Saturday, 21 May 2011

Obligatory Rapture Post

First of all, I don't really believe in this rapture stuff. I've mostly been ignoring it.

But, just for the record: if the "righteous" or the elect or whatever are taken up into Heaven and everyone else (atheists, heretics, sinners, quarrelers, people who like "Jerusalem" and so on and so forth) is left on earth to await some final judgement day, I'd rather stay here.

There'll be a lot of work to do.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Stop, collaborate and listen

David Sinden has a series of blog posts recording different stops on various organs, one at a time so that you can really hear the character of the stop. It seemed like a good project, so I decided to try and record some of the stops on the organ at St Andrew's.

Here, then, is the Oboe stop on the swell box. This is probably an original stop on this instrument.

Swell Oboe 8 playing Stanley by artsyhonker

Apologies for the whooshing noise. The bellows are in need of serious repair, but we're a very small parish and the repairs aren't cheap so for now we just have to put up with it. In services, I usually turn the organ off completely after the gradual hymn, so that the Gospel reading and the sermon are a bit easier for people to hear, then turn it on again during the Peace before the Offertory hymn.

The piece is the beginning of a voluntary by John Stanley, whose (manuals-only) voluntaries I generally enjoy. I suppose I should find a pedal-only piece for another stop recording, I am meant to be getting better at this business of playing notes with my feet.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

A nice afternoon out

If you're thinking about coming to Evensong tomorrow (St Mary's Rotherhithe, SE16 4JE at 6pm on Sunday) why not stop by the Brunel Museum first? They open until 5pm, leaving just enough time for a quick half pint at The Mayflower before the service starts.

I certainly fancy a wander around the museum. I wonder if I can convince someone to carry the serpent so I'm not too knackered to play it later!

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

London Gallery Quire Evensong

London Gallery Quire will be singing an Evensong at St Mary's Rotherhithe this Sunday, 8th May, at 6pm. I'm really looking forward to it!

Here's a very rough sample of one of the pieces. This is just me singing the parts, one take each, so the tuning isn't amazing, the timing is ragged and some of the words aren't very clear. But it's such a wonderful little piece I wanted people to be able to hear it!

Blest who with generous pity glows by artsyhonker

EDIT: The embed thing doesn't seem to be working but here is a link to the file at Soundcloud.

You can download a PDF of the music from the LGQ website if you want to follow along. The more observant may notice that I've put the whole thing down a tone and then transposed the bassline up, in order to accommodate my vocal range.

If you want to hear it done right you'll have to come to Evensong!

Monday, 2 May 2011

Life as usual

This morning I drifted in and out of groggy sleep... you know the sort, when you've set the alarm with the best of intentions but don't actually have to get up right away and a few more minutes sleep seem the better option. I heard someone on the radio speaking of a death, of rejoicing in the streets, and thought, "Oh, that'll be Osama bin Laden, then" before rolling over, too somnolent to have any strong opinion. So it was no real surprise to me later to find Twitter all a-tweet with the news.

It may be just the peer selectiion effect, of course, but the overwhelming impression I got was of righteous dismay at reactions to the news. Choice verses from Proverbs were being quoted, as well as one 9/11 survivor who was just saddened to see yet another person killed. Then, of course, there were the worthy objections to someone, even a terrorist, being killed without a trial -- though others rightly questioned whether a fair trial would have been possible. And of course there were the pragmatic voices, pointing out that the result of vengeance, of making a martyr of a charismatic leader, can only be further bloodshed as the cycle of violence continues.

All of these are entirely correct, of course.

Participation in tit-for-tat wars is almost never a good idea. Osama bin Laden may well have been an extremist who doesn't represent the views of the vast majority of Muslims, but there will still be extremists who are upset and angered by his death. I can't say that makes me feel any safer, in London.

A fair trial may well have been difficult to ensure, but that doesn't mean it shouldn't have been attempted. Justice and vengeance are not the same thing. Was it truly impossible to capture this man? One argument I saw said that if he had been captured and detained, there would have been countless hostages taken in order to demand his release. But keeping in mind the pragmatists, aren't we all now hostage to those who would retaliate?

