Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Well, well!

For just about the first time in my existence, I seem to have been ahead of events. A mere senight ago I remarked on the ferocious intelligence and lightening button-pressing of the captain of the Corpus Christi team on the television quiz show, University Challenge. And this morning - after her triumph in the competition yesterday evening - she is being feted as possibly the cleverest woman in Britain. Well, you heard it here first.

Interestingly, even Mr Paxman seems to have warmed to the young woman's charms. And the announcer-wallah's tone rose audibly as he fairly screamed the girl's name - "Corpus Christi Trimble!" - every time she won her starter for ten. And what a pleasant, modest, demure and - yes, intelligent - young woman she appears to be. Dear God, when I survey some of the half-dressed, extravagently-coiffured and utterly ignorant young ladies I have the misfortune to instruct in singing on a weekly basis, I despair. With their gum-chewing, tongue-piercing, high-heel clicking, bovine yeah-whatevah-ing manner one could be forgiven for assuming that the female youth of this city had emerged as a result of some rather unfortunate genetic experiment. A failed genetic experiment, at that.

So let us laud and magnify the fair Gail as she and her team emerge in triumph from the lair of the dragon Paxman. Let peals be rung, let poets (Laura - are you 'on your marks'?) write heroic odes and let choirs sing. In tune. And with the beat. And something that's worth singing.

Well, there has to be a first time for everything.

Monday, 16 February 2009

University Challenge

I have, again, wasted thirty minutes which could usefully have been spent financially-assisting the landlord of Ye Olde Wisdom of Solomon watching the most ridiculous so-called quiz on British, nay, world television. Whoever conceived of the nonsense of gathering teams of university students together and asking them the most arcane so-called general knowledge questions ought to be subject to a solo half-hour grilling from the archbishop of arrogance himself, Mr Jeremy Paxman. And then taken out and shot.

Fortunately, next on the moving television machine is that most erudite of shows, the Book Quiz (which I can now receive thanks to the donation of something called a set-top free-to-air receiving machine from one of the choral scholars). Ah, questions about books, and poets, and thing that matter rather than the number of digits with a common initial letter or the value of 'x' if p is equal to the square root of 7 and the score at half-time was 0-0. I mean. What possible use can such knowledge ever be? And even if it has some practical application in a dark and dismal corner of human endeavour, it should stay firmly hidden and not paraded on the television screen for all to see.

And another thing. Half the bloody teams are Irish! Who keeps letting Jonny Foreigner take up valuable space in our most hallowed groves of academe, for goodness sake? I'll tell you who. Bloody money-grabbing vice-chancellors. I am particular bitter about this at the present time, as we have had 'foisted' upon us by the Prime Minister a recently-retired university vice-chancellor as Dean-elect of this cathedral. So, expect an influx of Gaelic clergy and musicians, doing unto us what they have so successfully done to English seats of learning everywhere. Thankfully, at least a nice English team from my own alma mater - Oxford - won this evening's competition. And captained by a lovely little girl with more than a hint of the young Felicia. And, my word, is she hot on the button! I shall no doubt tune in next Monday evening to see how she gets on. But in the meantime, I have an urgent financial bail-out plan to execute at the pub. Toodle-pip!

Tuesday, 10 February 2009


Of course, when I questioned the necessity of choral conductors in my last posting on this site, I was referring specifically to our own rather talentless DoM. There may be others of that ilk who perform their duties without the histrionics, without the flailing of arms and jangling of song-school keys, without the scowls and the tut-tuts, and most importantly of all, without the complete and utter obfuscation and annoyance of the singers, who are worthy of that title (although I'm bound to say I haven't met many, and in my humble and unsolicited opinion the vast majority are no more than charlatans, poseurs and megalomaniacs, but there we are).

