Sunday night at the convent

Every now and then, I get unsolicited emails from eager musicians, inviting me to their shows. Due to various scheduling conflicts or sheer laziness, I typically don’t make it out, but something about HOOL intrigued me.  The show was to take place in the former convent of St. Cecilia in Brooklyn, and let’s be honest… how often do you have the chance to hang out in an creepy, abandoned convent?

I saw the massive building from afar, but it took me a while to figure out where exactly I was going. There was the church and the school, but they certainly seemed to still be in regular use. I continued around the block, and finally I heard a faint trace of music. I wandered into the building, hung my coat on the rack with the others, pushed aside the curtain, and walked into a small sanctuary that was illuminated entirely by candles and Christmas tree lights. With its crumbling ceiling, stained glass windows, and short row of pews, the setting was magnificent.

After catching just a few songs from the opening musician, we were allowed a ten-minute break between sets to help ourselves to refreshments and to explore the building. Armed with a small cup of beer, I tentatively made my way up the first set of stairs. The small bedrooms that had once housed the faithful now stood empty and deserted. I wandered slowly down the narrow hallway, half expecting to find a dead body, an old religious relic, or maybe even a bum. I continued to the third floor (the one the email had billed as probably haunted). There had been other people roaming around on the lower floors, but the top floor seemed to be empty. I walked down the hallway, past the old sink half-filled with dirty water. After the first set of bedroom doors, I paused to listen.

the abandoned convent of St. Cecilia (photo Melina Paez)

Suddenly, I heard something – the chilling combination of a low whisper and a gust of wind. It was indecipherable and gentle, but also undeniably eerie. I waited a few moments to see if some other brave explorers would emerge from one of the rooms, but upon seeing no one, I turned around and hastily made my way back down the stairs and into the sanctuary – right in time for HOOL.

HOOL at the convent (photo Michele Palazzo)

The band was just two people – Brett on guitar and John on the upright bass. Just a few minutes before, my heart rate was up, and I was feeling uneasy. But suddenly, I was met by warmth and a overwhelmed by a sense of calm. The duo’s careful, quiet instrumental interludes were certainly well-suited for the intimate, candle-lit room, and the acoustics were enviable. Usually at shows, my mind races, but for once, I was content with just being still, and it was a beautiful thing.

HOOL performing on a farm in Holland (because that’s what they do):


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"He considered music a liberating force: it liberated him from loneliness, introversion, the dust of the library; it opened the door of his body and allowed his soul to step out into the world to make friends."

- Milan Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being


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