Choral TextsCOMMISSIONS & PUBLICATIONS UPDATE

“This extraordinary work…made a huge impact on the large audience…who described it as ‘deeply moving’, ‘powerful’ and ‘inspiring.’” (Review of choral symphony Unfinished Remembering, gerontius.net Newsletter, November 2014)

Euan’s visibility as a librettist is increasing rapidly among choirs and conductors in the US, UK and Norway. “Anyone paying attention to the choral world right now knows that we have a new poet on the rise in Euan Tait.” Kurt Knecht, May 2016.

Premieres 2017

UPDATE! London premiere for November 2017!! Details to follow.

With Kim Andre Arensen:

February 12th:
“Song of the Soul” premièred in Soustons, France by Quatuor Vocal Méliades and Ensemble Hope.

April 22nd:
TTBB version of the bestselling “Flight Song” (extensively recorded on YouTube), premiered by 450 men at VAN/Man Male choral summit at Chan Centre for Performing Arts.

May 18th:
“My Flame the Song” commissioned by Edwards Masterworks Singers, Austin, Texas, and premiered in Oslo Cathedral.

July 11th:
“Falling into mercy” commissioned by Oregon Bach Festival and premiered by Strangeland Family Youth Choral Academy, and Dr. Anton Armstrong

July 22:
“Searching Love” commissioned by Texas Choral Directors Association, and premiered by Directors Chorus, and conductor Dr. Lori Hetzel.

FUTURE:
Naxos recording forthcoming in winter 2017-18 from Dr. Joel Rinsema!

Euan has produced a wide range of choral works with the Norwegian composer Kim André Arnesen, including two major works: The Christmas Alleluias, a five movement piece, was performed by The Valley Chamber Chorale, Stillwater, Minnesota  and conductor Carol Carver in December 2015, and The Wound in the Water, a choral symphony, which will be performed in Trondheim by one of the leading choirs in the world today, Conspirare, conducted by Craig Johnston, with the British star soprano Elin Manahan Thomas, at the opening concert of the 2016 Olavsfestdagene.  Of their shorter works, Flight Song, dedicated to the St. Olaf Choir and conductor Anton Armstrong, has now sold thousands of copies, and is performed regularly across the US, including at Carnegie Hall, NYC. Other pieces include Child of Song, written in memory of Stephen Paulus and first performed at a memorial concert for him.  Flight Song is published by earthsongs, and their other works by the Santa Barbara Press, CA.

In the US, he wrote the text for Spokes, music by Timothy Tharaldson, which was performed by Youth Chorale of Central Minnesota in 2016. Euan is now developing other projects with other US choral composers. Kurt Knecht of MusicSpoke wrote (May 25th 2016): “Anyone paying attention to the choral world right now knows that we have a new poet on the rise in Euan Tait. He’s been collaborating with several composers including a big premiere of settings of his work by Kim Arnesen. It’s for good reason. To my mind, Euan’s extremely lyric gift comes from a poet that you can tell was raised on a steady diet of…Wordsworth. In contrast to Wordsworth, however, I don’t find a vague sort of pantheism at the bottom of Tait’s poems. Instead, they betray a profound and rich spiritual life that make them exceptionally poignant. This very grounding is what keeps his poems from floating into sentimentality despite their lyric nature.” http://musicspoke.com/blog/score-week-iii-spokes-timothy-tharaldson/

In the UK, Euan’s first choral symphony libretto, Unfinished Remembering, with acclaimed music by Paul Spicer, was first performed on 13th September 2014, with the Birmingham Bach Choir, the Orchestra of the Swan, and soloists  Johane Ansell (soprano)  and baritone William Dazeley. The vocal score is currently being prepared for a second printing for further performances, and Euan appeared twice on  BBC Midlands Today,  including at a rehearsal of his and Spicer’s new National song,  A Shared Singing.  Among comments on the libretto were John Quinn ‘s “Unfinished Remembering is a moving and compelling work. Euan Tait has written a libretto which offers a thought-provoking reflection not only on why Remembrance is important but also on the challenges that remembering our war dead should pose.”  Euan has also written the text of a new Christmas carol, All Saints Carol, with Paul for All Saints Northampton, which was first performed there on 20th December 2015.