Consider just a few examples:
Mr Harry Christophers, conductor of 'The Sixteen'.
When not swishing his crimped coiffure from side to side, this chap seems to regard conducting as a series of arm-swirling whooshes, rather in the manner of those Chinese dancer-chappies with their ribbons. No wonder members of his choir don't look at him. But then, he doesn't know that. His eyes are always closed.
Mr Stephen Aloysius Cleobury.
Another whirling dervish of a choir director, although of necessity rather more retrained than Mr Christopher. And why does he look so bloomin' miserable? The man has the cream of English choral youth at his disposal (not to mention the English clergy) and yet his lugubrious expression and drooping jowls give the impression of someone trying desperately hard to stay awake, or at least hold back the tears. And we are not, gentle reader, referring here to tears of joy.
Dr Philip Moore.
Actually, Philip Moore is alright. But what of that other chap, John Scott-Whitling? Has anyone ever looked so uncomfortable conducting? Actually, yes - our DoM (who must remain nameless) but enough of him. It seems to be that Richard Scott-Whiteley should remain in the organ-loft, along with the rest of them. Apart, maybe, from one.
Rodney. Ah, dear Rodney. I told you that my comments weren't a blanket condemnation of the entire profession. Rodney, Rodney, Rodney. Latent homosexual, snooker fan and conductor - par excellence - of the Wilchester Choral Society. Rodney knows how to wield a baton! And I would, of course, be honoured to be following his beat in their next performance - of Vaughan-Williams Sea Symphony. Now that takes some conducting skill.

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

A spot of Bother

First of all, my thanks to all of you for your for your recent good wishes. My voice is now 'in the pink' as-it-were, and I am fully functioning in my duties as cathedral musician. Which is a good job really, as getting hold of deputies (many of whom live several miles away) in the recent inclement weather would have been a real problem. In fact, the snow even created problems for the regulars, myself included. What? I hear you cry. But you live within spitting distance on the great west doors, do you not? Indeed I do, dear reader, but I also occupy a basement flat, accessed by a small flight of ancient stone steps, and the subterranean space which makes up my front entrance was buried up to a depth of several feet when I awoke on Tuesday morning!

Oh yes, we have certainly 'had the snow' here in Wilchester. But did we close the cathedral? Did we cancel evensong? Did we fail to 'show up' for work? Actually, several of us did. Drane telephoned on Tuesday morning to insist that he would be incapable of turning up that evening, the boy was clearly 'holed up' somewhere with some girl or other (his flat was empty, and his car-parking space unoccupied) and even Rodney cried off, citing some concern over his aged mother. All of which was grist to my mill, as it meant I got the bass solos. We did Stanford in G, too! So you see, every cloud has a silver lining (even though the DoM was in a foul mood having been forced from his usual prancing perch before the choir to the anonymity of the organ loft. We seniors (dec and can) conducted - in as much as any of us needed it - and the effect was a considerable improvement on the norm, though I do say so myself. Well, there we are. A conductor-less choir. No more than some of us were used to in days of yore. In fact, talking of silver linings, it is my fervent hope that this credit recession will finally persuade the Dean and Chapter to see sense and dispense totally with the Director of Music. As long as there is somebody to play the organ, and others of us to sing, what possible use is there for somebody to wave his arms about and distract everybody? And given the rather high proportion of wrong notes evident at evensong on Tuesday, it would not be our young and talented assistant who would 'get the boot', but our older and rather more expensive Director of all things Musical who would 'cop it'. In fact, I feel duty-bound to suggest it to the Dean, in my capacity as Senior Lay-Clerk. And I shall 'keep you posted' as to the outcome.

In other news someone - apropos my last post - wants to know how virgins can be purified. (All I can say is, try finding one these days! They're hardly an abundant commodity here, even in the serried ranks of the cathedral girls choir, by all account. But then, the assistant organist has probably taken personal responsibility for that.) Anyway, where were we? Ah yes, Candlemas! First, the name comes literally from the 'blessing of candles' which took place on that date; second, the purification of the BVM refers to her ritual cleansing after childbirth (of course); and the third name for the festival - presentation of Christ in the temple - refers, quite obviously, to the presentation of Christ in the temple. Any other small doctrinal matters anyone wants explaining?