Songs of praise
Fr David Delargy and brothers Fr Eugene and Fr Martin O’Hagan are three Roman Catholic priests from Northern Ireland who have formed a classical musical group – The Priests. They will be giving a concert in Malta later on this month.
You recorded your eponymous debut album in St Peter’s Basilica, the Vatican. How was the experience?
Fr David Delargy: The choir that sang on our debut album was the choir of the Cappella Julia under the direction of Mgr Pablo Colino and they recorded in St Peter’s Basilica in Rome. We were able to be with them during the recording. We were very conscious of the enormous privilege of recording in that sacred space which has such significance for everyone in the Catholic world. We also visited the tomb of St Peter privately after the basilica had closed for the day. We felt great awe and reverence.
Fr Eugene and Fr Martin O’Hagan: It was breathtaking and also a huge honour for the three of us – the vastness of the basilica, the years of history and the proximity to the tomb of St Peter made it unforgettable.
You’ve been singing together since the 1970s. How has your music changed in these decades?
Fr David: We started out as boys performing in Gilbert and Sullivan operettas and in the church choir. Since then, our repertoire has expanded to include Italian and Neapolitan arias, German lieder, French art songs, traditional Irish melodies, musical theatre as well as contemporary music and songs from various genres which we are able to perform in different languages. We have also benefitted from some vocal training over the years and have had the opportunity, through operatic productions and choral performances, to practise and develop the craft of singing. We are always striving to improve our technique and performance.
Fr Eugene and Fr Martin: Over time we have developed a deeper appreciation of various kinds of musical expression. Exposure to classical and modern music has been enriching and, although we have received a classical vocal training, we have learned to adapt that to suit all kinds of music, vocal demands and techniques that we never thought we would have the opportunity to study let alone perform.
What are the main sources of inspiration for your music?
Fr David: Drawing from a wide repertoire, we try to perform music that we love to sing and which we hope our audiences also enjoy listening to.
Fr Eugene and Fr Martin: Needless to say, the rich heritage of church music is fundamental to our experience and it has led us to appreciate the beauty of plainsong or Gregorian chant alongside the music written for sacred oratorio and its secular counterpart, opera. More recently, musical theatre and crossover music has broadened our understanding and appreciation of the power and appeal of song.
How does your music complement your pastoral work?
Fr David: Singing and the pastoral role of a priest are extremely compatible and mutually enriching. Music and song have the capacity to speak and communicate at a deeper level than just the spoken word. We sing in hospitals and nursing homes while on visits and this is often very much appreciated. Music also facilitates the building of bridges with members of other Christian denominations, which is particularly useful in Northern Ireland where there is still much work to be done to promote better mutual understanding and respect between the various communities.
Fr Eugene and Fr Martin: Music is fundamental to our particular pastoral outreach as priests. Other priests, religious and lay faithful have equally important but different gifts which enrich the life of the Church – our background and ability to sing helps in similar ways.
People love to sing or make music to express their feelings, happy or sad, and the expression of one’s faith particularly through music is very similar. St Augustine claimed that: “The one who sings prays twice.” And that is a great encouragement to us to keep on singing and praising God as King David did in the psalms.
Being able to sing and to bring that gift to the liturgy of the Church has been one of the most rewarding experiences of priesthood. Encouraging others to sing along with us as a community or congregation helps lift our hearts in prayer.
Are you planning your next album?
Fr David: We are actively considering new material and if all goes according to plan, we hope to be ready to record a fourth album next year.
Fr Eugene and Fr Martin: We hope we can record a fourth album with some more music composed by ourselves as well as tapping into many well-loved pieces of music that sit well with our vocation in life.
Many people have told us that they get a lot out of the kind of music we sing and the way we sing. Our blend is special to the sound we make so we would hope to pick pieces that suit our voices, our vocal range and, at the same time, appeal to as wide a listening audience as possible.
The number of people who have renewed their interest or curiosity about religious faith or have come to it for the first time through hearing about us has been incredible. It provides a doorway through which people from all kinds of backgrounds can observe or enter into a life and way of faith they have been looking for.
What are your expectations for your Malta concert?
Fr David: Having been to Malta on several previous occasions, we are looking forward enormously to this visit. We hope the audience will enjoy the variety of music we perform and that it will help to nourish their spirits and lift their hearts.
Fr Eugene and Fr Martin: We are looking forward to visiting an island already known to us from previous visits on holiday. This time we will have the unforgettable experience of singing to people who are very much like us Irish, full of the love of music and song, even if we don’t have as much sunshine.
We are very grateful to the Archbishop of Malta for having invited us to come and sing so it will be a privilege and an honour for us. We plan to enjoy the experience in the hope that everyone who comes to hear us sing will leave with a song in their hearts and a lift to their spirits.
The Archdiocese of Malta presents a concert by The Priests to mark the Year of Faith. The concert will be held at the Catholic Institute on June 21 at 7.30pm. Also taking part is soprano Gillian Zammit.