Music

MUSIC

Music had never played a part in our upbringing hence none of us four had much to do with it at school – We all knew that we could not sing , only my brother Miles could.   I was encouraged to star t the piano at Gilling, but gave it up because I was not keen, and did not have enough time.  No fuss was made.  It was only when I was in the novitiate and Fr. Bruno began playing on the recorder that something began to awaken in me.   I asked permission to play , was given it, learnt a few tunes, and transferred to a clarinet when I entered the third years at the suggestion of Fr. Osmund who played the oboe.  I chose this after advice because ti was known that I did not hat a head or ear for music.  It was then I met Conrad Martin the school music teacher and he and his companion were to be friends for many years.   At Oxford I continued to play especially as i was stopped from games due to the threat of TB and having continued lessons in the Boosey and Hawkes music rooms, bought a B&H pair of Imperials before my Solemn profession and then I played in the Holywell Orchestra with more enthusiasm than competence.

On my return to Ampleforth I decided to start a wind quintet and was very fortunate to find boys interested as well as Fr. Anselm who was also a keen teacher of musical things with the boys.   The quintet was William Howard, oboe and piano, Richard Balme, horn, John MacDonald flute, James Rapp bassoon.  William went on to play professionally, James became a naval Admiral and had a TV series done on his ship.   When I saw him in this role, I noticed how all his mannerisms and ways of speaking had remained hte same from when he was with us.   We peaked with Mozart’s and Beethovens wind quintet slow movements, and we had other easier pieces which we played at Gilling,  Duncombe park, Thirsk primary school. We would got up to Rosedale to spend time with Conrad Martin who would coach us in our playing.  it I tried another quintet later on but it was not so successful. Once David Bowman had replaced  Mr. Dore a musical director, the standard and opportunities for music abounded. My quintet filled an empty  niche at the time.

I experimented with the oboe for two years because I knew I had reached a plateau with my clarinet and wanted a new sound.   I got it for a time but found that my ear was not good enough to play with anyone – you have to pitch an oboe with your mouth, which is less important with the clarinet.   However later I tried the trumpet, bought one with my holiday money and kept it at low level of competence  but it is especially enjoyable when playing hymn tunes.

These instruments transformed my awareness and enjoyment of music especially concertos.   Bach and Mozart became quite familiar friends and I found I knew them from the inside.

It was only with the experience of the new music of the Renewal that my ability to sing developed.   Gill Simpson took us for regular singing practice before the conferences at Hopwood and  the learning of new music became a feature of the all the renewal gatherings.   In the 1970s here was a musical revolution and outburst in the English speaking  Christian world.  The new Masses encouraged different music the pop scene included folk music of many different shades and forms.  The rock scene stimulated all kinds of new experiences and expressions.  I find that I could start some of the new choruses in prayer groups – indeed I found that music made an enormous difference to any size of prayer group because it broke ice, forced people do stretch out, be un-selfconscious and this was an excellent lead into prayer.  Of course it is one of the reasons why all religious services begin with music. but the new thing was that it does not need to be difficult nor accompanies to work.  It just has to be sung.  So I learnt a lot about many different forms of sacred music – almost  all of it from the Reformed tradition.  I learnt about choruses, about repetition, I came to appreciate Taize style, the single voice, and I became an encourager of different instruments.   I came to realise that musicians had taken control of church music and  patterned it on their own taste and competence.  They had thus created an elite music which disadvantaged the ordinary member of hte congregation.  Music that the Catholic musician would not dream of playing because it was naff, or emotional, or bad music often was where the ordinary congregation was at.  They had turned singing into an art from and thus robbed the ordinary Catholic of his heritage.    All this has to be nuanced slightly especially when dealing with Ampleforth worship on Sunday with 600 adolescents.  So it was only with the prayer group in the Concert Hall once a week in the 1970s that the new music entered Ampleforth – when this Mass topped in 1978 apart from the days of Renewal, the new music didn’t appear.  St. Edward’s house, purloining the Songs of the Spirit from the Days of Renewal (!) did continue to sing and use modern forms of music.

When I was at JH I pressed down this new route with the support of Fr. Henry.  I created a new hymn book with the Kevin Mayhew system and implanted into it copies of some of the Reformed tradition’s choruses.  But I also kept going with the traditional mostly Anglican hymns which worded.  Stimulated by a rather snooty review of a modern hymn book I jumped in to the Tablet letters page with a letter placing firmly the four aspects of good music for a congregation in order.  First he melody, then the words, then the suitability of the celebration and season, and finally the question of “good” music,  My “opponent” and I had a series of interesting and kindly letters before he died.  He was a convert who had studied hymnody all his life, rejoiced in the Ampleforth schola, and disagreed strongly and wonderfully gently with my way of thinking.  His life’s work had been to develop and extend the art form of hymn writing  and he was appalled at some of the words and music which were setting contemporary Christians alight.