Where to start?

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“The End.”
“The End.”

So much opportunity. So many good things.
But it wasn’t to be.

Although in some ways it’s back where it was before, in other ways, it’s quite different.

We are changed. And that’s good. And some of the good things will continue, and develop further.

But it will take some time (in fact quite a long time) for issues to be resolved.

Part of one of the Eucharistic Prayers for Reconciliation (Roman Rite) keeps flooding my mind:

In the midst of conflict and division,
we know it is you who turn our minds to thoughts of peace.

Your Spirit changes our hearts:
enemies begin to speak to one another,
those who were estranged join hands in friendship,
and nations seek the way of peace together.

Your Spirit is at work
when understanding puts an end to strife,
when hatred is quenched by mercy,
and vengeance gives way to forgiveness.

For this we should never cease to thank and praise you…

A story (or a parable) – whatever

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One upon a time there was a young musician – let’s call him Alex. As a teenager he became aware of another young musician – let’s call him Michael. Like Michael, Alex was a pianist and conductor, albeit a bit younger – unlike him, he was totally unknown and at an early stage of his career.

Michael became a role-model for Alex, who started going to as many of his concerts as possible and started his LP collection with many of Michael’s recordings.

Alex even played truant from school one day; brazenly walking through the Royal Albert Hall’s Artist’s Entrance, he made his way behind the stage, where Michael was rehearsing a world-famous orchestra in Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto. He sat behind the timpanist to watch the rehearsal (Alex was also an orchestral percussionist), and observed Michael at work.

Some months later, Michael was giving a series of televised concerto concerts, and Alex attended one of the rehearsals.

After the rehearsal, when everybody else had gone, leaving Michael practising on his own, Alex went up to him, waited for him to finish and then politely but nervously asked Michael if he could help him with a section of a concerto he was learning. Michael responded angrily, “Go away! Can’t you see I’m practising?”
Alex left the building, devastated, and in deep shock that the one he had admired and emulated had treated him this way.

Many years later, Alex decided on how he would get his revenge. Being a law-abiding citizen, working in church music, and realising there was nothing realistic he could do to get at the now highly-regarded and successful musician, he got his own back in the privacy of his home, where his hi-fi and record collection had pride of place.

One quiet evening, Alex put on a record of piano and violin music, played by Michael and a friend and colleague, and listened intently to the sonata’s first movement.

Then, mid-way through the second movement, as the two master musicians were weaving magic with Brahms’ music, it happened, mid-phrase, mid-note: he deliberately lifted the stylus arm from the rotating turntable and disc. In a moment the music was gone… for ever. “Revenge is mine – at last”.

What a shallow victory. No-one knew of it, certainly not Michael. (Besides, this kind of thing happens millions of times every day when people turn off their radios and MP3 players mid-phrase.) But the difference is that Alex had caused a deliberate rupture; the music was cut off with savage intent (even if he had too much respect for his Linn LP12 turntable to wreak damage to that!). The music died in front of him, destroyed by his own hands.

Perhaps Michael had just been stressed that day. Perhaps he was fed up with seeing Alex in the background at his concerts. Perhaps, and more likely, even though he was everything to Alex, Alex was nothing to him, and he knew nothing and cared nothing about him. Why should he?

Perhaps Alex was just an impetuous youth: immature, if enthusiastic. Perhaps, like all young people it was important that he had a role model, one he could emulate – but not idolise. Perhaps he had been “a bit of a pain”.

These days, Michael is as highly-regarded as ever. His work for peace and reconciliation between opposing nations sharing common geo-political space is an example to us all.

Alex is still unknown! But he’s discovered that whilst revenge (apparently best served cold) is satisfying in that moment, ultimately, it’s pointless, fruitless, and a waste of energy that is better used in working for positive change. And that realisation, presumably, he shares with Michael.

Postscript

Brother Roger of Taizé spoke of the need for young people to be “violent for peace”: to use one’s anger at society’s injustices neither against another individual, nor against oneself, but instead to work tirelessly for justice, for change, for peace.