Euan’s aim as a librettist is to write words that are a powerful catalyst for music, with strong choral architecture, and which speak in the widest possible way for the spiritual longings of a very diverse society.  I delight in writing for choral composers, and feel there is a growing passion for shared singing among the public, and would love to be there to offer new words for composers to enjoy shaping into their own music.   Please use the contact form for commissions.

QUIET DAYS and OTHER RETREATS:

2017:
CHANGE OF DATE!!
Euan will be delivering a Advent Quiet Day for the south Wales Ordinariate groups (9th December, Belmont Abbey). It is entitled ‘Free and immortal” – Quiet Day for Advent . We approach the Christ child and gaze upon our humanity in its power, fragility and beauty. In the beautiful rural setting of Belmont Abbey, we have time with God through our Ordinariate Quiet Day this year. Advent opens us afresh to the Holy Spirit, to the core of our vocation and our humanity.  Christ draws us to the core beauty of our humanity, so so that we may listen deeply to His Holy Spirit; we are led to a quiet place in ourselves where we may listen anew to who we are in Christ.  Advent, as with its sister season Lent, is discovery, and rediscovery in this sense.   This Quiet Day explores the theme of rediscovering the beauty of our core self, and our vocations through times of silence, through Scripture, the poetry of Thomas Traherne as set by Finzi in Dies Natalis.  Euan’s short talks are intended as the spark for our own reflections. Euan delivered a Quiet Day for St. Nicholas, Fleckney, Leicestershire in April 2016, and continues to lead others, while exploring new types of retreat (details to follow). He has led all Quiet Days at Ammerdown in the past, and has led successive Quiet Days for Cursillo groups.

30th June, Belmont Abbey:
Celebrating Mass in school: A training day for Catholic teachers.

Introduction: Enabling our students to understand and love the Mass, to make it theirs, make it authentic to them, is a crucial challenge for Catholic teachers as we seek to develop our students’ spiritual lives. Our first role is to help students understand the celebration of the Mass not as an individualistic experience but as pilgrim members of the Church receiving a source of life through the Church.
Yet, in order to do this, teachers need to enable our students to understand the Mass in a personal sense, as a repeated pilgrimage to the table where Christ breaks bread in mercy – so that we as teachers empower them to experience the Mass also as their personal pilgrimage, as a crucial part of their ongoing journey in faith as Catholic Christians.
The proposed training day is designed as a key way of learning how to open up Catholic teaching on “Communion with the Lord,” “the Real Presence” and “Word Made Flesh” to our students here in our Diocese, and picks up on themes developed with REC/HRE/Chaplains in recent INSET days. It is designed to illustrate to teachers a possible method of helping our students to learn and pray about the key “narrative” of the Mass through 4 elements:
1. Short scripture readings, relevant to each section of the Mass (Kyrie, Gloria etc). 5 mins
2. A short reflection on the meaning of each section and on the piece of music about to be played. 15 mins
3. A playing of the musical setting of the relevant section of the Mass. 15 mins
4. Questions/discussions using key questions. 10 mins.
Teachers will then adapt the above for formation sessions with students. For example, talks could be prepared by students on such themes as “What does the Kyrie mean to me? What music represents the Gloria – and why?” The aim is to give teachers a set of tools to enable students to develop their understanding and ownership of the meaning of the Mass.

Participants said: “Lots of lovely practical ideas for working with children….I found the day extremely beneficial to me personally. Euan has a beautiful and profound sense of the Eucharist and his love of God and of the liturgy oozes out of him; very infectious. He has focussed on a needful area, viz. helping all of us to internalise the ancient liturgy and so become actively engaged, heart and mind. He gave excellent suggestions on how to introduce and ‘scaffold’ these ideas with the children and the musical selections were great. I think his pupils are very blessed and I would like to see him take a lesson…I found the concept relevant to further attract the children in developing thee processes for themselves, especially in planning Mass. Very relaxing atmosphere. Thanks….Euan presented confidently, with great passion…make an interesting INSET for staff…Thank you for a great experience…fabulous course…a very inspirational day…giving lots of ideas and thoughts…”

