Tag Archives: music

3 January: An old Scot remembers.

Weeping Willow, Westgate Gardens, Canterbury.

At New Year 1873, William Allingham, the Irish Poet, was in London and called on his Scottish friend Thomas Carlyle, as he told his diary.

London, January 1, 1873. — Carlyle’s at 3. He gives me a book. We walk out.

This morning he said, ‘ after midnight, as Mary and I were sitting together, we heard a chorus of male voices outside the window singing Auld Lang Syne. We peeped out, and saw five or six figures on the other side of the street. I was really touched. I put up the window and said ” Good-night ! ” one of them eagerly replied ” Good-night ! ” and then they all vanished silently away.’

Then with a laugh he added, ‘ Truly the songs of Judah in a Babylonish land ‘ ! and afterwards quoted Burns’s burlesque lines : — We hung our fiddles up to dreep*. He spoke of ‘Hogmanay ‘ in the streets of Edinburgh, hot punch and kissing.

*Nae mair by Babel's streams we'll weep,
To think upon our Zion;
And hang our fiddles up to dreep,
Like baby-clouts a-drying:
Come, screw the pegs wi' tuneful cheep,
And o'er the thairms by trying;
Oh rare! To see our elbucks wheep,
And a' like lambs' tails flyin'
                                        Fu' fast this day!

In Psalm 137 the poet sings of the people of Israel refusing to sing in exile, instead hanging their musical instruments on the willows beside the rivers of Babylon. This willow was just coming into leaf in Spring. Carlyle was not a conventional Christian believer, more of a life-long enquirer, but he enjoyed the tribute of being serenaded with song from the first-footers – who vanished silently away rather than expect their dram of whisky. Hogmanay seems to have been carnival time in Edinburgh 200 years ago, when Carlyle was a young man there.

Burns was not the man to indulge for long in melancholic reflection; rather he looked forward to the fiddlers’ elbows whipping the strings and getting people to dance. Perhaps the exiles’ songs of Judah contributed greatly to the fellowship, friendship and community of the Chosen People.

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28 December: Wide awake with a broad smile and with her face shining.

It’s the feast of the Holy Innocents, when we recall King Herod slaughtering the infants of Bethlehem in case they were a threat to him. I hope readers do not see any disrespect in our sharing Eddie Gilmore’s post about the power of music to stimulate people with dementia, but many of them are as dependent on others’ care as a new born baby is. One friend forgets she has had breakfast soon after the meal; she needs someone to make sure she gets enough to eat.

All manner of capacities can be diminished in dementia. Unavoidably at times, people switch off from their surroundings. Due to covid, stimulation from outside had diminished and Eddie found it hard graft to win over his captive audience. But he persevered.

Eddie does not draw a moral from the tale but you may find one yourself. Here follows a short passage, and here’s the link for the full article.

I tried a couple of livelier numbers and slowly but surely I started to get a reaction from the audience and some of the staff were also getting animated. Several people sang along to the chorus of Molly Malone, and when I launched into It’s a Long Way to Tipperary in honour of Delores it didn’t exactly bring the house down but it wasn’t too far off. At one point a young doctor apologised to me that she would have to be taking some people out one by one to take their blood! ‘Don’t worry, I’ve had far worse distractions when I’ve been playing,’ I assured her. You just have to keep going!

Keep going I did, and I noticed that one or two other staff members had crept into the room and were clearly enjoying what was happening. And I noticed that some of the residents, who had appeared almost lifeless at the start, were now moving their bodies in time to the music. I did a couple of ‘favourites’. For Ann, the Irish member of staff who organises the session, I sang The Fields of Athenry. And I did When you were sweet sixteen which is the favourite song of my wife, Yim Soon and also much-loved by my mum. And in honour of my mum, a Newry girl, I did ‘The Star of the County Down’.

I invited requests from the floor and there was one for The Belle of Belfast City which I happily launched into. Then a carer from Greece asked if I knew any songs from Mayo! Luckily I did, although I needed her to bring up on her phone the lyrics to Take me back to Castlebar. After that, someone reminded me that the favourite of Martin, a Cork man sadly no longer there, was Wild Rover. I finished with that, and that one really did bring the house down! By that time, even the Dublin lady was wide awake with a broad smile and with her face shining.