Prooftexting is rarely helpful, but the point so many people tried to make today -- that Osama bin Laden was a human being and it is wrong to rejoice in his violent death -- is one I agree with. I don't really mind whether you couch this in theological terms, stating that every creature is a beloved child of God, made in God's image and therefore worthy of love and respect, or whether less theist principles about the dignity and worth of human beings or the senselessness of violence are more agreeable to you. If you were saddened, disgusted, frustrated or dismayed at the triumphant celebrations of killing, rest assured that you were not alone. I was unsurprised, but certainly disappointed. Humanity should be able to do better than this.

It is seductively easy to talk online with my peers and sigh and tut about people's reactions, though. "What is the world coming to?" we ask, as if we have never cheered at another's loss or our own gain. It takes little effort to disapprove of the lack of any attempt at a trial, fair or not. It is not difficult to chime in with my own doubts about whether the lack of this one person really makes the world a safer place.

None of that is enough, though. Peace will not be achieved by spending a day or a week criticising the sorts of decisions most of us hope or pray we never have to make. Justice will not be served by focusing on the end result of a systemic culture of competition where might is taken as right. Those people whose raucous glee so upsets us will not become more compassionate as a result of our condemnation, however righteous we might feel about it.

It is not enough to sigh and shake our heads and go back to life as usual. "Life as usual" is part of the problem. "Life as usual" got us where we are. Life as usual means nothing will change, for us or for those we eagerly criticise or all too readily fear.

People hurt one another because they feel threatened. People are vulnerable to extremist ideologies because they feel threatened. Wherever people do not have enough to eat or drink, wherever people are denied access to medical care, wherever people struggle to have even their basic needs met, there will be strife, warfare, and suffering. And all that need happen for suffering and evil to exist is for good people to do nothing. We are all interconnected and our daily actions affect six billion other people (and counting). These problems are systemic and we are part of the system, like it or not. It's up to us to change it.

Instead of continuing with life as usual, we need to take positive steps toward creating a better world. A culture of peace will take root where there is trust and cooperation. A culture of justice will grow when we honestly examine our own actions and choose fairness over giving ourselves some advantage. A culture of compassion will thrive when we treat one another with loving kindness despite the risks, despite the costs.

Let's make "life as usual" something that we can all live with.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Adventures in hymn selection

In the Common Worship lectionary there are two options for Eastertide. One uses an Old Testament reading, a reading from Acts, and a Gospel reading each week. The other uses an epistle instead of the Old Testament. The point is that Acts is required.

Somehow, I thought we were using the Old Testament readings, and chose hymns accordingly. So this morning we had a lovely reading from Acts, then a letter to Peter or someone, then a gradual hymn which was very much related to the Old Testament reading we hadn't just heard.

Mix-ups do happen. I planned that we would sing "Allelyua, sing to Jesus" as the Communion hymn on Easter Sunday -- what can I say? I like to get as much of that A-word in as I can now we're allowed to say it again. When I had a closer look at it the night before, I realised that the words to verse two are very much more appropriate for Ascension, particularly "Though the cloud from sight received him when the forty days were o'er". Oops! Thankfully I caught that one in time to change it.

I usually choose hymns in advance, about a month at a time, sending the list to the vicar for approval (canon law means the incumbent does have the final say). Occasionally we end up caught in the guessing game of trying to figure out which hymns the choir and congregation will already know, and then find out that no, it's just us who think of some hymn tune as very well-known. I would have expected them to know NUN DANKET ALL for "Jesus, these eyes have never seen", for example, but at rehearsal on Thursday that turned out not to be the case. We used another Common Meter tune instead, there are enough of them about that it wasn't a problem!

The other thing that has happened sometimes is that I've chosen carefully, the vicar has given a thumbs-up to the choices, and then on Sunday morning we both wonder what on earth we were thinking! Sometimes I can follow the thread of my thoughts backward, sometimes not.