Sunday, November 02, 2008

Grace and Music at St. Mary’s

Entry for 1 November 2008, All Saints Day:

A year and a half ago I attended a moving concert/service of church music at St. Mary’s, featuring music by John Bell and James McMillan. Tonight, for All Saints’ Day, at the turning of another season in the Celtic calendar, there was another such ecumenical event, featuring the same musicians. This time it was further enhanced by an art exhibition of pieces by 25 artists who had been invited to submit work on the theme of grace. These paintings and other artworks contributed an appropriate backdrop to a concert of music of varying colours, ranging from painful longing (McMillan’s “Kiss on Wood”) to joyous (“Sing for God’s Glory” by Kathy Galloway).

Our own experience of grace was deepened by our having taken along with us Carmen Mateu, a colleague from Spain who is doing a 4-month sabbatical here at the Counselling Unit. Carmen is fun to have along, because she experiences most things in a rather intense, enthusiastic manner, savouring the joy and sorrow of each moment. She was particularly taken by John Bell’s red shoes and his skill in leading congregation singing (he is a master at the latter. However, the piece that is still in my head is James McMillan’s instrumental meditation on the crucifixion, “Kiss on Wood”, for Violin and Piano, performed by grace-ful coincidence in front of what was probably the most powerful painting in the exhibition, a piece depicting four men dressed in modern clothing (one in a suit and tie), helping carry a large wood cross. For some reason, the tone and mood, the McMillan’s haunting piece reminded me of deconstructed version of Portuguese composer Carlos Paredes’ fado-inspired “Verdes Anos” ("Green years"), particularly in the Kronos Quartet version. A Google search turned up a recording of a performance of the McMillan composition on YouTube: .

Other high points of the concert: The song “There is a line of women”, honouring the women of the Bible, which Carmen and Diane also particularly liked (and which my mom would have loved); “Ipharadisi” a simple South African song of remembrance (“Ipharadisi, where all the dead are living/ may we one day join them all there”); and “For all the saints” (music by Vaughan Williams to words by William Walsham How), one of my all-time favourite hymns, which we played at my dad’s memorial service. Like the previous concert, the music here found a connection to my dad. We went home with hearts full of grace, fellowship, and wonder.

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