TALKS: Making the Mass Mine – Download Document: Click here

TIMETABLE
9.30am Arrival, registration, teas and coffees
10am Welcome, Introduction to the day and Opening Prayers
10.10am Experiencing the KYRIE, followed by short break
11am Experiencing the GLORIA, followed by short break
12pm-12.40 Experiencing the CREDO
12.45 Midday Prayer, Abbey church
1pm Lunch break
2.00 pm Experiencing the SANCTUS and BENEDICTUS, followed by short break
2.50pm Understanding the AGNUS DEI.
3.40pm Mass (Abbey church or Oratory)
4pm Closing Prayer and depart

Venue: Room (tbc), Belmont Abbey, 30th June 2017.

Summary: The day for teachers allows professionals to experience and evaluate the suggested method for this complementary approach to ‘Teaching the Mass’ for themselves.
Given that, as a teacher himself, our training leader recognises the pressures of the timetable and the reality of our teaching experience, this approach could also be delivered to students as a series of short lunchtime/after school events, or as a day after exams.
Above all, it enables us, as teachers, to develop a method of enabling our students to learn about the inner meaning of the Mass, experience in a positive way Church’s teachings about the Mass, thus delivering essential formative input.

2018:
Writing to God: creating our own prayers, psalms, journals and poems

(Douai Abbey, 26th – 28th October 2018)
The beauty of relating to God is that we are called to speak freely and with utter honesty to Jesus, to open our hearts fully without fear. Our creative written responses help open us up to this life-giving relationship, and during this weekend we will be exploring how to write prayers, our own versions of psalms, short poems and journal entries: an exciting creative journey that aims to greatly enrich our own work. It is recommended you bring your own writing materials – laptops or notebooks as you prefer.

PRAYING WITH MUSIC:  MUSIC RETREAT DATES FOR 2016!
I have been invited to 3 new venues, as well as returning again to Belmont and Ammerdown.
Mozart Coronation Mass K 317 (Douai Abbey nr Thatcham 19th -21st February 2016)  Beginning of Lent retreat.
Bach St. John Passion (Llangasty Retreat House, Brecon, 18th- 20th March 2016)  Passiontide retreat.
Finzi Dies Natalis and Intimations of Immortality (Ammerdown nr Radstock 12th -14th August 2016)  Summer retreat
Elgar Dream of Gerontius (Minsteracres Retreat Centre, Consett, Co. Durham 28th – 30th October 2016)  Preparing for All Souls and All Saints’
Mozart Requiem (Belmont Abbey, Hereford 4th – 6th November 2016) All Souls and All Saints’ retreat.
All retreats start on Friday evening and end with Sunday lunch.
Recent participant comments – see Feedback tab
All retreats start on Friday evening and end with Sunday lunch.
Recent participant comments – see Feedback tab

Praying with Music: introductory blog for the Beethoven weekend at Ammerdown, 19th-21st July 2013.

i.

Beethoven’s three great spiritual testaments, Missa Solemnis, Fidelio and the Choral Symphony, speak of the composer’s great struggles towards spiritual freedom, and so become for us an accompaniment to our own struggles towards freedom.  They have the power to en-courage: that is, because Beethoven explores our spiritual journey and inner struggles with such depth and power, by meditating deeply on these works we are given new energy and hope for our continuing journey, through the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, He who gives us courage and hope.

This is the point of these Praying with Music weekends:  so often music is no more than a background to our lives, listened to in passing as we rush from one appointment to another, just as our prayer life is sometimes only the briefest breath towards God before we rush off to something else.  Instead, this weekend aims to give us space to breathe in what God is longing to say to us through these works: this is time for God, praying through great music.

ii.

While the points raised about the three works are sometimes further illustrated by reference to other works, the focus remains on a journey undertaken with these three pillars of the Beethovenian heart and spirit, in order for participants to have a sense of a liberating and enriching journey and to be left with new insights into the journey ahead, inspired with new hope and courage by the music.    Friday evening and Saturday morning will concentrate on each movement of the Missa; Saturday late afternoon and evening on Fidelio (with an optional showing of a DVD performance after lunch); Sunday morning will begin with a short “pilgrimage service” particularly using the Choral Fantasy, while the weekend will end with the portrait of a human soul that is the Choral Symphony.

