|The 2013 Clifden Arts Festival poster
Last spring I auditioned for a choir here in Dublin. I only got to go to a few of their rehearsals before we broke for the summer, but when we started back up in early September, we began preparing to sing Handel’s "Messiah" in the Clifden Arts Festival.
Clifden is a town on Ireland’s west coast, in Co. Galway, and is the so-called “capitol of Connemara.” (Connemara being a large area in the west, known for its stunning, rugged scenery and for its Irish-speaking towns.) And I got to go there to sing!
I drove down with two girls I met through the choir (the only other two people in their twenties!), arriving just after sundown. We stayed at the impressive Station House Hotel, and they had a fancy dinner for the choir there right after we arrived. I didn’t dress up whatsoever and immediately regretted it, as everyone else was all decked out in their finest. Whoops.
We had Saturday morning free, which unfortunately was the only time during the weekend when it was raining. Undeterred, the three of us spent a few hours pottering around the town, going in and out of shops and buying some trinkets. Between the three of us I think we came home with earrings, a bracelet, a poster, a book, lipstick, two foundations, a print, and a scarf.
We had a long and very cold rehearsal all afternoon in Clifden’s Catholic church (the one farther away in the below photo), with just enough time to grab some food before getting fitted out in our concert finery. This choir has a somewhat unusual uniform for the women, which includes a big white silk wraparound top with bell sleeves and a black sash. It’s not the prettiest I’ve ever felt in my life, but it was all in good fun.
Having drunk several cups of tea during the afternoon I was absolutely petrified I was going to have to pee during the concert – the fear made worse when it was explained to us that we were not to leave the stage during intermission. Therefore the only thing I remember about gathering before going into the church are the multiple trips I made to the little girls’ room. Fortunately this paid off.
We had a full and generous audience, beautiful soloists, and produced some great sound with only a couple hairy lines where all of a sudden a hundred singers were totally lost. In big choral pieces like the Messiah though, it’s easy to kind of smudge over moments like that and just press on! The concert flew by, and before I knew it we were sitting down to a late supper back at the hotel.
I had been looking forward to this “buffet,” only to find that it consisted of beef stew, chicken curry, rice, and mashed potatoes. I’d made the hotel go out of their way getting me a vegetarian meal the night before, and as I’d already eaten a bit before the concert, I really didn’t want to make a fuss and ask for anything else. So, much to the astonishment and amusement of everyone who witnessed it, I tucked in to a plain dollop of mash for dinner. (And I may or may not have stolen an apple from a centerpiece.)
On Sunday morning we were back up at the church to sing at Mass, which was broadcast on Connemara Radio, la di da! I had been to a Catholic funeral before, but never to a regular service, and I have to admit I was a little nervous for some reason. Bits of it I liked, bits of it were strange to me, but I’m really glad to have had the experience, and to have been so lucky as to have had it in a magnificent church in such an idyllic place.
After another zip around the town (and a new sweater and hat), we got back on the road. It was a bright, hot sunny day, and in such weather there really is no better place to be than Connemara. Amy, the girl doing the driving, has family in the area so she was able to take us down particularly scenic roads, tell us what things were called, and steer us to an adorable village for lunch. Having such a guide makes an enormous difference. Looking at that kind of land, I’d realized I had all my muscles clenched and wasn’t breathing. If you can go, do. It was a very “pinch me” weekend, and something I felt really honored and blessed to be able to take part in.