The Sighs of My People: What I Learned from the Crowd at the 5 Irish Tenors Concert

Hey, beloveds. Just a quick note.

As a grad-student, I am picking up the telltale signs that the end is nigh. ;) Exams are right around the corner and, thus, the time has come for intense study and library camp outs. Please consider this my notice of semi-leave.

I will, of course, be here every Friday for #SevenGratitudes and I'll also be over on Instagram quite a bit, but blogposts will come only as they demand. I've got to push through four term papers and three exams by May 4th. 

Wish me luck! <3

The Sighs of My People

The sigh. It can communicate so much, or too little. Sometimes just enough.

Last week Aaron and I got to go see the Five Irish Tenors at the Winston-Salem arena for next to nothing. WakeDiv provided our tickets, so we only had to pay for parking and treats (a shared drink and bag of popcorn). It was a delightful experience for my Irish-American self, especially as it was in such proximity to St. Patrick’s day.

I have to admit, though, that when I walked into our home and dropped onto the couch after the evening bus, I was tired. I was tired from my day of classes, but more emotionally hungover from the events of the weekend. I felt blissfully happy, timidly hopeful, scholastically stressed (5 weeks ‘til exams!), and utterly ready for a nap in the early-evening sun.

Aaron wanted to go to the concert, though. He is like that, ready and willing to experience art and wonder. Now, I’ll face any danger head-on, but the sheer pleasure of enjoying art feels sometimes too luxurious or something. Aaron, though, has this great capacity to practice hospitality toward that which is beautiful, other, or transcendent—and he won’t let me miss out on the grace of it, either.  

God bless him for it. The Irish guys were a hoot. The concert was a gift.

(AGAIN with the lesson about “showing up.” There is grace in the practice of just freakin’ showing up, beloveds.)

The show itself was simple. Five men in concert black behind five microphones spanning the stage. Two other men behind alternatively harmonious and dueling pianos. They made music of love, war, mothers, and the mysterious foggy isle of Ireland.

At a certain point in the concert, after a few songs of war’s brutality that were likely unfamiliar to us in the arena, the tenor on the far left explained that their next song was one of the most popular Irish songs of the twenty-first century. He gave the songwriter’s name and a little story while the crowd waited with bated breath, everyone leaning forward with anticipation and hope.

“And now, lassies and lads,” he finally said, “The Five Irish Tenors sing ‘You Raise Me Up.’”

Um, okay, I thought, and promptly rolled my eyes.

Mid eye-roll, at that very moment I promise you, the room swelled with the breathy tone of a communal sigh, deep and sweet. It sounded like excited awe, grateful familiarity, and delighted recognition—

The sound of it made the hair on the back of my arms stand up and my chest flushed with warmth. I was at once uneasy with the level of joy these folks found in what I thought to be a cheesy, overwrought, emotionally manipulative song, and yet completely moved and grateful for their apparent delight.

I stayed in that state of contradicting feelings from the first verse (“When I am down…”) to the first chorus (“You raise me uu-up…to more…than I---I can be”).  

I have a history with this song. It was inserted into my life at very uncomfortable moments, effectively making them even more uncomfortable with the manipulative brushstrokes of sentimentality. My memories warned me to brace myself. That eye-roll might as well have been the turn of a shield falling into place.

The communal sigh, though, made it complicated. The appreciation of my comrades made me think twice about my immediate scorn. What were they hearing that I wasn’t?

I’ve been learning that there is truth beyond my lived experience and that it behooves me to be open to such truth. Coming off the songs of war and its devastating realities, the experience of that communal sigh—of communal gratitude, of communal expectation—felt like an invitation to learn some truth beyond myself.

I held my breath, but tried to listen.

Midway the second verse, an EnneaThought for the Day wriggled itself to the forefront of my brain.

"Welcome each moment as it comes. It is a new thing, a fresh thing. Eight-Type Personalities often operate on old data or past memories and thereby miss the gift of the given moment."

Maybe it was the sweet Coke Aaron and I were sharing, or maybe it was the Holy Spirit, but I suddenly found myself listening to “You Raise Me Up” with new ears.

From its place in the program, wedged as it was between songs of lament and wartime sorrow, I heard a song of gratitude, a song of hope, a song that acknowledged the essentiality of community. We do indeed need others who challenge, support, and lift us up. And it feels good to acknowledge those who so lovingly serve us in these ways.

The Five Irish Tenors sounded out the final chords and the audience offered them applause.

I realized, with a smirk at the holy irony of the situation, that I had actually been raised up “to more than I could be” by the simple, delighted sigh of my people. Their energy challenged me to listen closely to both the song and to their experience of it. Their experience matters.

Whether they were just happy to hear something they knew or because the song resonated with their experience of life and loved ones, the breathy awed response of the crowd challenged me to accept the gift of the unfolding moment—to wonder anew at Truth and its beauty. 

For your enjoyment, here's Celtic Woman singing "You Raise Me Up."

The Five Irish Tenors did it well, but I'll admit I dig this one best. We got to see them live around this time last year, too! <3 

And this is Ed Sheeran doing what he does so well--an auld folk song of his people.

As I shared in my Seven Gratitudes last week, this was my favorite song of the concert:

Thoughts? I'd love to hear from you in the comments below or over on Facebook!

Thanks for being here, beloveds.