The timetable has evolved so that we will pray through three keys works, so that it won’t be a nebulous stroll using various short extracts but will consist of full movements proceeded by short scripture readings and meditations on the inner meanings of these movements, as well as introductory talks on the works as a whole.

iii.

I am a professional writer and an amateur musician: this means I write as one who has helped “create” the music in live performance (at one concert as a singer, at another as a double bass player in an orchestra).  At the same time, it means that I approach the music through the medium of the living, singing language of a praying poet.  It may seem contradictory to try and express the wordlessness of music through words, but the words I use are a listening, one way of listening; are my own singing emerging from the music, that I hope will set off your own singing, your own responses to this ecstatic, challenging music, so that you leave with a deepened and joyful sense of how God can reach into your own life through music.

iv.

You may wish to make your own preparations for the weekend through spending time with the music yourself in advance, and you will certainly wish to spend time preparing the heart through prayer, asking God through the Holy Spirit to reveal new and liberating insights through this music.  The weekend comes at a significant time during the Church’s Year, those weeks after Pentecost/Trinity which for me are about praying about our relationship with the Holy Spirit.  I always think of these weeks of Ordinary Time as extraordinary time, as a kind of extended preparation for Advent, which is the next significant change of ecclesial Season.

v.

One final point: remember that the wonderful journey Beethoven sets off in us does not end with the final session, that nothing will be final and complete by the time your depart Ammerdown; rather, it will be the beginning of a journey, and that God will sometimes only reveal what He wants to reveal much later, in His own time (God’s timing always comes from his deep knowledge of the unique needs of each individual). While I myself do not offer spiritual direction or counselling, you may wish to note down new insights as you discover them for later discussion outside Ammerdown, or write journal entries or begin your own Letter to Jesus during the weekend, where you can say frankly and without pretending, as if to an utterly trusted friend, what the music gives to your heart.  My prayer is that Beethoven’s gift blesses and enriches you.

EUAN TAIT, Chepstow, Monmouthshire, 4.7.13

Is the cry of pain answered?  A “Pentecost-tide” meditation

Readings for Sunday 9th June 2013: 1 Kg 17:17-end; Gal 1:11-end; Luke 7:11-17

The scriptures that speak to us are our inner songs; we carry them in our breathing and living, and they sometimes work silently within us and our struggles, and sometimes erupt in us with a loud roar.  They are not tame songs; the wildness of the Word is what gives the Bible its power for us, for God is involved with our lives, loves us and never stops speaking to us.  Tonight’s songs of God to our hearts open with a cry of pain and ends with a healing that may seem to worsen the pain because it doesn’t feel real.  After all, in real life tragedies such as the widows’ sons do not end with miracles, but with a long, long road of pain that the sufferer can only “manage” in order to go on living at all.  And what would a recently bereaved mother say, hearing these stories?  So what is happening?  Why is God giving us these stories that apparently have no relation to the reality of human pain and unutterable, unbearable loss? We know, from our friendship with God, that God does not give the insult of false hope and impossible miracles, so what is going on?

I think these stories are metaphors: in other words, through them, God is trying to tell us something about our spiritual self.  After all, we are living through the season after Pentecost, when we seek to deepen our relationship to the Holy Spirit which pours from the heart of God our creator and Jesus the pain-bearer.  The shock of hope these stories contain is not, for us encountering them tonight, about some fake-sounding miracles, but is rather a portrait of a spiritual state that can seem all too familiar to us: namely, when we fall into a soul sleep from which we don’t seem to be able to awake, when we become unresponsive, when we stop listening to God, whether because in our guilt and pain we give up prayer or whether because of life’s exciting YouTube distractions we cut the channels of our inner listening and relationship with God.

Tonight’s bringing together of readings shows us this – we have the story of Elijah and the widow’s son, and then, illustrating each Word yet more deeply, a reading from Galatians, when Paul speaks of just such soul sleep with powerful honesty – he tells us of his ignorance, that he was a person who, despite all his busy-ness, importance, self-righteousness and  passion, was deeply frozen and asleep, deeply unresponsive to the suffering Son of God, unresponsive to how God had newly introduced himself to humanity in the broken, bleeding body of Christ, held by His Mother Mary which such utter tenderness and grief.

