Sunday, February 03, 2013

Rebus in arduis *

It's Sunday. You've celebrated Candlemas, because you could - a day late, but in the boondocks you can't celebrate too often and get people there. It's been a joyous service, and at least one person has confessed to having their heart up in the air and tears running down their face because of the music. So you're happy. Actually, you were happy before they said that, in all sorts of ways involving children, young people capable of reading the lectionary as if it made sense, lovely imagery, a vision of how things can be ... I could go on, but I suspect I already have.

And then you go to the social area at the back of the church, greet someone standing alone - not a stranger, someone who's been coming on and off for decades - and he informs you, quite firmly, that he didn't know any of the hymns except for the first one and he'd hated them all anyway.

Time was I'd have felt wounded at that moment, for church sometimes leaves you vulnerable to the kind of barbs we don't often get thrown these days. But I've been around a lot of barb-fests, and I merely, mildly even, point out that what he derides as "happy clappy" music didn't form part of my tradition either (Church of Scotland, seduced by singing Byrd and Palestrina, in Latin) and that Mr B never chose happy crappy (sic) music and that this chap should perhaps widen his horizons ... Again, I could go on. I did, a bit - something about singing sentimental verse full of lamentable poetic diction set to dreary tunes - but I won't.

But I do wonder, sometimes often, about the future of parish worship. If I were faced with the prospect of worshipping where there was a diet of Victoriana, badly played at funereal tempi, led, perhaps, by a choir whose sopranos had voices that weren't, any more, I think I'd give up. On t'other hand, if there was an indifferent praise band with a very powerful amplifier, I fear it too would drive me away. So what am I looking for?

Easy. Either a competent musician, on any instrument, who has the gift of inspiring people to sing (and that often comes down to rhythm) - or silence. We sing too many hymns, mostly - and this is especially evident when actually hardly anyone sings anyway. They leave it to someone else. And I'm looking for hymns whose words are theologically meaningful, whose imagery I relate to, which don't ask me to think that God made us high and lowly and so on. I reckon that hymns tend to reflect the folk music of their day. That being the case, we shouldn't object to the odd bit of syncopation here and there. They also tend to reflect the world which informs their words - so we balk these days at singing that all must love the human race "in heathen, Turk or Jew", and some of us at least rejoice in discovering the songs of Christians in other countries, because the world has shrunk and we have access to a far wider song-pool than we did a century ago.

I didn't let all of this fly at the misery in the church; I'm letting go here instead. I didn't even ask him what made it all right for him to girn this way at someone who doesn't actually choose the music but who obviously had enjoyed singing it - or even just at someone who had offered him a friendly greeting.  Long ago I made the decision to try to be Pollyanna till I got home - or to keep out of the way of temptation if I felt unduly volatile.

 But sometimes, just sometimes, I want to throw something.

*Aequam memento rebus in arduis servare mentem : Horace. Means Remember to keep an even temper in difficult situations.

10 comments:

  1. Sorry that the barbs we flying. I thought all was well with the music this morning - as ever it says more about the commenter than the commentee. But things need to be thrown at times...

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    1. I thought everything married beautifully, personally - words, music, mood. But when that happens, it is common for the devil (in whatever guise) to pop out of the woodwork ... #usefulmetaphors

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  2. In Stockholm before the outdoor Santa Lucia concert there were rehearsals in a nearby church for the traditional songs which would be sung in the concert. The queues, in the snow, were very long for the three rehearsals (we didn't get in!). I thought it was wonderful.
    Nice to see you back!

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    1. Thank you! Life kinda crowded out the blog for a bit - mustn't let that happen!

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  3. I wish I had a pound for every time I've heard that said, Christine. If it isn't in A&M Revised they don't know it or want to know it. There is some wonderful material being written as well as some real dross and we need to help people discover the former. I know I would have loved your Candlemas service.

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    1. What fun if you'd turned up at it!

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  4. We've used more or less the same items for Candlemass for the last n years. Could you please let me know what items you used that were more modern or less familiar? We could do with a bit of a change.

    Thanks.

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    1. We began with ultra-trad. "Christ whose glory fills the skies"; Gradual "Purify my heart"; Offertory "Christ be our light", Post-Communion "The Lord is my light" (Taizé); final "We are marching in the Light of God" - with suitably jazzy improvisation on the organ! And during the communion I sang the Burgon Nunc Dimittis as a solo - the one they used for the orginal "Tinker, Tailor ..." on TV.

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    2. Thanks. None of these seems particularly outlandish, though I don't think "We are marching in the light of God" would go down too well round here. We might try "The Lord is my light" though.

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    3. You'd be surprised at what happens when there's a couple at least who will sing it with rhythm and style - and tight clapping on the back beat! (Actually that's the hardest bit ...)

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