Let me get this straight from the very start. This is not a review of a performance or a critique of an event. It is just some random thoughts provoked by an experience. I have no right to pass comment on the quality of the music, the value of a church service, nor indeed the quality of the whole event. I would however, like to register what a Monday evening spent at Pilning Church meant to me.
Pilning Festival Choir is something to be cherished and encouraged. An enthusiastic group of singers meet most Mondays in the church and practice a wide variety of pieces with a view to performing as a choir three or four times a year. In the age of X factor and numerous other talent related “shows” we have a choir that is well established, with a friendly reputation and ready for people to join them in sharing their passion. I know this because in the last year or so I have listened to several of their performances, initially as a supportive friend but now as a fan, if they are allowed such, appreciative of what they are trying to do.
Last night the Requiem consists of seven pieces interwoven to a Holy Week Communion Service. My thoughts, as I sat to read the order of service, took me way back to sitting in St. Nicholas’ Church at Severn Beach. I never did take Holy Communion and would not this evening. Our brand of confused faith took us, in peripatetic style to all the alternative churches of the village before, much later, I found a more ordered place by marrying a Catholic lady. I am no stranger to a mass but no great friend either. The first impression was that this could be along evening. Those thoughts were punctured by passages of simple choral delight. I gradually determined to almost ignore the religious aspects of the service and throw myself to the places these sounds and shapes of music might take me. I know that they put a lot of effort into making the choral input the best that they can and I may be stretching your imaginations to get to where I was. The music had some serious value to this 56-year-old, old romantic. I didn’t join in the hymns, I determinedly tried to close out thoughts other than those created by the sounds of that church and those people in the choir.
It took me back to school. Mr Tutton implored our school choirs back in the sixties to fill the space between the floor and the roof. In Pilning church that space is considerable and the choir succeeded in creating a mood that offered me a genuine feeling of serenity and reflection. I was getting nostalgic but not melancholic. I spent a fair bit of time wondering about my fellow members of the congregation. I knew none of them. They did not know me. We had been brought together by this event. Friends of choir members? Regular church goers? Random music lovers? One thing was for sure. I was one of the youngest. I was now thinking about what should be done to get more people to hear this. Who will be singing, or listening, in twenty years’ time? Are the efforts of the choir being wasted? At the very same time that villagers who proclaim to like things cerebral are at home watching University Challenge or only Connect, something very special was going on in our village.
Sadness did creep in. The Rev. was imploring us to remember the message, to stay on the course. She wanted us to hear the central purpose that it was time to share in the churches message. Pie Jesu was sung, enjoyed and appreciated. Was I wrong to feel this? I was taken into melody, to rhythm, to patterns within the walls of our little church and away from the impending sit of shame where others trooped up to take the bread and wine. The silences in the service were something to consider. The Catholic Church does this so much better. Fill those voids with chatter appears to be my recollection of mass with my mother-in-law. Reverence can be challenged, especially if it is our church, with our family. Again I was taken back to this being a space full of people unfamiliar with the church and its ways of working. I say full, but I mean half full. This should be a central event in a village calendar. It was mentioned in the parish magazine but that message has obviously not drawn people out. Let’s not get too critical here. The biggest challenge for those sat at the back was the competition between the howling wind and the two courageous male singers hitting first notes that were nowhere similar (by composers choice, I should add) to those played on the piano. It took me back in my self-amusement to the last performance where a parishioner’s dog hit a perfect harmonious note to Lullaby for Lucy.
An hour and a quarter later and the choir were processing out. We, the congregation, were left in a reflective and shared silence. I was left feeling I wanted to hear more. It was a church service, there were only opportunities for personal comments of appreciation. This perhaps, is my vote of thanks. I enjoyed every minute, every note of the Requiem. I know it is not supposed to be a joyous event but was left feeling quite proud that this was happening only a few hundred yards from my home. It needs sharing, the choir would benefit from having a larger audience. Then again I shouldn’t demand what maybe the choir doesn’t need. This was the best performance I have heard from them. No doubt Jonathon and the choir themselves will pick holes in their achievement. As I said at the start I only offer support and have no expertise. I left thinking, if only. Perhaps someone might read this and think, I want a bit of that. What is next? Whatever it may be, it will be good for the soul. Perhaps the thought should be wherever, rather than whatever, that performance might be.