St Mary's, Inverness

May is Mary’s Month

May is Mary’s Month From Fr James [indebted to google]
Every year the popular hymn ‘Bring flowers of the rarest‘ is sung during the month of May.
This year I was reminded of one of the most hauntingly beautiful renditions of this by the Catholic priest, the late Canon Sydney MacEwan, a tenor. Peter MacDonald from Marydale sent me a link which he had beengiven by Jamie MacPherson, and I am happy to share it with you all, as we will not have the pleasurable devotion of singing this together : but we can perhaps sing it joyously, separately?

Please look it up if you areable to do this, and be reminded again of the ‘overplus’, when the integrity of Faith is added to the beauty of word and music. When Canon MacEwan sang it was more than a performance. We are lifted with him to the thresholds of Heaven. I can recall seeing him on television, perhaps you have more personal memories?
There is a certain serendipity in listening to Canon Sydney as we suffer the lockdown due to Coronavirus. He too had a disturbing brush with respiratory disease. Arriving in Western Australia by sea on the SS Oransay in mid-June 1951, he was struck down with influenza and was unable to perform. It was considered that he would be unable to fulfil any singing obligations for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation [ABC]. The money [ ‘thousands of pounds’ ] was going to build the memorial chapel at St Columba’s Catholic Cathedral in Oban to ‘be dedicated to the Scottish and Australian soldiers who fell in the Second World War’.However recovering, his Melbourne attendance with the ABC was the highest paid fee for a visiting singer.
You might like to think about his life and his sense of commitment and dedication as you listen to his music, those marvellous hymns, psalms, motets and Scottish airs.{Google for all of these!}
Sydney MacEwan was born and brought up in the Springburn area of Glasgow. The family waspoor but Sydney’s mother managed to pay for music lessons for both her sons and they won bursaries to good schools. Sydney attended theJesuits’, St Aloysius’ College, from 1919 to 1924, before transferring to Hillhead Academy in the west-end of the city.
At the age of 18, Sydney MacEwan entered the Jesuit novitiate at Manresa House in Roehampton, London, but he left after a termin order to study at Glasgow University where he graduated as a Master of Arts.
While at university, his vocal talents were noticed, and he began a singing career on the advice of Sir Compton Mackenzie and the Irish tenor John McCormack. Young Sydney MacEwan became heavily involved with the BBC, with many broadcasts, especially in the Children’s Hour programme.
He was a fully trained professional singer having attended the Royal Academy of Music in London.
He toured in 1936, playing to audiences in Canada, the United States of America, New Zealand, and Australia, and the tour was repeated in 1938.
In his younger life he was in great demand, singing professionally all round the world in concert programmes, yet he chose to abandon his fame and success as a world-famous tenor, to enter the Seminary at Bearsden in Glasgow before going to the Pontifical Scots College in Rome. He was ordained a priest in St Andrew’s Cathedral, Glasgow in 1944 and celebrated his first Mass at St Aloysius’ Church, in Garnethill.
Combining priesthood and music, he undertook tours of North America and Australia, where those concerts helped to provide funding for the building of St Columba’s Cathedral in Oban. He raised funds to renovate the Church of St Margaret’s in Lochgilphead, in Argyll, where he was parish priest for seventeen years.
In 1948 being asked about the different attitudes of those who heard him singhe said:
‘Of the two, I think I prefer a concert audience to a congregation. People listen to me more attentively in a concert than in a church.’
His performances were secondary to his religious duties, and after after ordination he assigned all his concert earnings to charities.
Still singing as a tenor asa priest Fr MacEwan continued to make gramophone records and tour. Further trips to North America and Australia took place until as late as 1956.
After Lochgilphead, he moved to St Andrew’s Church in Rothesay.
He begana tour in April 1948 visiting the USA. With Cardinal Francis Spellman, Archbishop of New York, he celebrated a Mass for Peace, singing the liturgy.
Then it was to Australia by flying boat, then taking the mail train firstly to Melbourne as part of the Centenary of the Catholic Church celebrations. The tour was arranged by the Australian Broadcasting Commission, with six public performances and eighteen studio recitals in Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide, Canberra, and Melbourne. He travelled as far as the town of Bowen, to see North Queensland and to ‘have a surf before the winter set in’. He ended the tour giving Benediction to a large congregation.
He was featured on the BBC’s This Is Your Life programme in October 1962 and his autobiography, On the High C’s, was published in 1973.
In retirement Canon MacEwan lived in Dunoon. He died in September 1991, aged 82,the funeral being held in St Andrew’s Cathedral Glasgow, where he had been ordained.

May the month of May, be for you rich with the blessings of Our Lady, andlet the graces she brings strengthen us all.
Bring flowers of the fairest
Bring flowers the rarest,
From garden and woodland and hillside and dale;
Our full hearts are swelling,
Our glad voices telling
The praise of the loveliest flower of the vale!
Refrain :O Mary, we crown thee with blossoms today!
Queen of the Angels, Queen of the May.
O Mary, we crown thee with blossoms today,
Queen of the Angels, Queen of the May.
Our voices ascending, in harmony blending,
Oh! thus may our hearts turn, dear Mother, to thee;
Oh! thus shall we prove thee
how truly we love thee,
How dark without Mary, life’s journey would be. Refrain
O Virgin most tender,
our homage we render,
Thy love and protection, sweet Mother, to win;
In danger defend us,
in sorrow befriend us,
As pure as the lilies we lay at your feet.Refrain
Their lady they name thee,
Their mistress proclaim thee,
Ah, grant that thy children on earth be as true
as long as the bowers
are radiant with flowers,
as long as the azure shall keep its bright hue. Refrain
Sing gaily in chorus;
the bright angels o’er us
re-echo the strains we begin upon earth;
their harps are repeating
the notes of our greeting,
for Mary herself is the cause of our mirth.Refrain