What happens to Elijah’s host seems to show God talking to us in metaphors with great force.  I was particularly struck by how the angry cry of the widow, in the face of her tragedy, reminded me of the anguish and fury of the two demon-possessed men to Jesus in Matthew 8, who cry: “What do you want with us, Son of God. Have you come to torture us before the appointed time?”  There is such rage there, such rage.  In the same way, the widow shouts at Elijah: “What do you have against me, man of God? Did you come to remind me of my sin and kill my son?”  Such rage, such rage.  Her son has apparently fallen asleep – but in that strange symbiosis of love which exists between a mother and her child, it is her own soul that is lying there, out cold.  Her voice, filled with burning pain and guilt, screams out at God.  A personal disaster has opened up the unhealed wound in her own life, and we see the raw heart of her spiritual battles.

The holy man does not answer her with rebuke or with the cluckings of an injured male ego, but instead goes way beyond these very natural reactions into a self-forgetful identification with her – he allows himself to enter into her pain, to feel it in himself and to cry out to God on her behalf.  In taking this “unnecessary” risk on behalf of a probably very “unworthy” person (as say, people in the emergency services do every day), Elijah’s furious compassion is moving and real:  “Lord my God” he shouts “have you brought tragedy even on this widow I am staying with, by causing her son to die?”  Somehow, in the boy’s restoration, in Elijah’s risky act of love for them both, the spiritual life of the woman is resurrected.

Likewise, it is love, the force in us from God, the power in us of Her lioness life, and not of tame sentiment, that moves Jesus to bring life to a scene of bleak death.  A grim procession passes by, a family mourning a lost young life, an everyday reality.  One part of humanity’s great and apparently endless ocean of tears is being shed, and yet Jesus, evidently weeping inside himself, simply tells her “Don’t cry”, and restores the life of everyone there.  Perhaps there is an uncle or cousin among them who long ago gave up on the idea of him or herself as a possible child of God, perhaps having sinned and sinned again, knowingly and deliberately and in the face of repeated forgiveness by God, whom Jesus in and through this young man’s restoration, restores to the Kingdom.  Perhaps tonight’s lioness roar of the Word is doing the same for us in our situation, bleak as it may seem to us in our sleeping state which rejects even the remote possibility of love.   The fire of the Holy Spirit gently flares up within our beings as a fire, a reminder to us of the power with which we are loved.  God’s untameable gift of love awaits us here in this place: perhaps it is our broken, longing hearts, with their silent and apparently endless bleeding, that are at last ready to awake and able to receive it.  Amen.

Discovering an estranged music?  Tikhon Khrennikov  (1913-2007)

What is this, the musician whose reputation is apparently captured in a Western box forever?  This?  …from another planet…the bizarre almost echo of the opening of his 3rd Piano Concerto…which leaks a painful cry from apparently simple music…what did this music come from?  Do the clashing facts of his professional life, and his attempts to justify his professional behaviour, the composer who knelt in Yelets cathedral,  mean that it cannot be “companion music” for us, music for our own journey, as Shostakovich’s mixture of satire, risk-taking anger and bone-grinding pain so clearly is?

I wouldn’t have gone out of my way to find Khrennikov’s music before the Internet, but since discovering his work casually, as it were, through it, I’ve found a powerful energy coming from it, and a wanting to come back to it again and again.  I can’t agree that it’s worthy of the understandably angry Western dismissals it received after his death (I recall obit comments such as “the waffle of a party functionary”).  I also wonder if such a closed attitude to Russia will do, now our voices seemed turned towards each other with such a howl of mutual bitterness?  If people were and are angry with him – who was and is angry, and why?  The banned composers of the late 1970s, whose voice Khrennikov apparently tried to turn off, like the water in a river?

I’m listening….what I find instead is the overheard mutter of a troubled wanderer, especially in the 3rd Piano Concerto, As for the life, I find any questions rebounding back on us, i.e. How much do we collude with the worst around us? How much are we led against ourselves, away from ourselves, by our own broken desires for power and recognition? What do we believe and why? How do we live it? Have any of us begun to answer such questions honestly and fairly?