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Book Review: Hopeful Eddie is looking ahead

Many readers of this blog will recognise the name Eddie Gilmore. We’ve shared a number of his blog posts for the London Irish chaplaincy and it’s good to have a selection of them gathered together in this book, Looking Ahead with Hope.

It’s a teasing title. No human can look ahead without looking back; try it sometime. The important thing is to believe that we – and more to the point, God – can build on the past. If that’s going to happen we need to get down to the bedrock of grace at work in our lives.

That grace often manifests itself in Eddie’s life in the form of music: singing at his mother’s 90th birthday party or a L’Arche retreat in the French Alps – Eddie was with L’Arche before joining the chaplaincy, the lack of singing as church congregations returned as covid retreated.

Eddie revisits those lock-down days, learning to live with people for 24 hours a day, long walks with family members, open-air conversations with passing acquaintances, the pluses and minuses of communicating by Zoom. We got through, but looking ahead, what have we learnt?

There could have been no singing and no party for his mum’s birthday in lockdown time, which put a stop to many of the chaplaincy’s ministries. Music was important in prison ministries too. The old, well-known songs awoke something in the hearts of the captive audience members, giving hope of another life outside prison. Special food on days the chaplaincy team were able to gather people together: it was in HMP Chelmsford that Eddie learnt to enjoy bacon cabbage and potatoes! There, too, Eddie reflected, that ‘for a couple of hours we’d been fellow human beings, enjoying good food and music, and one another’s company.’ And the musicians were changed by the experience (p73).

This book will inspire you to look ahead with hope, because Eddie Gilmore knows how to look back in gratitude. A Christmas present that somebody you know will be grateful for.

Will Turnstone.

Looking Ahead with Hope, Eddie Gilmore, DLT, £9.99. See the DLT site, where there was a good discount offer as we went to press.

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Concert of Hope -27 November.

View this email in your browser
The Sisters of Minster Abbey are holding a Concert of Hope, an evening of celebration with local choirs and musicians.
 You are very warmly welcome to join us at St Mary the Virgin Church, Minster
on 27th November at 7pm.
Entrance is free and there will be a retiring collection for the work of
“Canterbury for Ukraine”, an Incorporated Association of volunteers helping Ukrainian refugees to settle in Canterbury and East Kent.

Canterbury for Ukraine have been vital in providing support to enable the Sisters to welcome a Ukrainian family to Minster. We now want to support them so that they can continue to offer assistance to those welcoming our brothers and sisters from Ukraine.

We realise that not all of our friends are local enough to attend the concert on the night but some would like to make a donation. We have set up a Go Fund Me page to make this easy- just click below
 
DonatePlease pray for the success of this Concert of Hope!
We look forward to seeing as many of you as possible on the night!

Love and prayers
Mother Nikola and the Sisters of Minster Abbey

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16 September: A Warm Winnipeg Welcome

From Wikipedia

 

Our daughter invited us to the open air theatre to watch A Midsummer Night’s Dream. As always, the players found new angles in the text that had not occurred to me. But as the bats flickered overhead, I was transported back to 1977, the year Elvis died, the year of ‘A Fine Time to Leave Me, Lucille’, and my summer in L’Arche Edmonton. Hold on! You were watching Bottom, Titania and all the mixed up parties in the woods of Athens! But there were bats at an open air play in Canada, too.

I’d arrived in Ontario, visiting former L’Arche Kent assistants, but was now taking the Greyhound bus across Canada to Alberta. After riding past Lake Superior and the start of the prairies, I was in Winnipeg, tired and dirty and very hungry. This was before we had international debit cards so my money was in traveller’s cheques which I could not exchange as the banks were closed. After setting aside the coins for a phone call I had less than a dollar to spare.

‘Hi Maurice, we didn’t know what time to expect you! Just stay there by the bus station, we’re all coming into town to watch Fiddler on the Roof.’ I was still hungry, but had just enough cash to buy the cheapest dish on the restaurant window menu – the chef’s salad. It was a good bowlful but did not convert me to veganism!

