On Saturday August 4th New Orleans Jazz NHP staff and visitors were treated to an inspiring and quite powerful performance by the Omagh Community Youth Choir, visiting us from Omagh, Northern Ireland. It is said the Irish possess the gift of song, well in this case that is a profound understatement. The choir consists of 30 teenage singers led by Daryl Simpson who himself is a classically trained tenor and tours the world as a member of the Celtic Tenors. The vocal range of these combined voices can almost lift you from your seat.
The Omagh Community Youth Choir was created by Mr. Simpson in the 1990's to bring the youth together from both sides of the divisive conflicts and issues of their homeland, to make a statement of change and to stand together and sing for peace. They have been doing so ever since. The Omagh Community Youth Choir can be heard and seen on the "Playing For Change" DVD that many are familiar with.
The Omagh Community Youth Choir has a previous connection with New Orleans Jazz NHP. The first and the last time they performed at this very same location was in 2005 prior to Hurricane Katrina. They have a "sister" choir here in New Orleans, the Shades of Praise, also formed to sign for peace, understanding, and reconciliation. In 2003 Shades of Praise had performed with the Omagh choir in Ireland. Mr. Simpson stated that they saw the images of the devastation of Hurricane Katrina and felt a deep connection with New Orleans, a desire to help, and have been waiting for the opportunity to return ever since. They have done fundraisers in Ireland for the Shades of Praise.
Mr. Simpson had his long awaited reunion with New Orleans Jazz NHP and Ranger Matt Hampsey, who played guitar with the choir in 2005, and also recorded that session. On Sunday the Omagh Community Youth Choir reunited with Shades of Praise for a superb public performance at historic Trinity Episcopal Church. Mr. Simpson and youth were spotted marching in the second line parade from Historic Treme to the Old U.S. Mint for the 12th annual Satchmo Summer Festival and dancing to the jazz beats. Excellent timing for a reunion.
The Shades of Praise can be heard on the New Orleans Jazz NHP created 2 CD "FREEDOM IS COMING SONGS OF FREEDOM, RESISTANCE, & THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD". It is available for wholesale purchase to all NPS Cooperating Associations for park bookstores. It is an excellent educational and interpretive product for any park.