Saturday, 30 January 2010

Music and Mental Health

Stephen Hough, the concert pianist, has posted a moving blog on the healing power of music and the mind, after giving a performance at the Chelsea Mental Health Centre. 'Playing a recital in this setting was like playing with sacred fire: the musician as magician, the hearing as healing.' Read here.

Monday, 25 January 2010

Conflicts, Caravaggio, and The Wesley Pulpit

Sunday was a Bedford day, with a service at Cotton End in the morning, at which I was invited to preach on James 4 as part of a series, 'Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from?' That was fun!

In the evening I was the guest preacher at the All Bedford Churches Together Service for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity . The passage for this occasion was The Road to Emmaus, which happens to be a favourite, especially in the light of an experience I had whilst on sabbatical two years ago, which I recounted to the congregation.

I read a wonderful novel by Salley Vickers, The Other Side of You.  Central to the plot was the story of ‘The Supper at Emmaus’, and more specifically, the painting by Caravaggio that hangs in the National Gallery.  I visited a number of different galleries, but I will never forget sitting in front of Caravaggio’s painting and looking at it, really looking at it.  A group came along with a guide, and she very helpfully pointed out some fascinating features of the painting.  But then she said, ‘You need to look at this and appreciate that this is the split second before Christ disappears from their sight’.  And something happened for me, call it ‘the light coming on’, or an epiphany, but I was deeply touched, and also entered a new dimension of experiencing art.  

It was a good evening with excellent singing by the choir of St Paul's Bedford, supplemented from other churches, and splendid organ playing. But what made it that bit more special was to preach from the so-called Wesley Pulpit, which is where John Wesley preached the Assize sermon before the Honorable Sir Edward Clive, Knight, one of the Judges of His Majesty's Court of Common Pleas, on Friday, March 10, 1758, on the theme, 'We shall all stand before the judgement seat of Christ', from Rom. 14.10. 

Sunday, 24 January 2010

What's on David Bowie's iPod?

I've always been an admirer of David Bowie, and I was intrigued to see that The Guardian had an article, What's on David Bowie's iPod?.  If you have Spotify, you can listen to the whole playlist here.

I was blown away with this blast from the '60's, Stay with Me by Lorraine Ellison. Bowie writes, 'Ellison only got to record this goose bump-making classic because of a Sinatra cancellation at the studio. The vocal build and release on this track is galvanising.' And it is, it really is! I've listened on Spotify but downloaded it from iTunes.

There's a lot more that's interesting, including, John Adams, For With God No Thing Shall Be Impossible, from El Nino.  Bowie's comment, 'Just over a minute long and propulsive like a storm. I want to crush furniture. The emotional in search of the divine.'

Friday, 22 January 2010

'This Sunrise of Wonder'

For several years I've been quoting Michael Mayne, but only second-hand, and reading of 'The Enduring Melody', his last book before his death, I thought I really ought to go to the source. In view of the name of my blog, and bolstered by delighted reviewers, I chose 'This Sunrise of Wonder' to begin. And I have absolutely loved it!

It is a book, made up of twenty-four chapters, or letters, written to his grandchildren. The writing was done while staying in a chalet in the Swiss Alps during a Study Leave when Mayne was the Dean of Westminster, 'but the study has been done over the years by reading books and observing people, by watching and listening, by giving attention and learning to make connections. I did not have to look very far once I had spotted the thread I wished to pursue, for it runs through the work of most artists and many scientists and some theologians, and it is the theme of this book. For these letters are, above all, about wonder.'

Mayne says of his task, 'So much of what I want to share with you could be summed up by saying: to ask "What is art?", "What is poetry?", "What is music?" is one way of asking "What is a human being?" For I believe the mystery of what I am and what you are has to do before all else with our capacity to create, and be possessed by, such things. It is a sharing in the creative act that is no less than God-like, and that, too, is a source of wonder.'  He draws on a huge number of poems, authors, playwrights, painters, composers and scientists, theologians, ancient and modern, in making his connections. And he does so from a life which was not without its pain. Mayne suffered from ME and 'The Enduring Melody' is in part an account of his battle with cancer of the jaw and was published a few days before his death.

'This Sunrise of Wonder' however, is a celebration of life. It's a book to savour, to read meditatively. And having finished it, I want to keep it close to hand to dip into again and again.

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Entry-level Church

On Tuesday we held a 'Meet the Team' lunch for ministers in the Bedfordshire area. This was a relaxed occasion where we chatted over food, shared news, and heard from ministers. It was good to be together.

In the conversation, one thing that was striking and encouraging was the number of what was described as 'entry-level church' events that were taking place. One church has been doing Pulse Cafe once a month in a neighbouring village where there is no church; a church plant has as its main event, Brunch, mid-morning on a Sunday; and another church holds a regular 'Tea Time Church' at 4.30 on a Sunday afternoon. Most of these don't take place in the church building.  All are proving to be inviting to people who otherwise would not come into church. In many respects they are variations on Cid Latty's Cafe Church, which takes place in Costas, but it was the notion of 'entry-level church' that I was taken with.