An estranged music?  If so, will anyone want to find themselves a fellow pilgrim with it?  And if so, what does it say about them?  I’m listening now to the slow movement of the 2nd Violin concerto, and it’s singing over my head like a bird in a storm, outside the window, over into the eroding distance.  10/04/15

True friendships, the friendships that reach the deepest and most hidden parts of our hearts, always have the shock of surprise.  We are journeying on, struggling on the narrow roads of our daily pilgrimage, dragging our baggage with us, when in the streets of our lives we suddenly find that we are being greeted, and the face and the voice, which we have never encountered before, is utterly familiar, and yet, as far as we know, wholly new to us, almost like the story a friend told me of a piece of music he heard apparently for the first time as an adult, which nonetheless felt completely familiar to him.

He couldn’t make sense of his familiarity with a work which up to then he never consciously encountered before, until he spoke about it to his mother one day and she told him that he had indeed heard it before, but only as an unborn child when she was carrying him.  At a certain point in his life, through some grace the action of which he couldn’t at that time fully understand or appreciate, the friendship with the composer and his music had been reignited, and he had found another musical friend to accompany him and help him make sense of the confusing cauldron of his experience and emotional life.

So it is that truly great composers are speaking out loud, for all of us, what we can’t acknowledge or face about ourselves and our lives, and what we are desperately struggling with.  They articulate our sometimes silent cries of anguish and anger.  Composers will show us up as cruel, bitter, sarcastic and wounding, as having sinful, satirical, paradoxical intent towards each other – and it is so liberating to be given the gift of seeing all of ourselves, including the wrecked part of our humanity, with the clarity with which God sees us and knows us.  We find we may be all of these things yet acceptable to God, such is the redemptive power working through these works.  That, surely, is Bach’s most liberating gift.  Here is God, through this music, showing us what we are, and yet also giving us a powerful vision of what we are becoming through God’s deeply creative love.

An encounter with music is not all about our struggle though.  Music is also able to express the glory of being ourselves in our full and liberated humanity.  Composers release, thorough their music, powers of ecstatic praise in us and overwhelming joy that give us a foretaste of our glorified selves living freely in the presence of God in the beauty of our unique holiness.    Music becomes our own singing, and what a wonderful sound we find ourselves making.   Maybe we don’t think this as we caterwaul in the privacy of our showers and kitchens, but when we find that we are engaged with other human beings in a remarkably familiar struggle, the combined sound of our searching is that of a genuine and truthful engagement with God.

Thus when we engage fully with great music, praying and longing through it, it draws deeply from all aspects of our humanity.  It is thus true, I think, that we reinterpret all works of art autobiographically.   Once an artist completes a work and releases it, it ceases to be a private expression and becomes instead the means by which people engage with their own realities.  In that sense, a work of art is never completed but lives in a constant process of recreation, of engagement and resolution, in so far as we can fully resolve anything in our lives until we meet with God.  This process is partly described by the two time frames in which we live, linear time, the traveling from A to B, from minute to minute, day to day, month to month, year to year, and maturation time, the time of our growing and changing in God, which has a more circuitous quality as we return again and again to issues we avoid until we have made some sort of peace with them and are able to move on from them to new life and new growth.  Maturation time, like the holy season of Lent, is where we live in remembering, recalling to mind what must change, and in active response to God we make a passionate engagement with that issue in order to change the stuck and unredeemed parts of our lives.  Praying with music can be a key part of this remembering.  Great music, such as the music of Bach’s St. John and St. Matthew Passions, make us remember our humanity and the organic nature of our spiritual lives as we are prompted by the message of the works to free ourselves.  This is the ambiguity of remembering, that we live most creatively by recalling ourselves, yet at the same time are moved by that remembering to change and become more fully human.

Music will speak to and for us and accompany us on our journey.  We will find a particular composer mirrors the struggles we are going through at a particular moment – thus sometimes we might love the music of, say, Beethoven but not want to listen to a note of English music, and then we find the wind in our emotional and spiritual sails changing and Howells becomes the friend who greets us from his own frail coracle.  I think this accompaniment is something very strongly akin to our relationship with God, to the gift of the Holy Spirit’s constant, but still small voice.  “The Spirit will remind you of all that I have taught you” Jesus tells us (John 14.26), and in the renewal and rediscovery process that is our life long journey, music becomes one of God’s instruments of love.

