Yesterday went to Westminster Abbey for the Matins with my parents who are visiting from India. I didn’t go expecting too much but I was thoroughly disappointed with how it went. It had so many features that really irritate and for me characterises meaningless worship.
Oppressive architecture, insipid music, almost NO congregational participation, excited talk of the French Prime Minister visiting, bored clergy, damp scripture reading of the King James Version and to top it off a meaningless moralistic sermon trying to tap into the ‘spirit’ of the Olymics, left me thinking that this was a tomb. The gravestones of famous people and their statues reinforced this feeling. It was a tomb of worship. A museum of all things done badly.
The one thing full of life was my 7 year old daughter reading her Alice in Wonderland book. Alice in Wonderland made far more sense than anything else uttered or sung in that service.
I suppose that’s what happens to church when it has intercourse with power.
Thankfully my parents just enjoyed going into London and being part of something different.
Over a week ago I attended a workshop by Susan Philipsz the Turner prize winning artist.
In some ways she is quite influential in my life because her work Lowlands was quite inspirational at a time when I disliked music. The bringing together of lament, history, the particularity of place resonated with me at a deep level. In some senses due to that work I’ve slowly wound my way towards doing an MA in Sound Art at the London College of Communication.
I don’t know why but for me such events are too often marred by technical glitches. I don’t understand why the hosts of such workshops don’t get these things sorted out. Anyhow Susan was admirable in the way she adjusted to it all and essentially she told us stories of her work. I say stories because I found the way she wove the narrative of what her work was about quite compelling.
The best story was of her work in Castle,Kassel Germany. You can read about it here. In a nutshell the work was based on a piece which was performed by an orchestra 90% of whom died in the camps. The conductor survived and through memory reconstructed the piece and what Susan did was take just the Viola and Cello part and make a recording of it to play through speakers at the station where so many of the camp inmates passed through. To take just those parts was give attention to all the others who were missing. I find it powerful.
The workshop itself consisted of us walking around the Hayward Gallery and the southbank to see where possible sound installations could be placed and also what kind of work we produce in these spaces. Overall it was enrichening and inspiring.
Unfortunately I fell prey to my shyness and awkwardness and didn’t really talk to anybody. Other than that it was a great day!
Somewhere out there
is a window.
Dreams float in
hope streams through
delusions slink in
This is the world beyond
the unseen reality
which science can merely
But for me this window is shut.
What is around me is what is.
No hopes, no dreams
just dreary thought upon thought.
For most the window opens.
For the genius, the megalomaniac
it opens wide.
For the depressed it closes.
And yet Christ appeared in a room shut.
A while back I wrote of my impression of the simplicity of God. I felt oddly affirmed when I read that Messiaen had expressed something similar.
“You are so complex and so simple, you are infinitely simple.”
In many senses this seems to be a mystical approach to God. However within faith I don’t think intellectual doctrine is antithetical to mysticism. I think both affirm each other and feed each other and it will be a mistake to put them up against each other.
I’ve been reading The Rest is Noise by Alex Ross which is a rollicking history of music through the 20th century primarily from a classical point of view. It’s astonishing how music was used for propoganda. Stalin and Hitler used music in manipulative ways to further their mad totalitarianism. During the cold war the Americans and the Soviets had very deliberate agendas in what sort of music was written and propogated.
And recently I came across the book The Danger of Music by Richard Taruskin. I haven’t read it yet but the title itself is interesting.
Somehow for many years I had a very romantic view of music. It was uplifting, unifying and hope giving. I still believe does all those but the other side is very evident now. It can be manipulative, divisive and mind numbing.
And in church all these happen. Christians have enjoyed their music at times bringing people together in a joyous ocean of hope. Equally they fight a lot about it and also use it to manipulate and dull minds. I’m just not sure how to navigate through this. How do we move away from the dark side of music?