L’Arche Winnipeg and I found each other. I was taken into the arms of the community at once; tiredness disappeared in the drama of the show. I regretted not being able to stay longer but I had time to visit the farm and help harvest the first sweetcorn, the sweetest I ever tasted.

Maize growing.

I heard a few people’s stories before leaving for Edmonton. To an Englishman the name Portage la Prairie suggested early voyageurs making their way through uncharted lakes, but it had a big hospital like those that our founders came from. Read two L’Arche Winnipeg stories here. 

It was good to see L’Arche growing in an environment completely different to rural Kent, and to be treated like ‘one of us’. And it’s good to see from their website that the community is still active and contributing to their neighbourhood. 

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28 July: My vocation today XX: to accompany or correct?

walking together

It was as short a post as ever I posted:

Are we being called to accompany rather than correct?

This is from a post by Eric Clayton, who was irritated by a bossy safety feature on his car. And that question and its link were to be today”s post, until the very same day I read another Jesuit writer’s wisdom, which answers the question pretty well:

We’re all members of a band, each of us with our own instrument to play. And we play best when we each add our part and don’t try to tell everyone else in the band how to play their instruments.

That was Brother Guy Consolmagno, of the Vatican observatory on astronomy and Sir Paul McCartney.

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19 May: Saint Dunstan

Dunstan’s self-portrait, kneeling before the risen Lord.

Here is Canon Anthony Charlton’s reflection on Saint Dunstan; Canon Anthony is parish priest of Saint Thomas’, Canterbury. The artist, Mother Concordia, was Abbess at Minster Abbey, home of Sister Johanna.

The small Catholic Church at Hersden a few miles from Canterbury is dedicated to St Dunstan whose feast day we keep today. On the left of the altar is a fine relief of St Dunstan created by Mother Concordia, a Benedictine nun from Minster Abbey on the Isle of Thanet. What strikes you immediately is that he is holding a harp. Geoffrey Handley in his history of Anglo Saxons says that Dunstan “was renowned as a singer and musician and seemed to have exploited the effect of the aeolian harp ( the sounds caused by the wind blowing through the strings of a free-standing instrument). He was a scholar and gifted artist as well.

Dunstan was born in 909 and was made Abbot at Glastonbury by King Edmund. “It was from this moment, probably 940 may be dated the rebirth of Medieval English monasticism which was to last undisturbed until the reformation.”

He reformed Glastonbury Abbey and was made Bishop of Worcester and then London before becoming Archbishop of Canterbury in 960. He reorganised the church by promoting monastic bishops, and took a large part in the creation of a united England

Until Thomas Becket’s fame overshadowed Dunstan’s, he was the favourite saint of the English people. Dunstan had been buried in his cathedral at Canterbury; and when that building was destroyed by a fire in 1174, his relics were translated by Archbishop Lanfranc to a tomb on the south side of the high altar in the rebuilt Canterbury Cathedral.

He was a true shepherd to his people and his interests and skills tended to the crafts of the ordinary as well as the cultured. “The appreciation of these arts shows Dunstan’s passion for the creators work and for the talents he gives to us. Contemplation of the beauty of scared art and music allows us to glimpse and, perhaps, understand a little of God’s creative power.”

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29 April: The deaths of Gerontius and others

Passion flowers speak of the resurrection

A little while ago on BBC Radio the composer, Sir James MacMillan, was discussing Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius, based on Saint John Henry Newman’s poem. In his exploration of the oratorio he recalled his experiences as a young altar server, experiences I could share. Gerontius, he said, lays out the Catholic attitude to death and the world to come in ‘most beautiful music’.

He and I, in Scotland and England, served at funerals where there were many mourners, and in a few cases where there were one or two, even none; so many of our fellow Catholics then had left home and family to come to the United Kingdom. (Thank God for today’s regular parish midday Mass in Canterbury, where there is always a good-sized congregation to support the bereaved!)

Most of the people Sir James and I helped to bury would have been hurt by the Second World War, and knew suffering and death intimately. Loss of faith and friends, great sorrow, compounded in this new bereavement. The First World War had undermined Elgar’s faith, said MacMillan, yet he still composed this searingly beautiful music, giving form to the feelings of mourners.

