Sunday, May 27, 2007

A weekend of music

Friday last we had a lunchtime organ concert in St John's with over eighty people in attendance. Then, last night Clare and I went to the Opera, to see Bartok's grim fable, Bluebeard's Castle, which I didn't like, and Brecht's Seven Deadly Sins, with Welsh Ballet Company, Diversions, and WNO collaborating. This was outstanding, memorable, a brilliant piece of 'moral' entertainment, satirising western materialism and the seamier side of American (not to mention European) aspirations for success. It should be required viewing for all sixth formers. The dance side was spectacular and at the same time vividly exhibited the spiritually injurious nature of the 'deadly sins', without ever being salacious, as one might fear. Welsh artistic enterprise scores again!

Then, Saturday night, we had a superb concert at St John's from an American choir from Rutgers University New Jersey. The choir had spent the previous week touring Wales and singing during their fiftieth anniversary year, also on a pilgrimage in the footsteps of the great black activist and singer Paul Robeson, who was an engineering graduate of their college.

Rutgers claims to be one of the most culturally and ethnically diverse colleges in the USA, and the choir itself was certain evidence of this. They sang in English, Spanish, Chinese, and several items in Welsh, raising the roof singing together with the eighty strong audience 'Mae hen wlad fy nhadau' at the end of the concert.

The Paul Robeson Society's history exhibition was erected in the north aisle for all to visit. A fine piece of work, with a dual display for children (at a lower level for reading), also bi-lingual. Robeson's solidarity with the Welsh miners during the 1930s is part of Valley historical pride. The choir visited Mountain Ash, where he'd sung a concert for miners, and also performed a concert in St Paul's Ynyshir. They loved our building and its perfect acoustic for music, and made a full recording of the concert in the hope of producing a tour CD.

The choir made a quick excursion to England (Bath) during the morning, and returned from lunch there to a Welsh Tea before rehearsing briefly. We wondered how many people we'd get at 5.00pm on a Saturday, this being a bit of an unknown time for us to hold a music event. When they'd finished rehearsing the choir trooped outside for a breath of fresh air, and started singing spontaneously in the street as a couple of church people gave out leaflets. It was a moment of pure magic, and people did come in to listen to the music and stayed. We were fortunate to get another turn out of eighty people, a second day running

I loved the warmth, enthusiasm and energy of the choir singing music from American composers I didn't know. I'd have loved to hear them tackle more material from some classical and European repertoire, which I'm sure they do and would do well, given their vocal power and discipline. At one stage their organ accompanist let rip with a little jazzy improvisation, which made Father Willis dance in a delightful way. Americans do syncopation like nobody else.

Finally, a 'musical event' of a different kind. The baptism of Rosie and Chris Berry's son Daniel at St Teilo's Sunday morning. Rosie is a long standing choir member at St Teilo's, Chris leads St Teilo Arts Trust and plays organ in various palces including St John's, when he's not travelling to remote places as a Geolgoy researcher. It was my first visit back to St Teilo's since the benefice split, and it was lovely to be able to share a service there with Caroline, my new neighbouring priest. Daniel has been going to church since he was a few weeks old, so he's quite at home, and content to participate in his baby way. When I gave him the baptismal candle, he looked and exclaimed loudly 'Ah!', which made us laugh. Then when we clapped in welcome, he joined in, and we all laughed again. Such a pleasure.

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