Sunday, 28 June 2009

Farewell to Steve Mantle and 'The First Voyage of the Coracle'

Saturday I was back at Melton Mowbray Baptist Church, for the farewell to Steve Mantle as the Regional Minister/Team Leader of the East Midlands Baptist Association. Steve has been a fine colleague and a good mate!

Steve is going to work in Kwa-Zulu Natal, South Africa as a Projects Manager. Steve has a huge heart for the two-thirds world which goes back many years to when he worked in Zaire with BMS World Mission. Yesterday, he showed an image of an African woman with an unreal load on her back, and spoke of the the burden that is carried by the people of Africa. He shared something of his burden for the poor in this part of the world, and in particular the children with whom he will be working, in a place at the epicentre of HIV/Aids in Africa. He quoted Edmund Burke, 'Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could only do a little.' You can read about the organization, Shine Foundation here.

Steve is an inspiration, and I'm full of admiration for his eagerness to follow God's call, and not a little concerned.

He read 'The First Voyage of the Coracle' which comes from the Community of Aidan and Hilda, which formed part of our worship when we last met as Team Leaders.

'Brothers and Sisters, God is calling you to leave behind everything that stops you setting sail in the ocean of God’s love. You have heard the call of the Wild Goose, the untameable Spirit of God; be ready for him to lead you into wild, windy or well-worn places in the knowledge that he will make them places of wonder and welcome.

He is giving you the vision of a spoiled creation being restored to harmony with its Creator, of a fragmented world becoming whole, of a weakened church being restored to its mission, of healed lands being lit up by the radiance of the glorious Trinity.

In stillness or storm, be always vigilant, waiting, sharing, praising, blessing, telling. Sail forth across the ocean of God’s world knowing both the frailty of your craft and the infinite riches of your God.'

Go well, and God bless Steve!

Oh to be in Paris ...

HT to maggi for a link to 'Happening Les Musicals Sacré-Coeur OFFICIAL VIDEO'. This is so full of life and even if you don't understand what's being sung, as in my case, it's hugely enjoyable. Watch it here.

James Taylor and the power of a good song

Today's a day off and before going to church I went for a walk. Next to the house we have a cut-through to some lovely parkland with a stream connecting a number of small lakes. As I passed the second lake, the two swans, with their two fast-growing cygnets were idling across, ducks were upturned, moor hens were scampering. It was a familiar but pleasurable sight.

The music I was listening to on the iPod shuffle, wasn't really doing it for me: Shostakovich Sixth String Quartet, Vaughan Williams Ninth Symphony, not even the Mozart Third Horn Concerto with Dennis Brain, or the Handel aria sung by Mark Padmore. And then it happened. James Taylor singing Roger and Hammerstein's 'O what a beautiful mornin', and that did it! What a good song. It had a remarkable effect upon me, the goodness of which I'm still living in.

It struck me that there is something 'psalmic' about it, and if you were to use Brueggemann's structure, definitely a psalm of orientation. Even singing a Doug Horley song at church, hasn't dislodged the particular quality that James Taylor brings to a song and it seems to be on repeat in the background of my mind.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009


Thanks to Bishop Alan for his blog on the Radio 4 broadcast on Sunday of the programme 'Hallelujah', an exploration of 'this most musical of words', by the composer Jocelyn Pook. In the space of just 30 minutes this was far reaching, with diverse musical interpretations, ranging from Handel to Stravinsky, including Leonard Cohen and Nick Cave; a great anecdote by Cohen about a working lunch with Bob Dylan; and a haunting improvisation by Jeremy Schonfeld, a Jewish cantor, based on Psalm 117. This formed the basis of a sublime piece that Jocelyn Pook composed, as the programme progressed, using the male voice of the cantor, joined by a female voice, in dialogue and unison, accompanied by a minimalist but sonorous string quartet arrangement.

You can listen to the whole programme on iPlayer, and download the piece on iTunes. As Alan says, '100% soul food'.

Happy Birthday Stravinsky

To mark the birthday of Igor Stravinsky, certainly one of the most significant composers of the twentieth century, Google has created 'an effete, sub-Chagall image to surround their lettering' (Tom Service in The Guardian blog). There's a firebird, some musical notes, flowers probably relating to Les Noces, and a caterpillar which remains a mystery. So, go to Google and have a look - a nice touch!

Sunday, 7 June 2009

CBA Assembly

We had a good assembly yesterday with about 180 people attending. Colin Pye led worship using familiar contemporary songs and some new reflections that he had created. If Colin is leading I have a heightened expectation that there will be something fresh and imaginative that will help me to become aware of God's presence. It happened and still managed to take me by surprise!

The other highlight, among lots of good things, was David Shosanya, Regional Minister in the London Baptist Association, who spoke with passion about 'God's heart for people and places'. He employed humour and some moving personal stories, encouraging us to engage with our communities with particularity, presence and passion. Although it sounds like a predictable three point alliterated sermon, it was anything but. David is an excellent speaker who manages to communicate deep understanding with a lightness of touch.

Yesterday was also the day when we launched our Association Strategy, which has the strap-line, 'Walking Together in Ministry and Mission'. I feel some excitement about this work in progress and look forward to its impact upon our life together.

The Trinity - through music

Today, on Trinity Sunday, I guess that there will be talk of three-leaf clover; water as ice, steam and liquid; and the other familiar yet defective ways of thinking about the Trinity.

With thanks, again, to Jeremy Begbie, I find this most helpful.

On a piano, play a middle C. The note comes from the piano, but fills the aural space. Now play the E above, and you have the second note; and then the G, and you have the third note. Play together and you have a chord of C major. Importantly, all three notes are in the same space at the same time. They are heard in and through each other. None are merged or hidden.

Begbie goes on to say that the Trinity is a three-note resonance of life, notes mutually indwelling without exclusion or merger, each occupying the same space yet recognisably and irreducibly distinct.

David Cunningham, takes this further in speaking of polyphony as, 'simultaneous, non-excluding difference: that is, more than one note is played at a time and none of the notes is so dominant that it renders the others mute.' And a variation on this with a great quote from Robert Jenson, 'God is a melody. And as there are three singers ... this melody is fugued. There is nothing as capacious as a fugue.'

This does it for me in a way that a clover leaf doesn't! I'm going to listen to Angela Hewitt play some Bach on the way to church.

Friday, 5 June 2009

Wagner's Ring

A while back I decided that I really ought to get better acquainted with Wagner's Ring. Good intentions apart, this is no small thing as we're talking about four operas with the shortest by a long, long way at 153 minutes. So, for my birthday, I received the Barenboim version from Bayreuth in 1991 on DVD. And so far, having watched and listened to Das Rheingold, 'the preliminary evening of the stage-festival drama', albeit in sections, I was bowled over, dramatically as well as musically. Die Walkure, the next in the cycle, is a mere 237 minutes but I'm really looking forward to it. I wonder if this is the best way of getting to know an opera, especially if the opportunities of seeing it live are limited. And at just over £50 for the lot, it's a bargain.

The question is what do you listen to after a hefty diet of Wagner? I appreciate this counsel, 'After Wagner you need to clean your teeth with Rossini.'

How to count the long notes

I was rehearsing for a concert with the Horizon Ensemble, and my good friend told me of a lovely comment made by one of her young pupils, who said before playing a piece of music, 'I'm looking forward to the long notes because I can count the beats with my wiggly tooth.' He then proceeded to do just this! What a great approach!!

We'll be counting the long notes whichever way, next Saturday, 13 June, at Dagnell Street Baptist Church, St Albans. The concert lasts about an hour and should be fun, not least because in one piece I both sing and play the bassoon, though not at the same time.