Saturday, 30 May 2009

Poetry and Worship

There are a couple of very stimulating posts on poetry and worship at Gathering and Scattered and Dancing Scarecrow. And I appreciated this incisive quote from the latter, 'Too much modern worship is prosaic. The majority of modern worship songs are as "dumbed down", repetitive and unimaginative as a Stock Aitken & Waterman, Hit Factory pop record. Worship, if it is to reflect divinity, must strive for the poetic glories, whether they be Bob Dylan or Beethoven, Duffy or Shakespeare.'

Friday, 29 May 2009


We've just spent three days in Paris, as an early celebration of our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary in July. We had a great time and are already talking about when we return!

Good basic hotel in Montmatre; plenty of relaxed walking, soaking up the ambiance; excellent food, including lunch at Amelie's Café, which is now pink for those who've seen the film; and superb art at Musée d'Orsay, and at the Musée de l'Orangerie. The enormous canvasses - eight in all, housed in two oval rooms - of Monet's Waterlillies, were something else. And the experience was not dissimilar to viewing Rothkos in the Rothko Room at the Tate - there was a sense of reverence and contemplation, which was maintained by the attendants who shushed when the noise level rose. These pictures drench the retina with colour, and draw you in.

With a train at 13.00, we managed to fit in a to visit Père Lachaise, which is one of the most famous cemetries in the world. Among others, we saw the graves of Rossini, Cherubini, Chopin, Bellini, Francis Poulenc, Edith Piaf, Georges Bizet, and Oscar Wilde. A strange but highly satisfying pastime!

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

J.S. Bach as a matchless statement of Trinitarian faith

Today I attended the funeral of Ian Cundy, Bishop of Peterborough. It was a grand and solemn occasion but a very beautiful and moving one. Ian planned the service in detail and wrote the introduction which began, 'I invite you in this service to contemplate the mystery of God, in the light of which I have sought to live my life and understand its meaning.'

He went on to write, 'Music has always been an important part of my journey, and it is through music as well as word and sacrament that I invite you to encounter the mystery of the divine presence among us.'

The music for the Eucharist was taken from the Missa Brevis by Mozart; there was a setting of George Herbert by Vaughan Williams; and of John Donne by William Harris. Following the Dismissal, John Tavener's Funeral Ikos was sung while the congregation remained standing. And then we sat for J.S. Bach's Fugue in E flat (St Anne) BWV 552(ii).  In the introduction, Ian had written, 'And finally we move to one of J.S. Bach's matchless statements of Trinitarian faith - a piece which I invited generations of theological students to hear alongside the classic statements of Irenaeus and Augustine (among others) as plumbing the mystery of that most central of Christian insights - the doctrine of the Trinity.'  And it was just that!

My first encounter with Ian was through a Scripture Union Bible Study Commentary on Ephesians - 2 Thessalonians, which I still have, and it was fitting that the first Scripture reading was from Ephesians 1.  My second encounter was when he visited Rye as the Bishop of Lewes.  I recall him saying that the unity of the Church was both a given, and something to be worked at, and since then I have used that statement repeatedly.  

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Sounding the Psalms

I had a thoroughly enjoyable day with the Baptist ministers in Hertfordshire, 'Sounding the Psalms', reflecting on music and the psalms. I spoke about music, then about the psalms, and for the rest of the day we listened to a wide range of musical settings of the psalms as well as some pieces of music that are what I call 'psalmic'. 

What was particularly encouraging was the way in which people responded with enthusiasm in such varied and interesting ways. People shared movingly about their personal experience of particular pieces of music; they related how the music affected them as we listened; we thought very specifically about the relationship of words to music; they shared rich and unexpected insights; and in particular we discussed the darker side of music, which follows on from a previous blog. 

I used Walter Bruggemann's framework of psalms of orientation, disorientation and new orientation, and to conclude the afternoon, we listened to Psalm 23 from Bernstein's Chichester Psalms. Psalm 23 is a psalm of new orientation, but the movement of the psalm corresponds in turn to all three types, especially with Bernstein's interpolation of Psalm 2 in the middle of the work, and subversively, under the final note.

It was a good day in excellent company, with a great lunch provided by London Colney Baptist Church - many thanks. It's a tough job you know!

Thursday, 7 May 2009

Music, Torture and War

Recently, responding to a blog by Jim Gordon, and reflecting on what music does to me, I wrote, 'More negatively it can be used to manipulate me and to manage my mood as in muzak; and I myself can use it as a mood enhancer.' Picking up on the negative power of music, Alex Ross, at The Rest is Noise, writes a disturbing piece on the use of music as a psychological weapon. There are a number of links which are worth following up.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Adriano Adewale Group at the Stables

One of the brilliant things about living in Milton Keynes, is that within a ten minute drive, we are at the MK Theatre, or the jewel that is The Stables.

On a whim, we went to The Stables for a concert at Stage 2 which began at 8.45 on Tuesday evening. We'd heard Adriano Adewale as part of the excellent Antonio Forcione gig that we attended last year. The audience was small even for this more intimate venue, but this made no difference to the musicians who gave it their all - we didn't leave until gone 11.00 p.m!

The group consists of Adriano on percussion and vocals, Kadialy Kouyate on kora and vocals, Marcelo Andrade on sazophones, flutes and rabeca, and Nathan Riki Thomson on double bass, flutes & kalimba. As for genre, it would be best described as 'world jazz'. It was at times intensely energetic, but at other times hypnotically slow, always within a beautiful and original sound world. Aside from the remarkable virtuosity of all the players and Adriano especially, the sound of the kora will stay with me. This harp-like instrument with 22 strings from Senegal, has an ethereal and totally enthralling quality.

You can buy the CD, Sementes, from Amazon, or listen on YouTube or at Spotify.

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Baptist Assembly in Bournemouth

The last time I was at Bournemouth for a Baptist Union Assembly was in my first year in pastoral ministry. That seems a long time ago. Kevin & Trina featured on that occasion as I stayed with them. This time Cazz and I spent a splendid afternoon with them. Kevin is the principal clarinet in the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, a stunning player - listen to his Nielson Concerto on Naxos - and a bonus was a huge number of reeds which he can't use but that our son Andrew will find more than adequate.  

Meeting people is one of the best parts of Assembly and there were several really enjoyable conversations. It was a treat to have coffee with our good friend (and my best man) John Wilson who serves with BMS in Lyons.

A huge amount of work goes into this annual event, and so a big thank you to all who will spend the best part of this week unloading and getting over it. And a special tribute to my friends in the Communications Department, and particularly Amanda, for her contribution.

The big challenge of the event is that 'you can't please all of the people all of the time', and so it's interesting to read the comments in the blogosphere, which so far are largely positive. Many people attend for the main events, and of these, again, the presentation of ministers at the end of their period as newly accredited ministers was moving. In the BMS World Mission event on Saturday evening, it was good to hear David Coffey speak in a short interview, succinctly and incisively, on the importance of engaging in dialogue with those of other faiths.

And then there were the afternoon events, many of which looked fascinating but which I'll have to listen to on CD some other time. I attended 'God and the Art of Seeing' with Richard Kidd and Graham Sparkes. I expected this to be stimulating and inspiring and wasn't disappointed. In all of the many words spoken at an assembly, this was an event where words were measured and were given space, as we thought about the gift of imagination, the effort of attention, and the search for depth.  And it reinforced for me the conviction that Christianity, which has been spiritually impoverished by the church's attitude to art, and our Baptist part of the Church in particular, needs artists of all kinds, who will help us to explore our faith with imagination and depth; visual artists, poets, and yes, musicians! 

There were other good things too!