This was the rather pretentious title of a concert I went to in Oxford, last time I was home. It was held in Christ Church Cathedral, featuring the choir of the same Cathedral.
I thought it best to make the most of the choral music while I could, since it is one of the specially English things I like and haven't really found it done anywhere else. I also like early music* and the programme promised Music from the Eton Choirbook with two works from the 15th century, so I was even organised enough to book a ticket in advance. Unfortunately the seat I got did not have a very view (hey it's music, what does that matter). Nevertheless, between the pillars I got an amusing view of the choristers in their red surplices, because the only two I could really see, were such a contrast: one, tall with blonde hair, old enough for his voice to be breaking soon, and the other, clearly half his size, Japanese, with a shock of black spiky hair; both of them singing soprano. Yet more cultural diversity.
The conductor's introductory remarks were also interesting. Mark Stevenson had himself been a chorister at Christ Church Cathedral and contrasted his own experience with complex modern music when he was young an, the more simple music he now preferred, with the complexity of the period just before Henry VIII came to the throne (when the music for the concert had been written) with the simplicity that came to church music with the Reformation.
Certainly the music was fabulous, in that rich polyphonic style also famous in Georgia (though I haven't heard any church music, only ordinary people singing traditional songs). In the interval I rushed out to get the CD.
I was more sceptical about the second half which promised to be modern. It was Howard Goodall's Eternal Light - A Requiem. At first, I was not impressed. The explanation that it was a combination of choral music and dance confused me. The Latin and English muddled me. But then I got drawn in: the single voice singing:
I have to believe
That you still exist
That you still watch me
That you still love me
I have to believe
That life has meaning
That I am useful here
That I make small differences
I have to believe
That I need to stay here
For some time,
That all this teaches me
So that I can meet you again
was just so beautiful in the church. Even apart from the religious meaning, there are so many other meanings as well: parents, work, lost lovers. I found the humility in "sometimes I make small differences somewhere" so moving.
The music continued with an arrangement of Lead Kindly Light which took me back to my hymn singing days as a child: my grandfather, a churchwarden, frequently sang hymns in our house and we children were all sent to church and Sunday school.
It followed with a Lachrymosa
Do not stand at my grave and cry
I am not there - I did not die.
And near the end, another single voice:
Drop, drop, slow tears
Drown all my faults and fears
Nor let his eye
See sin, but through my tears.
I was so moved I forgot to buy the CD. But then I'm not sure church music works well away from the church environment. Listening on an iPod in an aeroplane does not have the quiet still atmosphere of a church.
*While working in Kiev I discovered that early music there began with Purcell, who was unknown apparently. It was a bit disappointing to someone brought up thinking Purcell was, well not exactly modern, but certainly not meriting the title "early", when I was expecting something from maybe the 14th century.