Thoughts on Time
One of the many joys of singing with the BMG is getting to know good music. What is good music? It is of course a matter of opinion, but one measure could be the number of times you can rehearse it without getting bored. Good music just keeps on giving.
A case in point is Time from Britten’s Choral Dances from Gloriana. It is challenging on almost every level. Singing it is like being in a clock museum at midday when all the chiming clocks strike the hour, ever so slightly at odds with each other. It is fun, risky and exhilarating. Then there are the words adapted from a poem by William Plomer.
Yes he is Time,
Lusty and blithe!
Time is at his apogee!
Although you thought to see
A bearded ancient with a scythe,
No reaper he
That cries 'Take heed!'
Time is at his apogee!
Young and strong in his prime!
Behold the sower of the seed!
A gauntlet is thrown down on the traditional perception of time. “No grim reaper he, that cries take head”. Time is instead Youth personified “at his apogee” full of optimism, power and creativity. The sower, not the reaper.
Seeing the BMG singing Time with gusto, under our exceptionally talented and youthful director Oliver was an experience I will never forget.
Choral singing is back in vogue. Time could be on our side after all. It depends how you perceive it.
I Saw Three Ships Come Sailing In
Every time the BMG sings this well known carol, the same question is asked - “What does it mean?”. Here is an explanation. The first thing that comes to mind is the image of people travelling across the desert on camels, so the meaning can be passed off as referring to these animals as they are traditionally known as the ships of the desert.
There is, however, another theory which is much more interesting as well as plausible. In the medieval Christian Church it was considered to be of great benefit to the soul of believers if they made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, the birthplace of our Lord. Not everyone could make this journey but still wished to show their piety. And so it came about that various places across Europe began to acquire artefacts relating to the life of Jesus, such as the Turin Shroud and pieces of the “True Cross”. Others would miraculously acquire something of his Apostles or a Saint. These were usually pieces of bone, for example Castle Acre Priory has the arm of the apostle Philip, but even Tillingham Church was said to once own a comb which had belonged to St. Thomas a Becket!
These medieval places of pilgrimage were early tourist attractions bringing wealth to the area. The more unusual the relic the more likely it was to attract pilgrims. So it must have been a great coup for Cologne Cathedral, when it somehow acquired relics of the Magi who, according to Matthew’s Gospel, visited Jesus some time after his birth. The relics in question were three skulls and were transported from the Holy Land to Cologne in three ships. Hence “I Saw Three Ships Come Sailing In…” I have never visited Cologne Cathedral but I understand there is a shrine to the Magi there to this day.
It was all a big con of course, but the interesting thing is the identity of these strange visitors. They certainly weren’t kings, but rather astrologers from Persia or Babylon where astrology was a well developed science. Neither were there three of them! We actually don’t know how many travelled to Bethlehem, Matthew doesn’t say, we just assume there were three because of the three gifts. What we do know is they had seen a mysterious star - a supernova, comet or conjunction of planets - which meant tho them that a king had been born to the Jews. Saturn for Israel and Jupiter for a King, merged in the night sky on three occasions in 7 BC. Their gifts sound Arabian and were of great value. Gold for kingship, incense for worship and myrrh, which we think of today as being used for embalming the dead, was then also prized for its healing properties. So, in these gifts we have the wholeness of Christ to believers: He is our King, our Great High Priest, our Healer and Restorer.