Wednesday, 25 December 2013

A solitary Christmas Eve ~ and a special one

Christmas Eve dawned with rain and blustery wind, and the day was dark and stormy, but by evening sun the sun was slanting through clouds and misting showers - the perfect weather for rainbows.

Despite its gloomy start it turned out to be a remarkable day, both weather-wise and musically, but the musical part came first:

I had been looking through a case of Dad's LPs, recently given to me by my mother, and come across an old favourite, "Music of the Service from the Temple Church".  How could I have forgotten it?  It must have been over 30 years since I had seen the cover and yet how familiar it was.  The date on the back at the foot of an extensive commentary by David Lewer was 1962, and it was still in near perfect condition.  I put it on the record player and the years rolled back.  The music, all of which came back to me moment by moment, is glorious.  When you grow up listening to certain pieces of music they live on in your bones.  I had sung in choirs when young, and later enjoyed singing in the city choir with Dad.  It was a love we had in common.

My feelings about church are mixed, but with classical devotional music I have no such reservations: the sheer beauty of it takes me straight to that quintessential devotional space without regard for either belief or theology.  

That record is so special, I took time to search for comparable performances of some of the music so that I could share it here.  

The one I like best is Psalm 121, "I will lift up mine eyes".   This version  was set to music by Henry Walford Davies: (1869 - 1941).  I am glad to see him acknowledged in the video and to see the photograph of him that has been included.  From what I can gather from the Dutch text the psalm is sung by the choir of the Protestant church (of ?) Willibrord, Oegstgeest in the Netherlands.  Their singing is superb. 

Below it is performed by the Saint Paul Cathedral Choir, also very beautifully.  I find the parallel dedication of effort made by these two widely separated groups touching:  

"Blessed are the pure in heart", also by Walford Davies, deserves to be as widely known and sung, but I found only one performance of it - by the Redeemer Choir of the Episcopal church.  You'll need to click through on the link which I have included in the name above in order to go to it on YouTube.

On the Temple Choir record the version of Psalm 23: "The Lord is my shepherd", was set to music by Thomas Attwood Walmisley (1814 - 1856), which I was unable to find on the Net.  Here is another version, also lovely, set to music by Sir John Goss (1800 - 1880):

And since it is Christmas here is the King's College Cambridge Choir singing the carol, "Once in Royal David's City".  The words were written by Mrs Cecil Frances Alexander in 1824, the music by Henry John Gauntlett, and published in 1849.  Gauntlett is credited with the tunes for about 1,000 hymns!  I should think this one is likely to be his best known!  Watching this brought back much of my own involvement with choir singing: the hours of rehearsals which went on week after week, and which didn't always go smoothly, and the difficulty presented by a congregation that would lag behind the choir in their singing - as they do in this one!  The video shows careful timing has been worked out so that they process along the aisle and into their places to finish at just the right moment - it has all been worked out and practiced, most admirably.   

The record concludes dramatically with Charles Stanley's Trumpet Voluntary here played exclusively on an organ.  If you have ever wondered about the complexity of sound generated by organ performances this video shows just how dextrous organ players are required to be, not only with their hands but also with their feet - an astonishing range of pedals, keyboards, stops and no doubt much more besides!  The organist is Massimo Gabba - Bravo Massimo, Bravo - I kiss my fingers to you! 

The place here has a wonderful view out to sea and as I was listening to all this I watched the weather roll across it from the south.  The day had been so wet and grey: 

Despite this I was feeling very uplifted by the music.  I watched various raincoated people walk past along the road below, conscientiously walking their dogs.  Thunder started to roll overhead.  A group of friends made their way up the road, three of them with umbrellas raised and one lagging behind carrying a little puppy inside the front of his jacket.  As I continued to gaze out to sea I became aware of a tiny moving smudge on window in front of me, which on closer examination I could see was an aphid or other similarly tiny fly; I recollected that two of my neighbours are still not speaking to me, which I don't understand, and felt less lofty: you can't make people want to get on, and it's such a waste.  

However, as the thunder continued to roll the sun came through and created drama of a different sort.  The setting sunlight catching the surf was dazzlingly beautiful and I wondered if it was dry enough to risk taking my camera out to see if I could capture some of what was going on?  I decided I had a choice: to stay indoors safely or get out amongst it, breathe it in and be a part of it and knew that if I stayed home I would be annoyed with myself, so the choice was easy: I looped my camera strap around my neck, zipped my raincoat up over it, and set out.  Thunder continued to roll on and on, and I wondered a little nervously, what the likelihood was of being struck by lightening, but since I couldn't see any hoped I would be more likely to win lotto.  The odds seemed to be in my favour and I hit a jackpot of a different kind: I took over a hundred photos and thoroughly enjoyed myself, enough to share a selection of them here:

It was 8.30pm when I set out.  The setting sun was almost directly behind me, and the anti-crepuscular rays within the rainbow were magnificent.  This is the context of the landscape...

