Walking a hundred miles in seven days through the Wicklow Way takes an exacted toll on all who dare the adventure, even the young and able. The pilgrims of Vox Peregrini 2017 were not spared the price. And neither were they excused the cost of admission; the commitment to perform within hours of finishing the Way. They arrived in Marley Park about four on Wednesday afternoon and performed at eleven the next morning at St James Chapel, then two hours later at St Patrick's Cathedral. Added to these concerts was a three hour recording session Friday afternoon. Muscles are muscles and the will carries tired legs as well as exhausted voices and Vox 2017 delivered with superb style on both accounts.
St James Chapel rests along the walls of the Guinness empire. The exquisite Roman church is as esthetically appealing as any Cathedral in Ireland. The long gothic white arches are etched in lines of red that lead to a golden roof. Behind the marble white altar is a stunningly ornate wall piece complete with gold crucifix. The back wall of liturgical blue and red arises out of the marble altar piece, ascending into the golden heaven. Marking gospel and church history is the life size crucifix that has hung near the altar since 1759.
Vox opened the performance with Hildegaard Bingen's "O Ignis Spiritus Paracliti." The small audience was held in awe. Their profound silence, held back no longer, erupted into appreciative applause. At the conclusion of each piece the teary-eyes parishioners of St James could barely contain themselves and when the performance was finished they rushed to embrace the Vox singers. The strength and skill of these young musicians under the guidance of their master conductor was on display at its finest. And they had only been singing together for eight days.
The concert at St Patrick's was no less perfect—but still more powerful, given it was performed amongst the whim of unsuspecting tourists. Vox Peregrini 2017 carried magic dust that it spread freely over anyone who dared pause for a moment. An unusually large number gathered around to listen for several pieces. Twenty-something's, who stumbled in on the event, sat mesmerized. Tourists, who had paid the price of admission to the historic cathedral, were unsuspectingly drawn into what they did not understand. And a few family and friends who came to be the audience were enraptured. Not one sound of applause came after not one song. I imagined that those listening were experiencing a worship that they had neither expected nor knew how to sort, so they offered what they intuited most precious—pure silence.
When the concert was over, the applause came. With the final note, Vox Peregrini 2017 could no longer hold back the emotions they had kept contained for fear they could not sing. Strong embrace wrapped in tears poured into the cruciform of their love for one another.
In that witness, I was drawn to reflect on something I had overheard earlier that day. After the morning performance at St James, the docent, who was responsible for hosting Vox, had shared a bit of her history with a few willing listeners. She had spent most of her eighty plus years in that congregation. Her life had been one of volunteering in several key ministries. She was proud of her parish. Subtlety and without remorse, she simply stated, "Religion is dead, but the people need community and that's why I'm here." The rapid decline of every religion in Ireland, the UK, and Europe, is a foretaste of the diminishing global religious economy, of which America is not being spared. For what hope could there be?
Somewhere along the Vox Peregrini pilgrimage, musical director and creative genius, John Wiles started calling the entirety of the project and everyone involved in it, Vox. The once brilliant idea of imagination was given birth in 2015 and has now begun stretching its legs into a burgeoning maturity. The individuals of Vox and the Vox Peregrini 2015 and 2017 have become a part of something bigger than themselves. Now Vox, that larger entity, has itself, evolved into a part of the universal self, entering the cycle and process of the alchemy of life. Such is the birth of an achievement that rests primarily on the feet, backs, and voices of John and the individuals who have walked and sung with him. To you, I lift my pint and say, "Cheers."
The last time I saw Vox Peregrini 2017 was at the Church. Not St James, nor St Patrick's, but at the church where Handel regularly used the organ to practice his masterpiece "The Messiah." That church was St Mary's, Church of Ireland. It is now The Church Restaurant and Bar, one of the hot spots of Dublin. Vox sang, danced, and celebrated the short life of their charismatic community and their successful participation in Vox. They had given themselves as an offering of body, voice, soul, and love. Their oblations were received and magically, mystically, converted into the sacrament of the fire of the spirit, "O ignis Spiritus paracliti." As priests and priestesses of the Vox, they distributed communion to all who receive. And each communicant was transmuted as they would hear. Indeed, religion is dead, and its institutions are dying. But the Spirit lives in the hearts and lives of those who have ears to hear.
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