Monday, 30 November 2009


Advent is a rich time on the blogosphere. This includes Hopeful Imagination which has started up again for the season. And all of this is a good thing!

I started to take Advent more seriously when I was at theological college, when Paul Beasley-Murray, the principal, spoke with some energy about the Church's festivals. He also shared his own family's practice of Advent Teas, which is something we've adopted ever since, lighting our own Advent wreath and using a short, simple liturgy, in the context of a meal.

Over the years, Advent has become more significant for me, in itself, and also as the start of a new Church year.

On Sunday, unusually I was at a church where we sang five Advent hymns! Additionally I was given the honour of lighting the first candle. And then, at home in the evening, later than usual, we had an Advent Supper and did the same thing again, but without the hymns.

The frustration with Advent is that for many of our churches it's simply Christmas-come-early, and yet Advent offers something distinct and deep.

I like what Neil Brighton at Distinct Reflections says, 'Advent expresses an important dimension of the Christian life; a life of expectant waiting and a period of hopeful purpose. As those who live after the end of the beginning but before the beginning of the end we should have an attitude towards God that is faith filled and yet hesitant, humble and yet assured.'

There are particular pieces of music that I listen to especially this time of the year, one being, James MacMillan's, Veni, Veni, Emmanuel, a concerto for percussion and orchestra, played on my recording by Evelyn Glennie. It's superb!

And this year I've purchased Salt of the Earth:A Christian Seasons Calendar, which tells the story of the Christian Year through scripture, liturgical colour and artworks. So instead of January, February, March ... it's Advent, Christmas, Epiphany ... In every other respect it looks like a conventional calendar, with the addition of the lectionary for Sundays and some background to the stunning artwork. It's ordered from America, and so proved expensive with postage, but it's beautiful.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Mahler 10

I'm a big Mahler fan - ever since I went to the first night of the Proms in 1975 and, standing up in the gods, I heard Mahler's Eighth. Mahler's Tenth and final symphony was unfinished, although substantially complete in draft form, so any performance is a realisation by someone else. There are several of these, but those by Deryck Cooke are the ones that form the basis of performances today. And you're in no doubt that you're listening to Mahler.

I already have one recording of just the first movement, but last week I read this moving account by Gareth Davies, the principal flautist in the London Symphony Orchestra, of his experience, following the discovery and treatment of cancer. For some time after his return to work he found himself playing great music, yet simply going through the motions and feeling nothing. It was during a performance of Mahler 10 that a switch flicked in his brain. Read the post here.

As a consequence, I've just bought Sir Simon Rattle's Mahler 10 with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, and I'm loving it, especially the flute solo in the last movement.

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Charity Concert, and flowers

On Saturday I took part in a Charity Concert in aid of MHA, which is a charity providing care homes, housing and support services for older people throughout Britain. It was organised by Birgitte Grace, the chaplain at Westbury Grange and a member of the Baptist Church of which I'm a part. Bee, as she's known, is doing an excellent work, and the way she spoke about MHA demonstrated her commitment and compassion for vulnerable older people.

I did two sets, accompanied by Mary Cotes, who also accompanied Claire Turner, more recently a mum, but previously a mezzo soprano with Welsh National Opera. Katie Neaves, a violinist was the other instrumentalist, taking a night off from the National Tour of The Sound of Music. Additionally, the Arts1 Musical Theatre Choir sang.

This group describe themselves as 'a vibrant and exciting adult choir for singers looking to enjoy making a fantastic sound whilst having fun and meeting new friends.' It was an absolute delight to hear them perform with such enthusiasm and clear enjoyment. Their musical director, James Grimsey, who led them in songs from shows, popular music and other well known melodies, has something of the Gareth Malone, from The Choir, about him. Certainly he generated a huge amount of energy from his singers.

The evening was in the Church of St Peter and St Paul's, Newport Pagnell, and on this occasion it was actually warm! The finishing touch from the evening was that for the first time ever, I was given flowers, beautiful flowers, and I was thoroughly chuffed!