As I write this, and you read it, more lives are being savagely destroyed: in war, in gangland violence, in the drugs trade, in sex exploitation. The wish for vengeance is understandable; it’s natural – but utterly pointless.

“In the midst of conflict and division
it is you who who turn our minds to thoughts of peace.

“Your Spirit changes our hearts:
Enemies begin to speak to one another,
those who were estranged join hands in friendship,
and nations seek the way of peace together.

“Your Spirit is at work when understanding puts an end to strife,
and vengeance gives way to forgiveness.
For this we should never cease to thank and praise you.”

Roman Missal, Preface, 2nd Eucharistic Prayer for Masses of Reconciliation

(Names have been changed to protect the guilty.)

Comments welcome, as always!

Welcome news about Trijicon removing bible verses on scopes

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BBC News reports that US firm are to remove Biblical references on gunsights

Apparently they have responded to the concern felt by many people.

In a statement, Trijicon say

“Trijicon has proudly served the US military for more than two decades, and our decision to offer to voluntarily remove these references is both prudent and appropriate.”

The BBC reports

Gen Petraeus, head of the US Central Command, said: “Cultural and religious sensitivities are important considerations in the conduct of military operations.”

In a letter sent to the US president on Thursday, the head of the Interfaith Alliance said the gunsights “clearly violate” the rule.

“Images of American soldiers as Christian crusaders come to mind when they are carrying weaponry bearing such verses,” Welton Gaddy said.

Earlier in the week, the Church of England told the UK’s Guardian newspaper: “People of all faiths and none are being killed and injured in these ­conflicts, on all sides, and any suggestion that this is being done in the name of the Bible would be deeply worrying to many ­Christians.”

Absolutely.

PS My scepticism yesterday proved to be ill-founded!

Disturbing news that Scripture references are used on military gunsights

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I have written today to Trijicon Inc. (http://www.trijicon.com/contact.cfm), regarding the disturbing news from the BBC that Scripture references are “inscribed on gunsights widely used by the US and British military in Iraq and Afghanistan”.

Trijicom are “manufacturers of  sighting systems for use by Law Enforcement, Military and Individual customers”. While Trijicom claim “We believe that America is great when its people are good. This goodness has been based on biblical standards throughout our history and we will strive to follow those morals”, I have a deep uneasiness with this position.

Dear Sirs

+ PAX

As a Christian I am shocked and appalled at the report (recorded by BBC News http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/americas/8468981.stm) that you inscribe Scripture references on your equipment.

Whilst I respect your own faith, and your consequent belief in the essential goodness of the US people, goodness is limited neither to your nation nor to Christians.

This practice is a totally unacceptable use of the Word of God, since “God is love” (not “hate”) cf. 1 John 4:9.

If this report is correct, then I respectfully request and urge you to stop this practice immediately, and as a matter of urgency to issue a statement expressing your regret and understanding of the severe problems that this same practice will be causing.

Yours sincerely
Alistair Warwick

The trouble of course is that comments such as this will almost certainly be ignored by those whose livelihoods depend on the arms industry. If I get a reply I will post it here.

Comments welcome, as always!

Playing for pantomimes: bad jokes, lead sheets… and beer

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This morning I heard Andrew Gold’s ‘Thank you for being a friend’. Now – as Obi-Wan Kenobi might have said – I haven’t heard that for a long, long time. It instantly brought up memories of playing in a 5-piece band for pantomimes when I was about 20; in one of these, the last song was the aforementioned ‘Thank you…’ (I can see them now “stand up and take a bow”).

With 19 performances in 15 days (three on Saturdays, at 2pm, 5pm and 8pm) at Erith Playhouse, Kent, each lasting well over 2 hours, it was a non-stop, wonderful feast of a range of music, combined with terrible jokes (I remember one of the principal protagonists was Patty O’Dors).

In between numbers the band would nip under the stage for a beer served from those 7-pint cans with the gas pump widget to keep it from going flat (little CAMRA influence in those days!). It was both good fun, and another important influence on my musical life.

As well as the beer and some welcome pocket money, these gigs brought a number of other benefits, including tight ensemble and the discipline (and thus inherent freedom) of playing from lead sheets with just guitar chords, e.g.

