September Diary

Thurifer shares some thoughts

Thomas Trotter has been the Birmingham City Organist since 1983, succeeding the legendary George Thalben-Ball. He gives lunchtime recitals in the Town Hall or Symphony Hall once a fortnight from October to July. The admission fee is modest, the repertoire is extensive, and performance is never less than excellent. It is a rare survivor of a civic commitment to the arts in general and music in particular. These positions remain a feature in some cities, particularly in the North. There is an extensive programme of organ recitals throughout the country, in cathedrals, colleges, galleries and concert halls, and those who subscribe to Steve Smith’s weekly Recital Diary can obtain details. It is an excellent and comprehensive service. See recitaldiary@cdmnet.org for further details.

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Sir Thomas Beecham once commented that the British public knew nothing about music but liked the sound it made. I am among that multitude. I may not know much about music but I know what I like and don’t like. I have an aversion to certain musical instruments: the flute (unhappy liturgical experiences at my theological college), accordion, and guitar, both acoustic and electric. Aware of that prejudice, I recently attended a series of lectures on the history of the guitar by Professor Christopher Page. ‘The Guitar in England from Henry VIII to Samuel Pepys’ was, to this prejudiced neophyte, both absorbing and revelatory. They may not have overcome my animus against the instrument, but it is better informed. The lectures were given under the auspices of Gresham College, an entirely beneficent organization and the result of disinterested philanthropy by merchant and financier Sir Thomas Gresham (c.1519–1579). The lectures on a variety of subjects—religion, science, technology, the arts, literature, politics—are one of the advantages of living in London, but all can have access as they can be found on the web, sometimes by live streaming. Highly recommended: www.gresham.ac.uk

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Clerical vesture in films, on television and on stage is often a source of irritation. I spotted a particularly egregious one while sampling ITV Encore’s Maigret (1992/3), starring Michael Gambon. Maigret attended the ‘First Mass of All Souls’ (after which he found a dead body in a pew) at which the ‘celebrant’ wore a green dalmatic. Whoever was responsible (costumiers? production staff?) simply had not tried. Most commonly it is a biretta worn the wrong way around. A recent example is in the otherwise laudable film The Happy Prince. A priest acquaintance once advised a company making a murder mystery partly set in an Anglican theological college. He gave what help he could, answered questions he was asked. A few weeks later he had a telephone call from the production designer, and was told that a life-size statue of the Sacred Heart had turned up and asked whether or not it would be appropriate in an Anglican seminary. ‘Only in an ordinand’s room, and only in one seminary’ was my friend’s answer. No prizes for guessing which college.

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In the same college a seminarian, now a distinguished academic, author and theologian, was disturbed in his revision for Finals by one of his fellows noisily searching for a library book. In the midst of a sustained, wittily scathing tirade he told the hapless offender: ‘Don’t stand there simpering like some middle-distance Comper cherub.’

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Political junkies struggling on a Church of England pension, and those who enjoyed his previous book on the Referendum in 2016, will be grateful that Tim Shipman’s book on the 2017 General Election is now available in paperback (Fall Out: A Year of Political Mayhem, Collins, £9.99). If, as the commonplace has it, journalism is the first draft of history, this book bears it out. Bolstered by a range of sources it is not without human sympathy for the motley crew it anatomizes. Anyone with a couple of brain cells to rub together knows the background, the twists and turns, the catastrophic mistakes, the misplaced confidences, the betrayals, lies, melt-downs, the bathos and the pathos, but there is still excitement to be had and surprises to enjoy in the book. Human failings and frailties abound in this sorry tale that lacks heroes but has many villains. This is not a tale nor a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions—it is at best tragical-comical—but it revives that once estimable theatrical genre the ‘Whitehall farce.’

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People-watching can be an occupational hazard. Occasionally, amidst the dreary sartorial dross gold can be found. He was middle-aged, wearing an impeccably cut three-piece suit, a silver chain and fob to his pocket watch, a Tattersall shirt with Guards’ tie. His were trendier than traditional brogues. He sported a moustache, twirled at the ends, probably not waxed. My initial instinct was ‘an officer and gentlemen, perfectly kitted out’ (apart from the shoes). This was immediately followed by ‘officer or mountebank?’ Perhaps he was on his way to inveigle himself into the affections and fleece some elderly lavender-scented spinster or bachelor eking out a lonely existence in some elegant, fading Georgian terrace in the People’s Republic of Islington (props Mr Corbyn and Lady Nugee), on a modest income from some long-established but now declining family trust. A cad and a bounder, or worse, from the pages of some Thirties or post-War crime fiction. Less a gentleman than a cliché.

Thurifer

2018-10-23T13:50:22+00:00 September 2018 Articles|