May 2009 Anglican Newsletter
Keith tells us about his recent Choir tour and exxamines the impact of an international language
I have just returned from a 5 day tour of north western Italy with a choir, singing every day either in concerts or by way of anthems in Masses in Venice, Padua, Verona, etc. It was a marvelous experience, enjoying quite good weather and receiving standing ovations from generous audiences. All our venues were Churches. We paid nothing for the hire of the 'halls' and we charged nothing to the audiences to come in and listen. We sang in English, Latin, Italian, German and Hebrew. We joined in the worship which was in Italian, which suddenly and easily reminded us of the Latin Mass, which inhabits so much of our classical choral repertoire, making us feel more at home. Especially in St Mark's in Venice, the priest made us feel that he had included us in his service, not merely heard us sing at intervals during it. We heard Italian, American, French, German/Austrian/Schweitzer Deutsch, Japanese, Chinese, English (and what other?) voices enthusing about our concerts after they finished.
What a reminder that music is an international language - one that ignores borders and thus brings peace and pleasure and joy. I am currently reading again (with great pleasure it must be said) a series of novels about the Royal Navy during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. It's amusing and fun to read the old caricatures of the French, Spanish, Italian and American enemies that we had in those years, but it is also rather sad to find myself rather hanging onto them as though they were appropriate now. When I think of the 'foreign' friends and relatives that I have (including an Italo-American daughter-in-law and two American grandchildren), I don't see those characteristics at all. Those who know me know that I rather old fashionedly push Political Correctness to one side, but nonetheless I can't see in any of these people that I know the caricatures that we still carry about with us.
I like a good joke (although I am incapable of telling one) and I think some of the best are the Irish (Polish if you are German, Belgian if you are French and so on) jokes, which are actually as affectionate as not, but one has to be a little careful. It is a little like this ridiculous over exercising of the Health & Safety rules that have emerged in recent years, to the point where the act of living seems to be regarded as somewhat too risky for most of us. Basically, it comes down to common sense in the end. Too much of anything is, by definition, too much and a moderate amount is probably OK. It's not possible to be aware of every individual's sensibilities all the time. If you get bumped and bruised in a football crowd that is enjoying itself, that is probably nothing to be fazed about - similarly in good humoured banter and conversation your psyche may be a little bumped and bruised, but not damaged or harmed. There is a difference between being hurt and harmed.
Centuries ago there were dozens of petty kingdoms in England, which eventually settled into the Heptarchy - ie seven kingdoms. William the Conqueror finally brought all that to an end with his grasp of the whole of England as one Kingdom. Wales, Scotland and Ireland (eventually reduced to only Northern Ireland) brought us the United Kingdom. What a good name! I am not sure why what many of us see as a positive process (even allowing for recent devolutions) should be regarded as a spent process - one that has reached some sort of natural conclusion. We have more than enough in common with continental Europeans to merge with them as joint citizens and what a good name is European Union? I have political views about how and what should happen, but to express them is not the purpose of this little tirade. What I want to suggest is that we have relatively limited jealousies between say Cornwall and Cumberland or Norfolk and it would be great if we could have just as limited difficulties with France or Denmark - and is it not inevitable that we should and will find ways of living more comfortably with our close neighbours. Given more time, we should reach the same accommodations with our more distant neighbours in Africa and Asia.
I fully expect that these ideas will annoy many, but I really look forward to a time when I do not need my passport to fly into Italy and back into the UK, as I had to do last week, when catching a plane can be a little more like catching a train. I don't look forward to a time when the number of languages will decrease, in the way that local languages, dialects and accents of the UK have decreased in number. It will be good to remember historic and traditional rivalries such as in the Roses Cricket Match. I was very heartened to see a reference in an Italian newspaper last week to a 'Derby' match on its back page (I have no idea between which clubs, anymore than they probably knew the origin of the expression in one of the lesser known provincial towns of England). That gave me real hope of friendly cultural convergence. Remarkably one of our Italian couriers spoke not only excellent English, French, German etc but also had quite a smattering of Welsh.
At one time the Western world was united as Christendom. This split at the time of the great Christian Schism into the western (Roman Catholic) world looking to Rome and the eastern (Orthodox) world looking to Constantinople (Byzantium/Istanbul). This all broke up in early modern times into our nation states with limited, if any - eg in England - loyalties to anyone outside our own borders. Hopefully, we are now seeing a re-convergence of our cultures, based on Christian morals (a recent Daily Telegraph poll found that about 80% of Muslim and Hindu people in the UK wanted our laws to be based on Christian morality, compared remarkably with only 70 % of Christians with the same wish).
As a Christian, I want others to find the love of God that I have found. But it is possible to subscribe to basic Christian values (and many do) without being a Christian - and those values are substantially the same in all the great religions. Those values involve respect for one's fellows and generosity of spirit in dealing with them. Whatever one may think, those values do underpin all our laws (including taxation and road traffic laws and regulations!) We are lucky to live in a country and, increasingly, a Continent and even a Hemisphere that increasingly holds such values and tries to put them into effect.
Licensed Lay Minister