Uncommon Wealth at Cavan Museum.
Uncommon Wealth is a production of hymns written by John Byrne, and the title of an event held last night (Sat 21 Sept 2013) at the county museum as part of Culture Night (or weekend, as it became in Cavan). John Byrne’s hymns celebrate the joy and presence of ‘art’ in life. Last night it was a complete joy to hear them sung by the recently established Cavan County Choir, and soloist, Ruth Kelly. Each hymn was interleafed with a readings from poets, and/or writers. Overall it was a rather perfect evening.
I have been trying to work out why the evening was rather perfect. The museum is a nice community venue, though not acoustically brilliant, but I think it was also because it was good to hear art valued as a concept through the hymns as well as in the singing voice.
I loved the choir. Standing there before me, I liked the informality of dress, the array of colour, shape, size and age; the almost higgledy piggledy formation of the singers. I enjoyed the rawness of the singing and the scale of the notes and arrangements of the songs achieved by the choir was wonderful. The high notes were extraordinary, but reached. This was ordinary people using ordinary voices and it is amazing what they achieved. The conductor, Blanaid Murphy, has a powerful presence. But it’s like her stick is a magic wand, casting magic spells across the room rather than a leading baton. Yet there was an earthy rootedness about the evening. That’s the magic of art.
The readings between the hymns were personal reflections from the authors about life on or crossing borders, and as such each held its own particular truth. I liked how the final reader, Brian Keenan, extended our border to Syria and Lebanon. For while social media allows us to cross borders with a hop, skip and a jump, I worry that it also creates virtual watch towers of isolation and powerlessness out of us all. We all have borders, wherever we are.
The event was put on by Culture Cavan, a project funded by the International Fund for Ireland to encourage participation and reconciliation through the Arts. Culture Cavan has been a huge success in Cavan. It has supported a wide range of artistic projects and pays tribute to the artistic capacity and ability of ordinary people who excel when given opportunity and encouragement. This summer has been great in Cavan and much of my enjoyment has been as a result of the work supported by Culture Cavan. Congratulations to the arts team, the steering group and the Co-ordinator