Lord, Teach us how to Pray Aright

Far be it from us to offer lessons in prayer. Especially at Refreshment Sunday when, if anything, we relax our Lenten discipline. But we’re thinking about how we pray today because of something that came up in the intercessions.

That is, the intercessor began praying for ‘all who are disabled and mentally ill: may they find solace, comfort and consolation.’ We know it was well meant. And we hate mixing our politics with church. But today we have to.

Because here’s the thing: we are partially sighted. We are also choristers, dancers, embroiderers, and voracious readers. And with the best will in the world, we reserve the right to take a wooden spoon to any stranger who tries, unsolicited , to escort us off trains, across the road or down stairs. Does that sound like a life in need of consoling?

We were once asked if, given the chance, we’d take full vision over our hemianopoeia, or restricted field. We were horrified. We can no more imagine life without partial sight than we can imagine not breathing. It’s part of us. We’d no more change it than we would our height or our eye colour. And we devoutly hope no one is praying for our miraculous recovery of something we have never missed.

That is not everyone’s experience. But it is ours. There will always be people who do need that petition for consolation, and no doubt some of them will have disabilities and some will not. We’re as rich and varied a community as any other though. So pray for accessibility, and inclusion, and intelligent discussions about integrating us into everyday community. And pray for anyone who needs consolation as you would pray your ill or grieving. But pray thoughtfully. The assumption that we need all the same thing does everyone a disservice.

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Six Little Choristers

It’s well and truly summer here, and we can tell by the size of the choir. We’re not a large choir in term-time, but we’ve halved in size since the students went home. When we came into the choir room on Sunday, the precocious alto looked at us, did the maths and said, ‘we are officially the Trinity Choir.’

‘Yes,’ we said, ‘in every sense of the word.’

The sometimes-tenor then entered and completed our set. In light of this we’ve been driven to that poem we’ve been threatening to write for months. It comes from a place of great affection, and sympathy for diminished choirs the world over, because after all, three’s a choir -isn’t it?

Six Little Choristers

M.C.Steep

Six little choristers, sit cantores side,

One collided with the organ, leaving only five.

Five little choristers censed by the thurifer,

Asphyxiation by incense reduced them to four.

Four little choristers waiting in the vestry,

One fell out of procession and then there were three.

Three little choristers uncertain what to do,

One fled from sentimental motets then there were two

Two little choristers led Solemn Evensong,

One thought it much too catholic, and then there was one.

One gloomy chorister with conductor does conspire,

To halt music for the summer as one is not a choir.

All Glory, Laud and Honour…

We love this time of year, we really do. Starting with Palm Sunday, this is the time when our church pulls out all the stops, becomes unapolegetically over-the-top and High Church and ushers in Holy Week with open arms.

All of that began today with a service that bar none had more happening than any service we’ve attended before. In the first place there were the palms. Great life-sized ones that the choir carries in and then have to juggle alongside the hymnal as they process. It’s awkward, especially if, as today the procession goes outside and the world sends out a reminder that this is a seaside place in the shape of wildly turning hymnal pages. To be a fully-functioning chorister of a High Scottish Episcopal Church, it is necessary to have at least 5 hands. Yes, we calculated this.

We came in from processing, found somewhere to set the palms down, but only after we’d concluded the processional hymn, the ‘prophetic hymn’ (we mistakenly supposed this to be the introit prior to reading the order of service) and introit hymn. These were sung back to back. Also to be a chorister at our church, you need to be able to survive an hour and a half of near continuous singing.

We got a reprieve in the psalm and then came the dramatic canting of the Gospel. Dramatic Canting is, we’ve decided, the official term. There were soloists, we were the angry mob before Pilate, there were neumes (think of those strange square notes on that 4-line staff) and we were canting. Mind, we didn’t sound a bit like an angry mob because all of us were choristers throughly and none of us (except perhaps one of the altos) has been trained in the kind of singing that enables a high line of chant to sound brutal and visceral rather than seraphic. But the performance came off. The congregation was rapt.

