The High Hopes Choir has a unique story to tell. A spark was lit by renowned conductor David Brophy 4 years ago rippling out from its humble origins in the Edmund Rice Centre to include homeless people from Cork, Dublin and Waterford. Something irrepressible has started… a movement of sorts that has transformed the lives of those involved. People once silenced are beginning to find their voice.
As Musical Director of the Waterford choir, I have been privileged to walk the road with them over the past 2 years. They remind me of what matters most in life. They have made me stare into the inner depths of my own soul and discover anew the power of the ‘flawed note’ to guide me in life to where I want to be. Something flickers within each of them to lighten the darkened path!
“At times our own light goes out and is re-kindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.” (Albert Schweitzer)
On a recent Waterford Camino, our group of visitors retreated from the wildness of the cliff walk in Dunmore East to the relative sanctuary of the Edmund Rice Chapel for a reflective workshop with the High Hopes. With spontaneous ease, members of the choir shared their story, handing over the baton between songs from one to the next in common solidarity. We who listened were jolted to the core. There was a stunned silence, a deep empathy, an aching realisation that those before us could just so easily have been my son, my daughter… me!
In recent years, the High Hopes have performed at a myriad of high-profile events from the European Parliament to the Aviva Stadium to Electric Picnic, they have shared their song and their story from Bellaghy to Villierstown, yet, here, in this most intimate of settings beyond the cameras and the lights, they had really come into their own. Their unfiltered notes resonate deeply precisely because they articulate a raw truth, a glorious truth – an awakening of sorts to the reality that their mistakes and their failings do not define them as people. A fragile light still radiates from within.
“Circumstances do not make the person, they reveal the person. We’re not responsible for the cards we are dealt but we are responsible for how we play them. It’s not how you start. It’s how you finish” (Cathy McCarthy)
The Waterford High Hopes Choir recently journeyed up the Waterford Greenway for some ‘time-out’ together. We wanted to share our first Camino with them. They blazed their trail in their own inimitable style. We rambled at a leisurely pace oblivious to the world around us yet enraptured by it! We visited Durrow Tunnel, reflected on the struggle to find light when all around seems bleak, sang, laughed, had silent times then laughed again. We had opened our pores to the rhythm of the universe as it danced before us.
Just spending time together was enough. Yes, we had little treats along the way; ice-cream at O’ Mahony’s pub and a meal out when we got back to Waterford – yet their gratitude was like no other. Maybe, in that fleeting moment, they felt valued, they felt surrounded by warmth, they felt that their individual story actually mattered in the universal scheme of things. Either way, it was a moment in time. They disappeared into the night knowing that they were not alone.
I am slowly realising that we cannot come to know the people on the margins from a safe distance. Walking alongside the homeless has led me to a new place. Here I have discovered the indivisible union between me and those singing before me. We are one. Maybe it’s that I know only too well what it feels like to be broken, to lose everything, to slip up, to fall short… only when we come to know the homeless as friends, when we share the most precious gift of all, our time, with them, do we come to see in them the reflection of our truest selves.
You see each member of the choir is unique. No two stories are the same, yet, together, they become a tidal wave of honesty challenging a world that can walk idly by. From somewhere deep within, they have found their song – a prophetic song. We all need to walk into unknown spaces and listen. Here, on the underside, we move beyond our perceptions and come to know these people for who they really are. One of the members, Alice, captures the cold reality for all too many who linger silently in the shadows:
When you’re out during the night,
It gets so dark one forgets the light.
When you walk for hours alone,
Time lingers, hours unshown.
All is glooming in the night,
Al l shadows still and quiet.
Until you see the light of day,
The fear of night will forever stay.
A thought struck me as I stood on the lower Cusack Stand at the end of a pulsating All Ireland hurling final and felt the sheer agony of defeat etched on the faces of those in blue and white. Light shines most brightly against a darkened backdrop. Fans and players alike had been participants in an amazing symphony that had reached its tragic denouement. A strange catharsis was evolving around me, an emptying of raw emotion in shared desolation. Yet hope simmered on the horizon. A terrible beauty was born!
Everyone needs heroes, even those who have fallen. If anything, we can relate better to those who do not reach their holy grail because we’ve all been there ourselves. The glory rests with the victors who take the crown when the game is done, yet the many disconsolate figures viewing from below have their own kind of grandeur. Today’s pain may well herald a new tomorrow.
The odyssey of life will take many twists and turns, yet, with a resilient spirit, anything is possible. The High Hopes are living proof! Their song soars long after the last note has been sung. They are our beacon, guiding us home.
“Lights will guide you home and ignite your bones
And I will try to fix you” (Cold Play)
For further information on Waterford Camino Tours, email Phil at email@example.com
(Guitar picture, thanks to Brendan St John’s photography 2017)