Advent by Candlelight
So we gathered at Advent to enjoy a sequence of largely unfamiliar choral music and appropriate readings (wise and humorous). Both music and readings may follow a theme. Ian de Massini and Cambridge Voices bring a scholastic flavour to these dark afternoon gatherings. The singers emphasize the clear, dramatic presentation of the music and words - none of that velvety ecclesiastical chanting on the sound system at Vezelay. They are singing for us and on our behalf:
O Emmanuel, our King and law-giver,
That long-expected Saviour of the world;
Come and save us, Lord and Master. Amen.
The programme offers a jostling of concepts: serenity with silliness, the sacred with the ironic. This is something we all secretly want. The contrasts are entertaining, the last word of a reading bringing attention to the first words of a hymn. An hour and a half of serious music and sacred texts might make some uneasy; others might be driven away by the prospect of an unrelenting approach to the liturgy.
Having paid the £6 admission (no collection this year) overcoats, hats, car-keys and programmes organise themselves gradually to a silence or a low rustling. Ian has decreed a meditative prelude (no chatter-hiding organ voluntary) so we keep the whispered greetings to a minimum and concentrate instead on who is sitting where, with whom, or on this novel experience of filling these churches to capacity in the way they used to be filled.
Hilary Sage starts the proceedings with a reading which immediately reminds us that adults and children can be addressed equally, and even before the music starts, we sense the acoustic space, and growing accustomed to the candlelight, settle down. In this hesitating light which vibrates from dark corners of the church we feel the edges of things blurring. It is as if only in this way the music and words can penetrate, that in this darker place the meaning can hover. We donÕt understand fully what this music means or the words - especially Edwin Muir or St Paul - but we may catch the rhythm, a sonority, the rhyme or a phrase. Living between dark and light we become conduits, briefly, for excellence, humour and perhaps understanding.