This isn’t to say it all went smoothly. That never happens. Today our overworked conductor got so confused that he threw out the Sursum Corda and put the Sanctus in twice. As it happened, we appreciated the aberration because shortly before the Eucharistic liturgy began we realised no one had told us what Mass setting it was. Hint; not the one in the back of the hymnal. The sometimes-tenor dutifully fetched the music from the choir room, but only for half the choir. So we spent an anxious moment wondering if this was a setting we needed music for. Hence the gratitude for the accidental first Sanctus, which assured us we could in fact, sing off-book.

All of this is only the beginning. As of Maundy Thursday we are going to have to sing 5 services in 4 days. There will probably be more canting, there will certainly be more processions, and we guarantee that today’s extra Sanctus won’t be the only thing to go wrong. It’s going to be glorious. We love being a part of that overarching narrative that we strive to communicate in Holy Week. We know full well too, courtesy of a Presbyterian upbringing no one here would believe we’d had, that we would never get to the triumphalism of Easter were it not for the drear and gloom of Lent. We will revel then, as always, in that emotional nadir of the Tridium, it’s Good Friday Theology, and enjoy singing our way through it. We’re still too Presbyterian to look beyond that presently, but we’re too High Anglican by now not to allow ourselves to be confident of what will follow.

 

A Calculated Shambles

This week confirmed a pet theory of ours; namely that far from choreographed Mass, the key to succeeding at Anglo-Catholicism (or in this instance Scottish Episcopalianism) is to be jolly good at making things up as one goes along. Advent II for instance.

‘Today’s complicated, so I’ll outline what’s happening,’ said Conductor with accuracy of a service involving everything bar the kitchen sink; Introit, Asperges*, Baptism, Communion, all the key parts to the Mass –the only thing we didn’t say was the Credo, we swapped it for the Apostles’ Creed.

Anyway, he began outlining the beginning, starting with ‘we’ll sing the introit from the usual place.’

Had he never mentioned ‘introit’ we might have got it right. But he did, and in the same sentence as ‘usual.’

Our long-resident Sometimes Tenor (we’ve made him a bass at the moment so we can still call the choir SATB) heard this and once the Conductor had gone for the organ, said to us, ‘that means we’re beginning singing from the side-chapel then.’

We had doubts, but didn’t mention them, because he’s been there years longer than the measly almost-three years we’ve sung in the choir. We duly told the crucifer to stop at the side-chapel, which he did, and we waited for the organ to stop. And waited. And waited. And went on waiting, because it turns out all the Conductor meant was that we sing from the usual place –the choir stalls –and consider the Advent Prose an introit. Right. And we couldn’t tell the Sometimes Tenor ‘I told you so,’ because as it turned out, we hadn’t.

Eventually someone told Conductor he’d better stop expecting us to appear, because the crucifer had apparently taken root and anyway, we’d opened our folders and it would have looked odd to resume processing after the servers anyway. We sang the Advent Prose from the side-chapel, it was fine, the world did not end. Only we couldn’t then resume processing because of the usual preamble into worship. That was fine too, we said the General Confession jammed between the crucifer and the font, and we thought, ‘well, it will be all right, we can sing the Asperges while processing.’

What actually happened was that we landed a spontaneous solo leading into the Asperges while the other five choristers scrambled to access their copies of words and music. We don’t, you’ll gather, usually sing the Asperges, except at the Easter Vigil, and that in plainchant. Also, we did not process. The thought that we could either hadn’t struck the crucifer or he had sensible reasons for not doing so. We don’t know and can’t be sure.

That lead directly into the Kyrie –Oldroyd until we’re out of Advent –and this meant that not only us but also the Sometimes Tenor actually knew what we were doing for a wonder. We once sang Oldroyd for a whole year. We were therefore able to say as the men lead us in, ‘we can process in now, while singing the Kyrie.’

Luckily the crucifer overheard and that was more or less what happened. In case you’re curious, it’s terribly hard to reverence the altar while balancing an open music folder and trying not to trip on the acolytes.

‘Well that was a disaster,’ said the Choral Scholar to me in an undertone once we were all back in our rightful places among the choir stalls.

‘Nonsense,’ we said, ‘it was a calculated shambles.’

*In the event that you, like us, have never heard the Asperges by their proper name before now, it’s the bit about You will sprinkle me with hyssop and I shall be clean. We think it has something to do with reaffirming baptismal vows. What it’s doing leading people into the Advent Sundays we couldn’t hope to tell you. But if you know, do by all means enlighten us.