Iam inspired daily by my children, family and friends, and by human beings with their various talents and humanitarian goodwill. Every day, if we take the time to look around us and pay attention to our surroundings, we will find inspiration.
Just recently, I embarked on what I will forever remember as one of the most inspirational travels of my life — a chance-of-a-lifetime journey that elevated my spirits and inspired me like no other time. As many of you know, I have been a singer for most of my career and have been blessed to perform in places all over the United States and Canada, from the Orange Bowl to The Miss America Pageant to countless venues throughout my 25 years as a musician, but nothing has ever quite inspired me and equalled the honour that I felt in my latest performances.
I was asked by a company called the Continuum Arts Foundation to travel with their 80-person choir as the featured soloist. My very good friend and master violinist, Rosemary Siemens, was asked as well, so it was extra special for me. This musical tour would take us throughout Ireland and Italy and give us the chance to perform in some of the most sacred and beloved cathedrals and churches in the world. I was so honoured to have been asked and naturally couldn’t pass up on this incredible opportunity. In addition, I had never travelled to either of these countries.
We began our journey in Ireland and performed in two amazing cathedrals, St. Mary’s in Limerick and St. Patrick’s in Dublin. I cannot say enough about the feeling I experienced to be standing in these extraordinarily historical venues whose walls have garnered so much history. To see these places is special in itself, but as a singer to have been able to become a part of their history inspired me in ways I had never felt before.
Our second stop and the highlight of our tour was Rome, Italy, where I was given what I believe was the gift of a lifetime. I had known before departing that our group would be the very first North American organization to ever perform in the sacred Sistine Chapel, but what I didn’t know was that I was going to be the very first soloist ever permitted by the Vatican to sing in the
Chapel since its erection in 1473! As you can imagine, I was absolutely shocked and honoured. Of course, I asked myself and others, “Why me, why not some famous Italian or well-known artist?” But there was no answer. I think the new Pope perhaps has become more liberal in allowing outsiders to perform in the Sistine Chapel.
Nevertheless, there I stood, front and centre, in the most sacred chapel in the world, singing “Amazing Grace.” No microphone, just the most heavenly acoustics I have ever heard, with the work of Michelangelo above me while Cardinals, Vatican dignitaries and my 75-year-old parents sat watching me. With my dear friend Rosemary accompanying me on violin, I don’t think I could ever properly describe how I felt in that moment. It was the most inspirational five minutes of my life. So many times as a performer, I have to calm my nerves before singing and so many things go through my mind, but this time, I made a conscious decision to just live in those moments and savour each second, which I did. It was surreal and highly emotional. The Sistine Chapel has only allowed choirs to perform there prior and to know that my voice would be the very first solo voice ever heard by those walls was just incredible. After my performance, I sat for 20 minutes and wept tears of overwhelming joy. I received a scroll from the Vatican indicating my historic visit, which was indeed a blessing and a gift from God that I will always cherish.
We then continued on our Italy tour to St. Peter’s Basilica and St. Frances of Assisi, both immensely incredible.
Life never ceases to amaze me and inspire me. Who would have ever thought, at 50 years of age, and after many years of working in the music business, that I would have been given such an extraordinary experience?
I encourage everyone to always live in the moment and look forward to tomorrow… you never know what’s around the corner!
By Mary Zilba inside the 2014 Inspiration issue