The obvious thing they hold in common is that they take place around food, that they are informal and non-churchy, and that they are driven by a tremendous desire to share the good news of Jesus Christ with their local community. Hearing from those involved, the other common factor is that they are hugely demanding in time, energy, and people resources.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

'All you need is love'

HT to Sarah at Razzamajazz for this.
On December 7th, 2009 at 1.30 GMT Starbucks invited musicians from all over the world to sing together at the same time to raise awareness for AIDS in Africa. In that one breathtaking moment, musicians from 156 countries played "All You Need is Love" together. Watch now, as musicians from all around the world come together and share a song.
As Sarah says, 'This is lovely'. Enjoy!

'Making the Most of the Church Meeting'

Monday was the first night of an event that we're putting on in five locations around the Central Baptist Association, 'Making the Most of the Church Meeting'. And it was an encouraging beginning with over 70 people attending. In previous years we've taken as themes, 'When Christians Disagree', 'Fit4Life' with an introduction to effective communication, and 'Help! I'm a Deacon'. All of these have been well received.

The Church Meeting in our Baptist churces often gets a bad press, and for good reason! But it really can be a high point in the church's life. So, what makes for a great church meeting? And when it isn't so great, what happened? And how can we make all our church meetings work better for us? These are the questions that we looked at on Monday evening and we'll stay with over the next few weeks.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Anti Desert Island Discs

Charlotte Higgins, 'On Culture', in the Guardian, posts on 'What pieces of music would you happily never hear again?'  She quotes Alan Bennett's diary for 2009, in which he writes:
'It's years since I was on Desert Island Discs but these days I'd find it much easier to choose the eight records I don't want than those that I do. I don't ever want to hear again: Mussorgsky, Pictures at an Exhibition; Rimsky Korsakov, Sheherazade; Schubert, Fifth Symphony; Beethoven, Pastoral Symphony; Mozart, 40th Symphony. And it isn't that I've heard them too often. I just don't care for any of them.'
Interestingly, Charlotte Higgins, is reluctant to name her pieces, but does include Bellini, Donizetti, and Bruckner.

I too am reluctant to name pieces, partly because some pieces come and go, but then come back. Berlioz, Symphonie Fantastique would definitely have been an example, along with Schubert's Ninth Symphony, due mainly to playing them too many times. But now I feel some shame for this as I'm wowed by Berlioz and awed by Schubert! Tchaikovsky similarly. I performed The Merry Widow by Lehar so many times that I thought I could never face hearing it again - it's not the greatest music anyway - but even now I find myself wistful for the Vilja-Lied, and I may even download it for nostalgia.  My idea of a musical hell included Country and Western, but not so long ago I purchased three Johnny Cash CD's! As yet, Prokofiev continues to hold no interest, but this too might change!

Now, if we were talking hymns or worship songs ...

If you're adventurous enough to put down what you would happily never hear again I'll be glad to hear from you.

Friday, 1 January 2010

A Happy New Year!

A Happy New Year!

A good Christmas with one major disappointment. Christmas starts properly for us when we attend the Carol Service at St Albans Cathedral. On 21 December we set off with masses of time, but bad weather and accidents on the road meant that we arrived home two hours later having got not even close! Actually, in retrospect, if we had got there, probably we wouldn't have got back!

I've got used to not being involved in Christmas services, but I did have the opportunity to lead some prayers of intercession at the Carols by Candlelight at our home church, and I was asked if I would teach a round on Christmas Day. By way of explanation, a few weeks back I taught Jubilate Deo from Taize and it went spectacularly well with all ages! I thought that something similar on Christmas Day wasn't likely to do it for most people, but nonetheless taught 'Gloria, gloria, in excelsis Deo', again from Taize, and again it worked a treat! I have to add that we sang another song from which I wish to totally disassociate myself - 'Christmas, isn't Christmas, till it happens in your heart'.

Otherwise, Christmas has included many good things. A pleasurable excess of homemade Christmas cake - thanks to Sarah - and Christmas pudding, some good TV/DVD's - Doctor Who, Hamlet, Bill Bailey's Remarkable Guide to the Orchestra (again), and Valkyre (not the opera but the Tom Cruise). We went to see Avatar, which I thoroughly enjoyed, especially as a first in 3D - see Glyn's post here.

Present wise, it was a bit of a Schubert-fest, with Ian Bostridge singing, Die Schöne Müllerin, Mark Padmore singing Winterreise - spectacular - and the last three piano sonatas with Murray Perahia. Some Mahler still hasn't arrived.

The other high point was reading The Elegance of the Hedgehog, by Muriel Barbary, a beautiful book, and fitting conclusion to 2009.  Right at the end of the book are these words in response to hearing the strains of Satie's Gymnopédies,
'there's a lot of despair, but also the odd moment of beauty, where time is no longer the same.  It's as if those strains of music created a sort of interlude in time, something suspended, an elsewhere that had come to us, an always within never.'