Children had been more aware of death, even in the 1950s and 1960s. I can see myself, holding the processional cross beside an open grave, as a red-headed Irishman, tears streaming down his face, laid to rest the tiny coffin of his twin babies.

It’s no use saying I should have been protected, prevented from witnessing that. I disagree: I am sure Fr MacDermott was wise to ask me to serve, to represent the Church, the body of the second Adam, the Crucified whose image I was carrying. Far rather having to cope with that intimate vision than the callous slaughter of the innocent of Ukraine.

The hymn ‘Praise to the Holiest in the height’ is taken from the Dream of Gerontius; the oratorio can be found on Youtube.

1 Praise to the Holiest in the height,
and in the depth be praise:
in all his words most wonderful,
most sure in all his ways.

2 O loving wisdom of our God!
When all was sin and shame,
a second Adam to the fight
and to the rescue came.

3 O wisest love! that flesh and blood,
which did in Adam fail,
should strive afresh against the foe,
should strive and should prevail;

4 And that a higher gift than grace
should flesh and blood refine,
God’s presence and his very self,
and essence all-divine.

5 O generous love! that he, who smote
in Man for man the foe,
the double agony in Man
for man should undergo;

6 And in the garden secretly,
and on the cross on high,
should teach his brethren, and inspire
to suffer and to die.

7 Praise to the Holiest in the height,
and in the depth be praise:
in all his words most wonderful,
most sure in all his ways.

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Sing for your synod!

General Secretariat for the Synod of Bishops
www.synod.va – media@synod.va
#newsletter n.05 – 02/2022 – Available also in FR – PT – ES – ITIt’s great to see you here again! Our newsletter is more musical than usual. Because if singing is praying twice, this week we went in search of songs and hymns written to enliven the synodical process. What joy and creativity we found! Let’s listen.

Singing Synodality

With her song “Poetas Sociales” the Catholic singer-songwriter Majo Febe, a student of Theology at the Theological Institute of Murcia (Spain), began the publication of a series of songs about synodality.
Listen to her here

“Listen, let us listen” is the title of the hymn that the Antilles Bishops’ Conference shares with us through the website it developed specifically to encourage the synodal journey we are on. The authors are from the Diocese of St. George’s, Grenada.
Let’s listen to them…

The Diocese of Ipiales recorded a song for the synodical journey with musical groups from Colombia to attract young people who do not participate in the life of the Church.
 Listen to the hymn here 

The Synod in the World
The Loyola University of Chicago is inviting the university students of the Americas to participate in a synodal encounter with Pope Francis. The name of the online event on February 24 comes with a challenge: “Building Bridges North-South“.
 For more information…

In the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya, a participatory synod process is taking place through the pastoral action of the Salesian community, the Missionary Sisters of Charles de Foucauld, and the Jesuit Refugee Service. Take a look at their Lumko Method and read some testimonies.
To know more…

The largest parish in the Catholic Archdiocese of Karachi, in the financial center of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, is preparing for a new synod meeting Feb. 24.

Read more… 



Pray for the Synod
In order to support the synodal journey and ask for the Spirit’s assistance, together with the World Network of Prayers of the Pope and UISG, we have set up a website in 5 languages: Church on the Way. Pray for the Synod. You too can send your prayer. See how to do it… 


We need You !
In the near future, we would like to focus on the priests and their contribution in this synodal journey. Share with us the experiences of priests who have allowed themselves to be transformed by listening and who sit with the people of God on the journey of discerning God’s will for the Church.
Copyright  2022 General Secretariat for the Synod of Bishops, All rights reserved.

Our mailing address is:
General Secretariat for the Synod of Bishops
Via della Conciliazione, 34
Vatican City 00120
Vatican City State (Holy See)

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 8 January: It’s behind you!?


Eddie from the Irish Chaplaincy sees us into the New Year. I have to admit that we did not make it to the book launch here in Canterbury, but a copy turned up in my stocking and Mrs T and I are enjoying dipping into it. We reviewed the book earlier. You can find it on line or through local bookshops. Meanwhile, where are my keys? (later: in the very deep pocket of my new coat!)

All yours, Eddie, and thank you.

