Music and faith are the two passions of Tom Conroy’s life, who believes firmly in St Augustine’s teaching “he who sings, prays twice”.
Though as a child, Tom wasn’t too interested in music, it was something that was always in the background.
“Music is in my family – all of them play, my mother, my sister, my grandparents,” Tom explains. “It was always there in the background and eventually it came out, it flourished.”
By the time he was a teenager, Tom knew that music was his passion: “What I wanted to do in life was to share music with the world,” he says.
“I started doing piano lessons, doing composition lessons. From there it just became a career – I started teaching and performing.
“I always say to people when they ask me, I didn’t choose music, music chose me – it was my calling.”
Tom is now resident pianist at Ballyfin Demesne Hotel, Co Laois and has travelled the world as an entertainer with Holland America Cruise Lines, as well as writing his own music.
Tom’s passion for music has also been a way for him to express his faith, an aspect of his life also ingrained in him by his family.
“When I was younger, it was always there – my mother always brought me to church, and she has very deep faith,” he says. “I come from a very big family and she brought us all to church and planted the seed.
“As I became an adult then, I really found great comfort in the Church. I’ve also made so many great friends. It’s a real community, a great place to meet lovely people.
“It’s very important to me, I conduct a number of faith choirs and almost every day I go to the Church on my own, just to pray, just for some quiet time.”
Tom has composed five Mass settings, four of which have been performed live on RTÉ and can be found on YouTube.
“When, I’m composing liturgical music, my faith and God are the inspiration,” he says. “But also sharing the music with people and bringing happiness to other people.
“I’m the director of a few church choirs and, when they perform the music I’ve composed, I can see the joy it brings them. That inspires me.”
Tom’s fifth Mass setting is for the Philippines, dedicated to the Filipino saint Pedro Calungsod, and results from Tom’s travels.
“When I performed on cruise ships, a lot of the staff were from the Philippines and made some great friends,” he says. “I thought I’d like to write something for them someday.
“And to be honest I’d love to go the Philippines someday and to help teach the music, so possibly, someday, that might happen.”
“It’s called the mass for St Pedro Calungsod. He’s a saint from the Philippines.
“I decided to write the Mass setting for the Philippines, but I needed a theme, something to focus on. So I looked up the national saints, and I was drawn to his story.”
Tom feels that St Pedro is someone “people can get behind, especially young people”.
“We need to inspire young people. He’s the patron saint of altar servers and people considering Church life – I was drawn to him. Maybe he spoke to me!”
Tom has been using his time under lockdown productively, taking advantage of the time off to write and record musical compositions, including an album of Christian piano solos.
“The lockdown has helped get these things done, I’m usually busy with other things,” he says. “Like this piano CD, I composed that during lockdown. I just sat down and picked some of my favourite hymns, ones that resonate with people.
“I chose world famous ones, but also ones which speak to me. Like ‘Broken For Me’, many won’t know that, but it’s special to me.
“There’s no singing on it, so people can listen to it, just close your eyes and let mind wander or pray or sit in silence – there’s nothing to distract you.
“A couple of priests have said to me they play it before masses and it’s great, because it’s there in the background, nice and prayerful and relaxing.”
“There’s that saying, ‘he who sings, prays twice’,” says Tom. “When I watch a Mass without music, it feels a bit empty, though still a spiritual experience.
“It’s extremely important. Especially with Covid-19, I’ve been watching masses on webcams and most have a singer and it really adds to it. I watched the one in Knock and they’ve a beautiful singer.
“We’re going to miss the choirs to be honest, won’t have them for a long time it seems.”