Saturday, 4 July 2015

In church the night before American Independence Day.

I'm going to have to play with time a little on my Blog today - it's the Fourth of July (Independence Day) and Robyn is planning a huge celebration.

As a build up to that we went up to London yesterday - but as we went on a bit of a rampage, or at least as much of a rampage as you can with a broken back, I'm going to Blog about that a bit later.

But as we ended up in a church in Knightsbridge on Friday night I'll do that bit now (it fits - don't worry, it'll all work out in the end)

Sorry to say, there aren't any pictures - I got free tickets to another BBC recording and they are very sniffy about taking photos.

Actually, they won't have it at all.

So no pictures, sorry.

We found ourselves in St. Pauls church, Wilton Place in Knightsbridge for a full scale BBC Radio 3 recording of an evening of American music to celebrate Independence day tomorrow(today).

It was all twentieth century music but as Radio 3 is a bit up itself, with only a few exceptions, it was fairly obscure - even though the composers were all well known.

St. Pauls is very ornate - Knightsbridge is exclusive and rich and the big old church reflected that.

It was packed - Radio 3 may be a classical 'ghetto' but its still mainstream and the BBC Singers?

They are big time - I've seen them many times Proms at The Albert Hall or on the TV.

And they were very good - showing off singing 'modern' music which can be tough for any choir.

I hadn't heard it before (it was an American concert after all) but Robyn knew 'The Gift to be Simple' which is a traditional 'Shaker hymn;

'Tis the gift to be simple. tis the gift to be free,
'Tis the gift to come down where you oughta be,
And when we find ourselves in a place just right,
'Twill be in the valley of love and delight' 

She wasn't keen on the arrangement!

The Shaker's were one of many small religious sects who found freedom from the oppression in England escaping to the wide open countryside of America.

And the choice of music was clever; besides Charles Ives and Aaron Copland  there was also an organ solo of 'Tocata' by Emma Lou Diemer.

Robyn guessed I'd like that - Diemer composed some fairly traditional religious music but was also a pioneer of electronic music.

Played on a big old traditional church organ - massive pipes going high into the roof - you could still see where her music was going to progress to.

There was plenty of religious music, which is not my thing, although Leonard Bernstein's Chichester Psalms was as dramatic and lively as you would expect from the composer of 'West Side Story'. There was a 20 minute break while the radio listeners got to hear the overture...that would have helped us in the church!

Samuel Barber's setting of Stephen Spender's "A stopwatch and an ordnance map" was excellent; a poem commemorating the death of a Republican soldier in the Spanish Civil war;

"A stopwatch and an ordnance map
At five a man fell to the ground
And the watch flew off the wrist
Like a moon struck from the earth
Marking a blank time that stares
On the tides of change beneath
All under the olive trees."

Both were strong supporters of the Spanish Republic and opponents of the fascism that would soon sweep across Europe.

There was also Barber's 'Agnes Dei', religious music that everyone has heard, even if it's only as a backing track to an advertisement.

And we travelled from the sublime to the ridiculous; two amazing negro Spirituals and then the 'Wiffenpuf' song from Yale (or was it Harvard?).

Who cares?

'Elijah Rock' was a standard spiritual but 'Wade in the Water'? That was probably a song sung in code, setting out how slaves could make their journey from the south to freedom 'across the water'.

Very emotional.

So, it was all very 'classical' and respectable but a good choice of music, sung by an amazing collection of musicians, conducted by David Hill.

It managed to reflect a snapshot of what America and American music is...but no Jazz and not enough Black music which, after all, is what American music and the twentieth century was about.

But that was after another amazing day (more of that later) and I'm not grumbling.

Neil Harris

(a don't stop till you drop production)

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