Non-religious friends, worry not. Religious friends, don’t get hopeful.
I have a friend from Lausanne (yes, of the golden era) visiting, and we decided today to heed another friend’s advice to check out a choral performance at St Anne’s cathedral. We ended up sitting through a Palm Sunday special of The Crucifixion, a nineteenth-century choral piece by John Stainer. Though I like music, I am not particularly well versed in the music of the church, but I found myself completely swept up in the drama of it all! I wanted to stand up and cheer when the choir belted their way to the end of a section with a rousing “thou art the king!!!” Much blinking was required to prevent my tears from overspilling at the end of a tenor/bass duet, and the final, spine-tingling harmonising of Jesus’ plea to “for my sake forgive, forgive, forgive…”
Church services, particularly in cathedrals, are pure theatre: the reverberant acoustics, the pomp and ceremony, the sweeping robes, the thrum of the organ, the echoing voices of the choir. And the biblical language! It’s enough to excite any person who is fond of words. “Fling wide the gates!” the chorus cried repeatedly. I’m glad for the pamphlet of lyrics we were handed at the door, it really allowed me to appreciate the scriptural phraseology. The Crucifixion is something of a sensational subject matter in any case, superlative in its dramatic potential. Death, condemnation, redemption, apotheosis, all come together in a climactic and gory torture sequence. ‘Twas really rather exciting.
Indeed, talking of theatre, the building of the University theatre, Bedlam, is an old church. In fact two short plays, one that I wrote and another I directed, premiered at Bedlam last Friday night. A theatrical début double bill for me. The building’s acoustics are great and it is certainly atmospheric but it is always freezing inside; I could see the performers’ breath coming out in mist. It seems appropriate that our theatre should be housed in a church. Art is the only altar I worship at: theatre is the art, the playwrights are the gods, actors play the part of angels in the dark… (obscure Jimmy James reference).
Anyway, it was a pleasant and different way to pass an hour of the afternoon. I felt oddly purified upon leaving the cathedral. I hadn’t dared to check my phone during the service for fear of offending someone, and the general ecclesiastical environs and sublime music made me feel somewhat as if I’d taken a seraphic shower, metaphorically speaking. I should go to church more often.