only were there seats laid out for the orchestra but a stage made to look like Noah’s Ark! This seemed a stark contrast from the bare, medieval stones of the Cathedral but made for a reminder of the modern role of Cathedrals in society.

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Our last evening was a busy one. After attending Vespers (evening prayer) sung by the monks of the Abbey, we joined together with the School Choir in a workshop. The children here were much younger than those at Methody in Belfast and were used to reading plainchant instead of SATB scores. We were therefore thoroughly integrated amongst the boys and took an active role in leading them through the music of one of Tippett’s Negro Spirituals. This was an extremely rewarding experience as by the end, the boys had picked up well the parts that they were assigned to in addition to taking heed of the advice given to them by Mark. Our influence was felt as we heard the boys heading back to their rooms whilst practicing their new found falsetto voices…

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The great Irish hospitality continued in great style as the Abbey hosted us in a beautiful room, complete with a grand piano. Although one of our Choral Scholars suggested that the piano should be locked, it wasn’t long before Mark was put under the spotlight by one of the monks who challenged him to a combined improvisation. It was quite something to behold and provided much entertainment with all of the Choir entranced in the skill of both parties. It was then the turn of the two organ scholars who opted for a more relaxing improvisation only to be replaced in favour of ‘Guess the Christmas Carol’! With our knowledge of Christmas carols and hymns exhausted, we headed to bed. Our time in Glenstal Abbey definitely ended with a bang and it was with fond memories that we departed in time to fly home from Cork.

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This has been my first tour with the Choir and all three destinations have provided unique experiences, each equally inspiring. Not only have we had an amazing time but the Choir has developed massively as a group and it would be difficult to deny that we, as an ensemble, have improved massively over the course of the tour. It is with excitement, therefore, that I look forward to the challenges of next term’s schedule.

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