...And here is as much of the big rainbow as I could manage:

The sky was changing moment by moment and the thunder continued to roll.  In the image below one especially large anti-crepuscular ray can be seen crossing the rainbow.  Rain was misting down all the time and the protection I was able to gave my camera was sketchy to say the least, but to exercise greater caution would have been to lose the moment forever!

The whole tone of the atmosphere was changing rapidly and for a while seemed more threatening.  I didn't like the look of it and hurried home...

...Only to find that once I got to the gate I was confronted by fresh splendours - which sent me scurrying back to the best vantage point: 

Turning in the opposite direction the sky overhead showed intense atmospheric activity right up high:

The upper level of soft fluffy cloud was really hoofing it!

Within minutes it began to visibly interact with the lower cloud:


The light over the ocean and the surface of the water were mirroring each other; both continued to change rapidly.

The cloud activity intensified:

The Earth's shadow finally made its very late evening appearance.  It was 9.23pm:

By then the sea looked like liquid satin:

And the wind had neatly brushed out these clouds like a cat's pelt:

Looking in the other direction five minutes later it was easy to see what all the thundering fuss had been about:

But the stormy weather had passed over and the sky was mantled with the rosy glow of the sun's last rays:

And at 9.37pm the sky showed its last salute before nightfall:

I went inside replete with visual glories, and put on that record again.  It was almost too much.  It was too much.  I shed some tears.

It had been an astonishingly beautiful evening and I truly felt that my Christmas had already come and was spilling over, so much so that I have spent much of the day writing about it, so that all the other quiet things I had planned to do today have been set aside for tomorrow, Boxing Day.  

Whoever you are and wherever you may be
I wish you a peaceful Christmas and New Year.

My earlier article about the my plans for Christmas can be found by clicking the link below:

Sunday, 31 March 2013

What Easter means to me ~

Was Jesus divine or not?  The Christian observance of Easter raises complex issues, which deserve serious consideration, one of which relates to whether he was resurrected, and therefore divine - or not. 

I used to take all that as read, but now hold much simpler views: I see these questions as a distraction from the practical reality of his life: that Jesus was an incredibly brave advocate of peace, who was killed by those who wished to continue to suppress the poor and disadvantaged as well as those who thought differently from themselves.  I find the story of his life inspirational.  Being reminded of this at Easter time places the challenge of what I am doing in my own life squarely before me, making it a good time to reaffirm my commitment to contribute as best I can to what is good and wholesome here and now. 

Jesus, like other great spiritual teachers, taught the value of love and forgiveness, of helping others with no thought of return, and made a point of relating to everyone as equals, the poor and powerful alike.  No wonder the authorities of the day, both Roman and religious, found him threatening.  It would seem however, that he did not intend to be disruptive, advocating that everyone pay their taxes as required.  This must have had the authorities scratching their heads.  But he didn't bow down to them, or pay any attention to what he considered to be petty codes and rules, which as we all know from daily experience can make the said authorities very angry indeed.  Hmm. 

I often carry the little rosary pictured, not because I consider myself to be a Christian especially, but to remind myself of what's important.  In this respect Easter time is a time when I raise Jesus up - in my awareness and as a source of inspiration.  I am content for the truth about his resurrection and ascension to remain a mystery. 

I also remember those dear to me who have left this world, to whom the teachings of Jesus were an inspiration and guiding light: dear Zoe, who on Easter Sundays would get up early to drive to a deserted hilltop there to watch the sun rise; and my father and his mother who both earnestly studied the scriptures as well as other books on spiritual guidance and who pushed back against the conventions of their day with which they found themselves at odds.  I learnt much from each of them and enjoyed their friendship. 

While I was reflecting on this Rewi summoned me back to the present by calling me to lunch.  I grumbled.  I'm not good at changing gear - from my inner world to the outer one, or from one task to another.  I grumbled about the cabbage water which had inadvertently been served with the meal and then burst into tears.  I really miss the older friends I had been thinking of, and have to manage without them, which I would much rather not.  Tears for the dead...  

But lunch was delicious and life goes on.  My sister phoned while I was eating, and I will phone her back for a proper chat; then I will go next door and photograph the new wooden casings which John has just made and fitted on the corners of the house next to where it has been re-roofed.  Life with its ups and downs is still full of good things.  And I in turn can add to that.   
~Happy Easter ~      

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Neil Gaiman speaks about the importance of Making Good Art ~

The New Year is a time when many people consider what they hope to achieve in the year ahead. 

In this speech to university graduates Neil Gaiman, who has been described to me as a rock star of the literary world, gives advice about choosing and securing work, working for money, the value of mistakes and the pitfalls of success, and above all he advises his listeners to Make Good Art.  His speech is the antithesis of what is likely to be suggested by the average career advisory service and is delivered in his characteristically quirky way. 

So if you're wondering what you're doing with your life and whether to instigate changes, this video may provide inspiration: 

Note: Neil Gaiman is married to Amanda Palmer, a few of whose performances feature in my earlier article in The Entertainment Chronicle which can be found via the link below:
Nice one, Neil and Amanda!