NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—“I want you to turn to the person on one side and say ‘we're in for the ride of our lives.’ Now I want you to turn to the person on the other side of you and say ‘Oh my goodness, the Irish are here!’”
That command to the audience by Belfast Community Gospel Choir director Marie Lacey captured the mood of raucous celebration that gripped Kirkpatrick chapel on the evening of Friday May 30.
The show began with a procession down the aisle. About 60 smiling singers, brimming with excitement, marched towards risers to a poppy drum machine and keyboard combination, singing “Can you feel it?”
The mood was actually a little overwhelming.
For nearly two hours, through peaks and valleys of intensity and excitement, the audience witnessed a technically excellent and truly inspirational performance that was difficult to put into words.
Near the end of the concert, director Marie Lacey invited members of the Community Fellowship Mass Choir of Somerset to the risers to join in impromptu renditions of “Total Praise,” and “Thou O Lord,” which were among the many highlights of the evening.
A large part of the magic was the director herself, whose disarming presence and charm set an informal tone. She spent most of the night dancing and singing, facing either the choir or the congregation as the mood suited her.
Occasionally putting audience members on the spot by asking them direct questions, she made the evening feel more like a fun party than a formal concert.
Lacey’s dream of starting the choir began shortly after the 1997 Good Friday Agreement, which brought increased stability to Northern Ireland.
In one of many emotional conversational interludes, she described the mood after the event as “one of pervasive joy and excitement,’ and said her goal was to share that feeling across the country and eventually the world.
She came to spread that joy to New Brunswick thanks in large part to Francis Schott, owner of Stage Left and Catherine Lombardi’s. Schott has ties to Northern Ireland, including to Belfast's Lord Mayor Mairtin O Muilleoir, who invited a New Brunswick delegation including Mayor James Cahill to visit his city earlier this year.
That delegation included the New Brunswick Jazz Project, who met Lacey and learned of choir’s upcoming tour to New York. With the help of the jazz project, New Brunswick Development Corporation, and donated space from Rutgers University, the city was able to welcome the choir to the Hub City.
The Belfast Community Gospel Choir’s tour of the New York Area concluded with performances at several venues throughout New York City last weekend, before returning to Ireland.