Sunday 29 January

As ever, when you have to go away from work for a few days this always means a frantic rush to ensure everything is in order. This almost suggests that you cancel whatever the trip might have been in favour of an easier life! Due to be away Mon-Fri in the last week of January this week before was no exception.

Choir practice on wednesday meant rehearsing for two Sundays and ensuring that musical arrangements were in place for my return and for the practice. An additional burden was having an extra day off courtesy of Martin Luther King day on 16 January. The attempt to take this day off and the two days off I usually get just added to the stress.

Then on Friday 20 January my day off was interrupted by a funeral. I drove away from the funeral that Friday afternoon and dialled an uber as soon as I had left my car. I still am not savvy about addresses in Tampa so the taxi ended up passing the church again before reaching its destination. The good news was that for some reason unknown to me the Uber cost me nothing at all! It was 4.30pm and I had arranged to meet some friends at a restaurant. I had arrived so early but was delighted to discover that the restaurant was next to a bar which I had enjoyed once or twice before. I found myself sat next to a guy whose thirst had ensured a certain conviviality and he engaged me in quasi political comment. It was clear he was no fan of Trump. Eventually friends joined me and we adjourned to the restaurant as planned. It was a Bohemian type of place with good food with no pretences and a fine selection of ales. we had a wonderful time together and so we capped it off by returning to the bar for a couple more tipples. One of my friends was good enough to drive me home so I did not have to fork out for another taxi ride.

The following day I had two meetings with to-be -weds and we managed to sort things to their satisfaction and mine. I did the evening Mass and returned home for a rest. Sunday followed the usual pattern with a frenzied attack of packing during the afternoon.

On Monday I was bound for St Louis where I would spend the next 4-5 days with liturgical composers from across America. It was an invitation only conference so I was delighted to be invited. I didn’t know quite what to expect but had submitted one piece for critiquing and another for the Concert. In the event the concert piece (Canticle of Tobias) was mislaid so I substituted my ‘Blessed are the Clean of Heart’.

At the Tampa airport security while refitting the belt to my trousers the belt broke and I felt insecure. So as soon as I had touched base with the welcoming party I was off in search of a replacement. The information desk advised that I try the police. This was a little scary, I thought, but followed their advice nonetheless. I didn’t get the warmest of welcomes from the police but was relieved not to be arrested for wasting police time! In the event I remembered that I had packed another belt and this sufficed.

Once the expected early cohort had arrived we were driven by a stretch limo to the Sisters of Mercy Conference Centre in Frontenac. This limo was in fact more like a minibus and the stretch was a vertical rather than horizontal one, just in case you were wondering.

Once established in allocated rooms there was a light sandwich lunch for us. I had arrived with Kevin Keil and was joined by Paul Inwood and David Haas. I had some business with David Haas but did not feel it appropriate to enter into this immediately. Later on I was able to find him alone and dealt with it then.

All the delegates met around 5pm with an introduction of all the attendees. This took a while and was followed by the first of the very complete meals. Every meal we were offered amounted to at least 3 courses but there was no wine with the meal. After an evening prayer which celebrated the Care for Life in a broader sense than many might have expected on Roe-v-Wade anniversary day, we adjourned for drinks and more food!

It was a long night and the next day came rather too soon. The programme for the week was full on and included a retreat element given by Cyprian Consiglio. He brought to bear a wide experience of other faiths and cultures with strong insights into our own Catholic cultures. Besides his reflections his musical gifts were immense as he included his own unique playing of the guitar and songs.

During the afternoon we started the first of two sessions critiquing compositions. All compositions were anonymous so my setting of Catherine McAuley’s ‘Suscipe’ received unexpected comment. Most of the comment was directed at the text which many considered archaic and inappropriate. Well, it was a set text and the writer’s name had been deleted. Perhaps the editor did not know Catherine McAuley (founder of the Sisters of Mercy) or that she had died in the 1840s but since mine was one of the earliest to be reviewed I was unaware of any ‘right to reply’. I was however happy that after the session some composers did come up to me individually with complimentary and useful comments about the music!

Wednesday followed a similarly full on schedule ending with a Banquet at the Hilton Hotel in Frontenac. I was happy to find myself sat with Christopher Walker so we were able to have a good conversation. John Foley had fallen earlier in the day but had sufficiently recovered to make a welcome if somewhat bloodied return near the end of the banquet and in time for the photos. The journey home was uneventful and more wine followed.

Thursday was a mixture of organisational meetings and rehearsal for the evening’s concert. Each of 5 conductors were allotted a composition by each composer that wished to be part of it. We were joined by additional local women to rectify the balance of voices.

The rehearsal lasted almost 3 hours and then it was an early evening supper before changing into ‘glad-rags’ and the concert. The concert went really well. We sang one piece by a guy I had never met or heard of. It was simply beautiful and prompted an immediate emotional reaction in me as I tried to sing despite blubbing throughout. If I ever thought that my Germanic blood led to me being an emotional cripple then this piece put an end to that!

After the concert we adjourned to yet another wine social and when all the guests had departed we sat down for a last semi-drunken chat until after 1am.

I left the centre before breakfast as my flight was 9.50am. Once through security I heard my name being paged. It turned out that suspicion had been alerted by a metal box in my luggage. It appears that they are not accustomed to people travelling with a digital recording studio! I broke my journey in Atlanta but was back in Tampa by 2.30pm.

On Saturday I managed to complete the selection of songs for the February School Masses and printed the Song Sheet. I also managed to print a wedding Worship Aid … just as well since the wedding itself was at 1pm. One Vigil Mass later and I was home to watch Chelsea beat Brentwood 4-0. I was not feeling well so was in bed by 9.30pm.

Sunday morning was a little tense…. not particularly for musical reasons but because after the first Mass I had discovered that the stitching to the rear of my trousers had given way so I had to return to find a more decent replacement. The choir also suffered a somewhat expected short-term memory loss regarding the music. We had practised it 11 days before but the time gap was too much, I suppose. All will be well next week! They are a great bunch of folk.

Back at church for the evening Mass I was also able to grab music for tomorrow’s Tampa Catholic Mass at St awrence so that some of my ‘day off’ might be just that!




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