D | G | e A7 | b | f# e | Asus–A7 | Eb ||

only kidding 🙂

Good grounding for playing from guitar chords for “modern Catholic” music and from figured bass in continuo work later on.

So thanks to Terry Wogan for playing that disc. Hasn’t music got great power for memory?

By the way, Keith and Stella Jarman, are you out there?

Comments, as always, welcome. 🙂

Mozart ‘Requiem’ at Dunblane Cathedral

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Well, my first term with Stirling University Choir has now come to its conclusion with a lively performance in Dunblane Cathedral of Mozart’s final work, together with two other works by the Master, rounding off with Justorum animae by Lassus.

The concert, on the 218th anniversary of Mozart’s death (5 December 1791), brought together two works from that fateful year, together with a work honouring fellow Freemasons. The Requiem is an interesting work to approach, as it was unfinished at the composer’s death, and had to be completed by Süssmayr; for all the faults of this version, we owe a debt of gratitude to Süssmayr for completing it. (It would be interesting one day to prepare and perform the work in one of the other completions – perhaps the one by Maunder.)

Although it’s probably inappropriate for me to comment on how the concert went musically (that privilege has to be left to others), I’m really proud of the Choir for all their hard work and focus, that enabled what I think was an excellent performance. Well done!

The four soloists (Clare Tucker, Rebecca Afonwy-Jones, Warren Gillespie and Michel de Souza) blended well, and were a delight to work with, as were the orchestra, guided by its leader, Bernardus Buurman.

The programme began with Ave verum corpus, accompanied by strings and organ, chosen as a link to the last concert by the Choir’s previous conductor, David King. I’ve often thought of this as “perfection in 30-odd bars”. Gorgeous.

The City of Glasgow Symphony Orchestra performed Mozart’s Masonic Funeral Music, a delightful piece that’s worth getting to know. Although financial constraints meant there was a rather small string section (43221), with four of the wind parts having to be taken by the organ, played by the Cathedral’s organ scholar, Steven McIntyre, it was definitely worth doing, if only for the gorgeous sounds from the wind and strings.

Basset horns were employed again in the main piece of the concert, the unfinished Requiem, and these provided the dark colour required for the opening movement.

This work is definitely one of contrasts, and not only in its composition. String bows almost caught fire in the ‘Dies irae’, with what must be one of the fastest performances of all time! The ‘Recordare’, described by Mozart’s widow, Constanze as one of his favourite compositions, was beautifully sung by the soloists – and it’s still going through my head!

At the end of the Requiem, soloists and choir joined together to sing Justorum animae by Orlando di Lassus (“The souls of the righteous are in the hands of God… they are at peace”).

So how do I think the choir’s performance went?

  • They responded really well, with conviction and passion, and sensitivity to the texts.
  • I think there were good fugal entries and generally well-supported singing.
  • The weakest moment was probably the beginning of the Lassus, with momentary insecurity, but it quickly recovered. And having only seven tenors meant that the “ne absorbeat” entry was a bit weak (although they were giving all they had!).
  • The best bits, I think, were the exciting ‘Kyrie’ and ‘Dies irae’, and the Offertorium movements, ‘Domine, Jesu Christe’ and ‘Hostias’, which portrayed a range of styles and emotions from dance to terror to confident hope.

Performers

Clare Tucker soprano
Rebecca Afonwy-Jones mezzo-soprano
Warren Gillespie tenor
Michel de Souza baritone
Stirling University Choir
City of Glasgow Symphony Orchestra (Bernardus Buurman leader)
Alistair Warwick  conductor

Was anyone reading this (if anyone is reading this!) at the concert? Please comment below.

“Towards a New Narrative”: Symposium on Scottish Sacred Music

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Well, I’m now preparing for the forthcoming Symposium on Scottish Sacred Music at Pluscarden Abbey, near Inverness, Scotland.

