Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Michael and All Angels

Today is Michael and All Angels, not a particularly significant festival in the Baptist calendar, but since reading today's scriptures from the lectionary it's sort of got under my skin.

I browsed an excellent book written by my friends Robert and Ro Willoughby, 'Angels: a journey of exploration for individuals, small groups or churches'. This is a really creative resource, which is no surprise if you know Robert and Ro. I then turned to Bob Hartman's wonderful 'Easter Angels' with gorgeous illustrations by Tim Jonke. This is a children's book, but is loved by children of all ages, and one that moves me every Easter Sunday when I read it, normally out loud to anyone who's at home. I'm not sure that it's available any longer but his 'Angels, Angels, All Around' is.

I went to my iTunes and typed in 'angel', but this included a huge amount of Angela Hewitt and the Los Angeles Philharmonic, so I tried 'angels', which was more manageable. I've played Mark Padmore, singing 'Waft her, angels' from Handel's Jeptha - sublime - followed by Robbie Williams, 'Angels' - another stunning performer though of a different kind. Then 'Go, in the name of Angels' from Elgar's 'Dream of Gerontius'. Also, John Harle's 'Air and Angels', although I haven't got round to Rautavarra's 'Angels and Visitations', a substantial and appropriately awesome piece. The other notable inclusion is a jazz album 'Angel of the Presence'.

When it comes to art, where do you begin? You either love or hate Anthony Gormley's 'The Angel of the North' and I love it, but two years ago there was an exhibition of his work at the Hayward Gallery, called 'Blinding Light'. It incorporated figures all over central London as viewed from the Hayward Gallery, and for me they took the form of sentinels or angelic beings, and I found them striking and stirring.

I've never encountered an angel wittingly, although I know some who have. Angels remain a mystery which I guess is what makes them so fascinating. Certainly they've inspired an incredible amount of art of different forms. Oh well, down to earth with a bump - I'm off to a Church Meeting!

Monday, 28 September 2009

Gustavo Dudamel mania

Gustavo Dudamel, the dynamic 28 year old conductor, who has electrified the classical music world with the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela, is about to take up his role as music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra. And there is Dudamel-mania in LA. Tom Service provides the detail, including a more cautionary article by Mark Swed.

However, go here for an inspiring clip of the Dude, working with young musicians. Enjoy!

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Oakhill Secure Training Centre, Milton Keynes

On Thursday morning I spent a couple of hours with Andrew Gale, the new Chaplain at the Oakhill Secure Training Centre, and a Baptist minister. It must qualify as one of the shortest journeys I've done in the car - it's just two miles down the road!

Oakhill is one of just four centres in the country for serious young offenders between the ages of twelve and seventeen. It's well resourced with as many staff as trainees, and as attractive a building as it could be under the circumstances. I was really impressed by what Andrew is doing there as a chaplain, and inspired by the ethos of the place, which, for a penal institution, has a focus on bringing reform to the lives of some very damaged young people.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

My Lord, you wore no royal crown

We are now well into the season of Inductions. I began with the induction of Rev'd John Lockley at Bushey, and last Saturday the induction of Rev'd Lou Webber at Christ the King, Kents Hill (part of the Walton LEP). Both were really good occasions with a great buzz at the commencement of a new chapter in the life of these communities. This Saturday is the inauguration of Alan Smith as the Bishop of St Albans, which I'm looking forward to.

One thing that fascinates me is the choice of hymns/songs and I'll come back to this at the close of the season which will be the end of November. I was reflecting on my choice at my ordination and inductions. Certainly on two occasions I included Christopher Idle's hymn, 'My Lord, you wore no royal crown'. What I find hard to believe is that I've never sung this hymn anywhere else unless I've chosen it! And as I looked at the words, set to the folk tune, I found myself asking, 'Why?' The tune is Waly, Waly, which is a perfect marriage. And the last verse still brings a lump to my throat.

My Lord, you wore no royal crown;
you did not wield the powers of state,
nor did you need a scholar's gown
or priestly robe, to make you great.

You never used a killer's sword
to end an unjust tyranny;
your only weapon was your word,
for truth alone could set us free.

You did not live a world away
in hermit's cell or desert cave,
but felt our pain and shared each day
with those you came to seek and save.

You made no mean or cunning move,
chose no unworthy compromise,
but carved a track of burning love
through tangles of deceit and lies.

You came unequaled, undeserved,
to be what we were meant to be;
to serve, instead of being served,
a light for all the world to see.

So when I stumble, set me right;
command my life as you require;
let all your gifts be my delight
and you, my Lord, my one desire.

Friday, 4 September 2009

Slipped Disc on Religious Anomolies in the East West Divan Orchestra; and be impressed!

I've picked up a couple of interesting things from music blogs I follow.

The first is Slipped Disc, the blog of Norman Lebrecht, commentator and broadcaster on music, culture and politics, and an author. He comments on a review of the highly acclaimed, East West Diwan Orchestra, conducted by Daniel Barenboim, and made up of young Arab and Israeli players. Quoting Fiona Maddocks in the Observer, he says, 'It has been reported that some Muslim players in the orchestra were observing Ramadan by fasting until nightfall. It is interesting to note, in turn, that none of the Jewish players were observing the Sabbath. I have read no comment on this discrepancy. In a conflict that is avowedly faith-based, does one faith matter more than another?'

And he goes on to say, 'She has a point, and a very strong one. All creeds are respected in the orchestra's mission statement, but where some Muslim players maintain their observances and their pride in an ethical heritage, none of the Jewish Israelis, least of all their secular conductor, appears to show more than liberal disdain for the archaic rules of a discarded faith culture.

This is a serious shortcoming. Religious faith of all degrees, from mild affinity to wild fanaticism, lies at the heart of the Middle East conflict. If the Diwan does not represent all forms of faith, its role in the peace dialogue cannot be more than an ephemeral gesture.' It's created quite a stir!

In a follow-up post, he makes this statement, 'Whatever one's personal beliefs, however, all musicians ought to be aware that without religion there would be no music for them to play. It was the church that laid the foundations for symphonic music and a search for God that led most of the great composers to write as they did. Beethoven may have been anti-authority and Verdi anti-clerical, but with the lone exception of Richard Wagner it is hard to find a major composer before the 1918 who actively denied the existence of God and was not driven to compose by a religious impulse.' Again, the response is lively!

But then, for some pure entertainment, Tom Service, in his Guardian blog, directs us to an extraordinary performance of the Flight of the Bumble Bee, by The Philharmonics here. Sometimes you think you've heard it all, and then!