“THE PRIESTS” DELIGHT AND INSPIRE
Byham Theatre, Sunday April 29, 2012, Pittsburgh Cultural Trust
By Tamar Cerafici
Yinz missed a great concert last night if you weren’t at the Byham Theatre last night.
|Fathers Eugene and Martin O’Hagan, |
and Father David Delargy
Fathers Eugene and Martin O’Hagan, and Father David Delargy, collectively singing as “The Priests,” blended pop and classical style with affable grace. The trio of two tenors (Fathers Eugene and Martin) and a baritone (Father David) did it with the help of local musicians and good friendship (37 years, beginning in a Belfast, Northern Ireland, boarding school).
“Affable” and “grace” were the operative words of the evening.
The “Byham Ensemble,” led the program with a balanced and interesting arrangement of Handel’s Royal Fireworks music and provided interludes. (The group, a pick-up quintet of local musicians, was led by The Priests’ music arranger at the piano. I want to say Fergus Mackenzie, but the program sadly provided no information, and I was too stunned by the power of the first set to take careful notes. I do know that his first name was Fergus, which is a name more associated with the Highlands of Scotland than the Emerald Isle.) The ensemble accompanied the group throughout the program, and one never got the impression that they had probably had time for a sound check and a quick run-through of the program order before the performance.
Appropriately, the trio’s work began with “Laudamus Te” (rough translation: Glory to Thee) from Vivaldi’s Gloria I. I was happy because I know the piece well, and could sort of sing along. I couldn’t resist, such was the joy of the performance. There followed in quick succession a series of well-arranged Latin religious pieces, including a lovely Ave Maria. The Fathers continued the religious theme with an absolutely stunning version of Amazing Grace, along with a short history of that lovely hymn.
A minor quibble directed to the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust: Though each of the pieces was introduced with a delightful if overly rehearsed patter, I found the lack of a printed set list distracting. My brain is foggy from allergies; I wanted something to help remember the concert besides the album the Fathers were hawking. I realize they are on a whirlwind tour, and this was the 6th concert in 7 days for them. But I can’t believe that the order of the program wasn’t so set that you couldn’t provide a loose piece of paper or something. Now I have that off my chest.
I admire The Priests’ use of local musicians. They not only gave well-deserved credit to the Byham Ensemble (they name each group after the theatre in which they perform), but they introduced me to the lovely soprano voice of Leah Edmonson Dyer. Dyer is currently pursuing an Artist Diploma from Carnegie Mellon U, and was a 2011-2012 winner of the Pittsburgh Concert Society Major Auditions. Her solo with the Fathers as well as her solo set were clearly and powerfully sung. I admired her “O Mio Bambino Caro,” and “Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again,” which are both difficult to sing. Dyer’s maturity and passion made both pieces (rather too-much-done in the soprano repertoire for my taste) seem fresh and original. Her final “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” was a powerful anthem to hope in hard times. I’m so glad she sang the verse, which is left out of the 1939 movie. When “all the world is a hopeless jumble,” it is nice to wonder if there’s another world, accessible and in Technicolor.
The Priests themselves are an entertaining trio – you can hear for yourselves at their blog, thepriests.com, where they give their own thoughts on the concert – scroll past the concert dates to hear it. By themselves, they have powerful voices – evidenced by the short solo turns each of them took in the second half. Together they are excellent representatives of the impish mood that infuses Irish folk singing and performance. The lighter second half was simply entertaining, mainly because the Fathers had gotten the serious religious stuff out of the way, and could get personal. My great-grandmother was from County Armagh, but I rarely feel the pull of the motherland like I did last night. I appreciated the Fathers’ sincere dedication of each of the solo and folk tunes to teachers, parents, and culture.
These guys are, if anything, sincere. They believe in their work as musicians. They believe in their call to serve God and His children. They believe deeply in the work that their success has allowed them to perform, including building schools in Third World countries, supporting retired priests, and working in their own parishes. They ingratiated themselves with this audience by sincerely wanting to relate to it: Father David was a youth priest with the Ulster Project in Ohio and visited Pittsburgh often; the O’Hagen Fathers have family connections in Ohio; their Irish-accented “yinz” was a highlight. This sincerity only infused the evening with a casual sweetness that I rarely see in other, more overly produced and less entertaining, products of the classic-pop trend (see, Andrea Boccelli or Andre Rieu).
The evening was filled with grace. The audience was receptive and encouraging. The Fathers shared their faith with friendly enthusiasm. Although they are polished performers (Fathers Eugene and Martin have been performing together since Father Martin could walk), enduring a marathon six vocal concerts in 7 days, they still performed with the grace of supremely talented priests entertaining in the hall for a night of parish entertainment.
And for that, I am grateful.
Tamar Cerafici is an environmental lawyer whose national practice includes nuclear power and sustainable development consulting. She is the author of “Dominate: How Lawyers Use 4 Strategies to Crush Their Competition,” and the founder of The-Barefoot-Barrister.com as well as LegalShoe, and The Lawyer’s New Clothes, new media channels on PositivelyPittsburghlivemagazine.com that teach lawyers how to build enterprises and find balance in their practices without selling their souls.