It’s been a while

I’ve not added a post to this blog for months.  I got to a point where there was just too much to process, and then it’s hard to begin again.  And I also was considering including a blog on vocation and ministry on the SEC website on such matters which will be born quite soon.

But I realised that I value the freedom of a personal blog, and I suspect not all that I might want to share is to do with vocation.  For example, how do you behave when you are in front of an audience or congregation?

We went to see Mendelssohn’s Elijah last night performed by the Stirling City Choir.  Excellent stuff, with really crisp diction and (melo?)drama, great orchestra and soloists with gloriously creamy romantic voices.  The choir was up on the stage, orchestra in front of them on ground level, and the soloists in front of the orchestra.  We were sitting close enough to see their tonsils. 

As it was an oratorio, they were not acting as they would in an opera:  they faced the audience to sing.  Elijah was just Elijah, but the women had several jobs – an angel, a widow, Jezebel, a lyrical pray-er.  They had to switch roles and identities to suit – though the only visible change was Jezebel putting on a scarlet robe.  Perhaps that made it difficult for them to engage completely.

What really interested me was what happened towards the end of the oratorio, as one by one the soloists sang their final bits.  Elijah and Jezebel/angel continued to sit with heads down absorbed in their musical scores until the final note.  The widow/angel looked slightly upwards, not following the score, with an expression of saintly rapture on her (rather lovely) face.  Obadiah closed his score and looked fiercely down as if he had a crashing headache.  And the woman/angel let her eyes wander over the audience, into the gallery, winked at someone in the front row, let her eyebrows express her apparent desire for it to be all over, almost (but not quite) looked at her watch.

As you can see, I was not a perfect attender myself;  I am an inveterate people-watcher.  It got me thinking about how clergy, choir and worship leaders in general must appear to congregations. I’ve always felt somehow a bit disabled by people who worship with rapture on their faces – it’s envy, really.  I remember a priest who used to clean his fingernails during the readings, which didn’t help much either.   And I myself have been known to look surreptitiously at my watch to judge how long there is for the more flexible slots in the liturgy.

The person I found most inspiring in Elijah was the percussionist.  He had quite a lot to do – as you can imagine, with all the earthquake, thunder, wrath of God and so on.  But as for all of his trade, there were bars and bars when he just had to count.  And he was attentive, business-like, happy-looking, caught up in the whole event without either anxiety or detachment.

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3 Responses to It’s been a while

  1. jmcluckie says:

    Nice to see you ‘back’ Alison! I used to sing in a choir in Edinburgh and the partner of one of our members, who was very into musical theatre, was always severely critical of our ‘stagecraft’! I think it does make a difference though, and people do talk of going to ‘see’ a concert. I guess musicians, as much as clergy, need an old-fashioned anglo-catholic MC to remind them of the ‘discipline of the eyes’…

  2. Ann Lees says:

    Glad you enjoyed the performance Alison, it was a blast to sing! Also interesting to hear about the behaviour of the soloists – you miss all that in the chorus! I may ‘share’ with our director.

  3. alisonpeden says:

    Yes, John, it does make a difference to the audience, as it draws them in and models a response to the music that they can at least relate to, if not share. Ann – my only reservation is that it was ‘how it appeared to me’ – maybe people appear to have a headache but are actually deeply moved … I remember one of the congregation at Holy Trinity saying that I looked downcast and cross during the service one morning, when I was actually poring over my lectionary and frowning over a passage from Paul.

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