Over 150 people are expected to come to this Benedictine Abbey for the three-day event, which will include talks and recitals of sacred music from Scotland.
Day 1: Tuesday 1 September 2009: Mediaeval & Renaissance Scottish Sacred Music up to 1560
My own paper will be on other renaissance polyphony from 16th-century Scotland (i.e. not music by Robert Carvor/Carver, whose work will be dealt with by Jamie Reid-Baxter), especially music from the Wode Partbooks and the Dunkeld Music Book , including music by David Peebles. Some of this will draw on my MMus dissertation (University of Surrey, 1998) and my article “Musick fyne” (first appeared in Church Music Quarterly, June 2005).

Other papers that day will be given by Warwick Edwards (“Mediaeval Chant Manuscripts from St. Andrews Cathedral and Inchcolm Priory”) and John Harper (“The Bridge between Chant and Polyphony”).

The evening concert will feature some of the music from these manuscripts.

Day 2: Wednesday 2 September 2009: the period from 1560 to the early 20th century
Speakers include Douglas Galbraith, Elmslie Nimmo and Frances Wilkins

Day 3: Thursday 3 September 2009: the Modern Era
Speakers include John Bell, Graeme Hair and James MacMillan.

Further information
More details about the Symposium can be found on the Pluscarden Abbey website.

In case you can’t get to the Symposium (or wish to read up a bit about the music first), a very readable account of Scotland’s Music can be found in this excellent book by John Purser, offering a very readable history of the traditional and classical music of Scotland from early times to the present day.

As usual, your comments are welcome!

Magic stories from Earthsea revisited

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Just re-reading the ‘Earthsea’ novels by Urula Le Guin (A Wizard of Earthsea, Tombs of Atuan, The Farthest Shore and Tehanu). Fabulous, beautiful stories, even parables.

I first read the trilogy in the 70s and it is a delight to have come across them again. (The fourth story in this volume was added some 15 years later, following a shift in Le Guin’s philosophical outlook, and moves the focus away somewhat from the main character, Ged the Sparrowhawk.)

The storylines in these tales from Earthsea are quite excellent, but I think the real magic is in the poetry of Le Guin’s writing style, which almost demands to be read aloud.

For example, from the ending of ‘A Wizard of Earthsea’:

And he began to see the truth, that Ged had neither lost nor won but, naming the shadow of his death with his own name, had made himself whole : a man : who, knowing his whole true self, cannot be used or possessed by any other power other than himself, and whose life therefore is lived for life’s sake and never in the service of ruin, or pain, or hatred, or the dark.

In the Creation of Ea which is the oldest song, it is said

Only in silence the word,
only in dark the light,
only in dying life:
bright the hawk’s flight
on the empty sky.

Although the only response to this is silence, I can begin to feel a musical setting forming!

(I see from Amazon that Le Guin has also written stories called ‘Four Ways to Forgiveness’. Excellent reviews. That’s something for my birthday list!)

As usual, your comments are welcome!

Four Ways to Forgiveness: Stories

Dare to think differently!

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Found this on “Hit the Back Button“. I think it speaks for itself. (Of course what you get out of it may depend where you’re coming from!) Enjoy 8 minutes of wisdom!

Reminds me a bit of the BBC’s New Year message from, I think, 2001, where a chap had had to register his child’s birth and death on the same day; reflecting on the care that he and his wife were shown had led him to become more tolerant of people’s weaknesses and considerably more intolerant of people’s willful ignorance. His story touched me deeply.

As usual, your comments are welcome!

Workflow interrupted

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Well, my laptop is being diagnosed for hardware faults, and has been since last Thursday. I knew there was a problem with one of the memory modules and I replaced that, but I was still getting Blue Screens of Death – WinXP SP3 – so decided it needed some serious looking at. Whatever happens I will give it a clean re-install of Windows (I’ve been tempted for ages to give Linux a try, but depend too much on Dreamweaver and Photoshop, although they might run OK with WINE).

Fortunately cloud computing means that I can still access and write emails, and having previously moved my data files to a 500Mb external hard drive means that I can still get quite a lot of work done. But… not having a number of programmes installed on the secondary laptop means that my workflow is interrrupted – or at least much more complicated.

As usual, your comments are welcome!