Friday, December 20, 2013

Benjamin Britten in a Medieval Church

Last night Dave and I went to hear some Christmas music -- a series of choral pieces by Benjamin Britten -- at the medieval Priory Church of St. Bartholomew the Great, near Smithfield market. We went with our coworkers Gordon and Keith, and Gordon's wife Donna, and the singing by a small choir of eight, accompanied by a harpist, was truly remarkable -- crystalline and seemingly effortless.

Interspersed with the music were readings about Christmas, a brief prayer and some hymns, which I sang with difficulty because they were pitched right at a point where I was either forced to range too high or too low on the scale. They included "It Came Upon A Midnight Clear," which the British sing to a completely different melody, a fact that once again managed to surprise me.

We went to this same church with Gordon and Donna last year, and it's interesting to think we've been here long enough to have created a tiny bit of Christmas tradition! (How many times do you have to do something before you consider it a tradition? Is twice enough?)

I sat listening to the harp, gazing up at the stonework that dates back hundreds of years (the church was founded in 1123, not long after William the Conqueror came ashore!) and felt I could understand the appeal of religion as a common thread that connects us with our ancestors. I thought of all the hundreds or even thousands of people whose eyes had gazed upon the very same stonework, maybe by candlelight or whale-oil lamps. Over our heads hung a memorial plaque featuring the busts of a man and a woman, and part of the inscription read:

Behowlde your selves by us
suche once were we as you
and you in tyme shall be
even duste as we are now

So when the music ended we went off to a nearby pub called the Old Red Cow, where we had dinner and a couple of pints, talking and laughing while squeezed around a tiny table in a crowded upstairs room with steamy windows.

(Photo: A completely unrelated photo of Trellick Tower, reflected in the Grand Union Canal. I love the line of little ducks swimming in the tower's reflection.)


Lynne said...

Sounds like the start of a wonderful Christmas tradition to me. Reading your words I was sitting right beside you in that ancient church, my eyes turned upward. Thank you for that.

P.S. You really should read "Pillars of the Earth" !
P.P.S. Great night reflection of Trellick. (At least I think that's what building that is.)

Reya Mellicker said...

What a beautiful post! I'm glad Dave is well enough to get out.

The concert, in that setting, sounds inspiring. I love Britten! I even have a Benjamin Britten station on Pandora.

Ms. Moon said...

Nice reminder of our mortality!
Yeah, I think doing something twice is enough to make it tradition. This sounds like a fine one.

37paddington said...

Tradition and community and music to feed the soul. London agrees with you! Every so often I marvel anew at how completely you reinvented your life. Lovely post.

Linda Sue said...

such a perfect evening! Un- christmas here but there IS snow!

Sharon said...

That is the same church that Mo took me to when I was there. I was a bit awed by the age of the place myself. We just don't see things that old here in such a relatively new country.
I think your evening sounds like a perfect holiday tradition.

The Bug said...

Oh I'm jealous! I'd love to go to that church & bask in ancient continuity. I'd probably have to try to sing alto :)