I don’t know if it’s just me but I seem to spend large chunks of my life looking for things, big and small, and oftentimes searching in completely the wrong places.

How much time and energy and frustration there is bound up with this endless quest: for missing objects (that, when finally located, I realise I maybe don’t even need!); or for contentment or recognition or success or intimacy or whatever.

How many prayers are said in supplication to St Anthony, who, it has to be said, rarely if ever lets me down.

I suspect it’s not just me, and I’ve noticed the ever-increasing use in the media of the acronym FOMO (fear of missing out).

So many people doing so much searching; and, so often, looking in the wrong place. Sometimes we completely miss what might be right in front of us; or, as in the pantomimes, what’s right behind us!

As another Christmas comes and goes I find reassurance in the incongruity of God being revealed where few were expecting it. Many were waiting for a mighty king to come and bring liberation from an occupying force. Who, then, would have been searching for the messiah in Bethlehem, a back-water town on the edge of the Roman empire? And who would have suspected it would have had anything to do with an unmarried couple who were far from home and soon to become refugees? And in a stable? Surely not there! And what of those who did know where to look?

Shepherds, who were often rough hired hands, and who were outcasts in their community because having to be out at all hours meant they were unable to observe all of the rituals of the Jewish faith and who may well have been a bit tipsy due to having a little tot or two to shield them from the cold night. Then three mysterious characters who had followed a star and who turned up with the most unusual, but most fitting gifts.

I’d been invited on January 2nd, on which the feast of the Epiphany was being celebrated, to give a presentation of my book at St Paul’s church in Camden following Mass and a shared meal. It was a motley group of people gathered there which included a couple of regulars from the Irish Centre. The church itself is a rather run down and sorry looking 60s style building, albeit with a lovely, prayerful chapel at one end, but the interior had been transformed for the banquet to come. It is situated at the opposite end of Camden Square to the Centre and I began my talk by explaining how I’d discovered it on my very first day at the Irish Chaplaincy. I was feeling totally overwhelmed after the first morning and went out and strolled in the square and saw a poster advertising a half hour of silent prayer in the chapel every Thursday lunchtime and I knew that all would be well. I went to the prayer in that first week and almost every subsequent week for the next three years, until Covid put a stop to it, and it was an anchor in my week.

There was a good crowd there on the 2nd but although it seemed that the presentation went well I sold hardly any books; which is what I thought I’d gone there for. I was bitterly disappointed. Getting rained on when walking back to the station didn’t help my mood, nor my arm getting sore from carrying my guitar (and the still almost full box of books)! Then early the following morning I saw an email from Judy who organises the silent prayer at St Pauls, and I will treasure her kind words to me:

“We are such a diverse group of people, but everybody was spellbound. The things you say and the way you say them really do affirm human kindness (and God’s kindness to us) and encourage people to notice the life that goes on between them and among them that’s too deep for words. I don’t know how your sales went, but you made a whole lot of people very happy. I hope your journeys from and back to Canterbury went well and that you didn’t get soaked in the afternoon.”

As ever, I had been looking in the wrong place, or seeking the wrong thing; or maybe just completely missing what was right in front of me. I had taken part in a true feast, with lots of people having brought a variety of delicious dishes to share. I had been served an assortment of drinks, including a glass of Irish coffee, which I love. I had spoken to a range of colourful characters. At the end of my presentation, after singing ‘Be Thou my Vision’ I had been asked to sing one of my own songs, and there was a request for “something upbeat”! I did the song I’d once written after a night out in Belfast, ‘Fibber McGees’. And Kilkenny-born Enda got up and did some Irish dancing to the delight of the crowd, and was joined by Funmi who is of Sierra Leone heritage (and who had provided the Irish coffee) and it was one of those little ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ moments.

I doubt that I’ll be able to curtail my endless search for things, and I’m sure I’ll continue to get disappointed and discouraged when I don’t find what I thought I was looking for. But please God I’ll learn one day to discern more clearly the things that are truly worth seeking, and maybe occasionally find something I didn’t even know I was looking for and in a place where I least expected to find it.

PS If you’re not fed up with Christmas songs by now then you might like to listen to one I wrote some years ago: A Stable in Bethlehem

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