Bach’s genius has made him so mythical that we forget the very ordinary life that lay behind it, namely, that of a professional musician who sometimes had to struggle to find jobs, while at the same time trying to maintain and love a very large family.  He worked for most of his career for the still young Lutheran Church, so the St. Matthew Passion and the St. John Passion speak in the language of his hearers, which is why to translate them into the your own language is to live in the heart of the original.  Bach also included in his work the familiar faith songs of his congregations, the hymns in which they would have joined, so these Passions are not concert works as such, but part of a collective cry to God on Good Friday when they were first performed in his Leipzig churches in the 1720s.

The works follow the narrative thread of their respective Gospels.  The story of Christ’s suffering and death is largely told by the Evangelist, with the chorus and the soloists taking the various crowd parts and the parts of individual characters.  Chorales and arias then provide the individual human response to the story of God’s total identification with us through Christ’s Passion.   The story of God in the Gospels is indeed of the ever deepening identification by Divine Love with human experience, that we are led by the hand on our journey by a tiny and helpless Holy Child, by a Sinless One who nonetheless, humbly before God’s children, follows them to Baptism, by a Jesus who went through the worst and most humiliating suffering a human being can go through so that whatever we ourselves live through, we will be with a God who has been there before us and has not just sat on a throne judging us.

The experience today will therefore be like entering a great interior space of worship in ourselves, an interior pilgrimage starting at the main entrances of the two great opening choruses, before you discover how Bach portrays our humanity throughout the work.  The day will be divided into four Waymarks, and between Waymarks, you will have space to look at your personal response to the holiness of these musical Gospels.  While much of the focus will be on the St. John Passion, extracts from the St. Matthew will act as “side chapels,” and we will fill our interior worship space with our own prayerful and creative response to gift of love that God is giving us.

So Ammerdown’s Praying with Music retreats aim to help introduce a new perspectives to our engagement with music, namely finding in it a way of life praying: music as a medium given to us by the Creator Spiritus, our Creator God, through which we are able to bring the struggles of our lives with full honesty before a God who loves us utterly.                                Euan Tait, Lent 2012, Ammerdown.

We were surrounded, in these galleries, only by fragments, by sections sawn off and sold from church altarpieces, their incompleteness  a matter of regret for us but entirely logical for the churches in their own time, for when the images had started to break up and fade, it seemed to them a broken image could not represent the truth and power of their faith.  For us, however, lost warfaces and burnings later, the now missing shattered majesty of Duccio’s Virgin and Child, the broken body of Christ on his flood wrecked Cross, seems an apt music for our faith, a true incarnational sign of what it is, for us, to be human.

A leonine laughter

The draw at the heart that is in another scriptural voice, within another attempt by human beings trying to overhear the whisper, the soft wild growl of God.  The draw is because the heart is responding, and I have seen the holy lives lived within other faiths.  This holy book is full of God’s fierce, challenging humour, and is there all the time within it, and yet there is the peace given from our listening to it, an authentic, rich peace.

An old city dances!

We look at a city and think it is permanent – but anyone who knows and loves European cities sees and loves them as competing fragments of streetscapes.  In Bath, the overwhelming impression is Georgian of course, but it too dances with different elements of its long-lived self – a medieval city wall; the great Romanesque cathedral’s crossing tower piers at the east end of the very joyous Abbey church, whose fan vault pillars give the impression of great trees in constant and emphatic Spring flower; a war damaged fragment, a single story only of what must have been a much larger building on the south side of the old city, and occasional bubblings of the ancient landscape, the sandbanks that once flowed down to the river.  All cities, living and scarred beasts.

Arnold’s 9th Symphony (1986)

I was listening to this as the great tree beyond my window faded last night into the misty darkness.  The work is a creative miracle – dragged out of a pain distorted life, yet expressing this long journey with utmost simplicity – in the first two movements, a repeated tune is passed between the different voices of the orchestra, then the long cry of the Finale ends with a flute-inflected D Major chord, a final word of light.  The simplicity of a master, yet a simplicity that confused on its first performance.