Sunday, September 23, 2007

A very varied Saturday

St John's Heritage Open day yesterday took place two weeks later than other locally advertised open days, largely due to our need to combine this with the annual Friends festival. Unfortunately we miss out on publicity. Heritage Open Day Organisers suggest using any one of three Saturdays in September, but put all their energies into promoting the first Saturday only. They seem to have a thing or two to learn about sustaining their own initiatives. Nevertheless, we had a steady stream of visitors during the day, to look around and climb the tower, with several church members on hand to answer questions. Philip, our organist, welcomed a dozen members of the Herefordshire organists association for a talk, demonstration and tryout of the 'Willis'.

The city centre was pretty crowded, partly due to the influx of Indian visitors from all over Britain, gathering to celebrate the Cardiff Swaminarayan Hindu Temple's silver jubilee of foundation. The community organised a festal procession from City Hall to the Temple in Grangetown, and there were over two thousand people of all ages walking through the streets accompanying a 'chariot of the gods', a mobile throne for the retinue of their head swami, visiting from India, plus several vehicles for groups of musicians singing bhajans.

I've never seen so many sari-clad women (young and old) in my life - mostly in blue or turquiose - beautiful looking people, full of joy and dignity. Different Temple communities produced large teams of young men or women dancing a simple step and accompanying themselves with percussion. Several Hindus who are prominent police officers were in evidence, and a police silver band headed up with procession, along with horses and motorcycle outriders. What was most impresssive was the complete absence of alcohol consumption - bottled water only provided - and yet the event was very exuberant. It was equally fascinating to observe to reactions of shoppers to this street stopping celebration, varying from bewilderment to fascination to annoyance at the interruption of progress by the procession. A moment to savour.

We had to leave the Friends AGM early, as we had tickets for the opera, which started early. We managed to install ourselves in our seats with just five minutes in hand before the first performance of James McMullen's 'The Sacrifice'. It was a powerful thought provoking experience, both musically and theatrically. I hope it gets the critical praise it deserves. We learned from the programme notes that the author is a Catholic. At the first interval, I realised on the way out to the bar that Archbishop Peter Smith, an occasional visitor to St John's in his capacity as a Prelate of the Order of St John, was sitting close by in the same row..He said it was his first opera visit in many years.. I wondered if he had found it as thought provoking as I did, but I didn't get the chance to ask him at the end, as he left before we did. It will certainly keep me going for a while.

Often I come away from an opera with lots to think about, as a result of something in the story-line or the way the text has been interpreted or presented. Would that the same could be said of church services I've attended.

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