Farewell to Choristers
A sermon by Canon Anna Macham, Precentor
Sunday 17 July, the Fifth Sunday after Trinity
A recent book about the history of music in the twentieth century, The Rest is Noise by Alex Ross, begins with a story about George Gershwin, the creator of Rhapsody in Blue, touring Europe in the Spring of 1928, where he met the leading composers of the day. In Vienna, he called at the home of Alban Berg, whose blood-soaked, dissonant, sublimely dark opera Wozzeck had had its premiere in Berlin three years earlier. To welcome his American visitor, Berg arranged for a string quartet to perform his Lyric Suite, in which Viennese lyricism was refined into something like a dangerous narcotic.
Gershwin then went to the piano to play some of his songs. He hesitated. Berg’s work had left him awestruck. Were his own pieces worthy of these murky, opulent surroundings? Berg looked at him sternly and said, “Mr Gershwin, music is music”.
What he meant, of course, is that, although taste in music is very individual- what delights one person gives headaches to another- all music is powerful. It moves us. Whatever the type, popular or esoteric, modern or ancient, whether we react positively or negatively, these things are in a way superficial. Music has its own capacity to evoke a response. Music, in that sense, is music. Naturally we will have differences of opinion. But today, the last day of our choir’s year, as we look back over the past year and the many services and events that have taken place here in the Cathedral, we can see how music- in all its variety- has moved people and helped them to give voice to thoughts and feelings close to their hearts; it has had a key role in shaping and giving expression to the worship of God’s people.
Music creates moods; it evokes memories and images; it unites people. And those of us who have shared in the highlights of the past year- the Girl Choristers’ 30th anniversary concert, Monteverdi Vespers and Messiah, the first Darkness to Light in 3 years, and the Southern Cathedrals Festival that we’ve hosted here over these past few days, to name but a few- these, along with many others, are things that we will all remember. As Rosie, Alice, Zeeshan, Isabel, Charlie, Ollie and Emma leave the choir today, they will take with them their own memories, of particular things they’ve enjoyed during their time here, or favourite pieces they’ve sung; these are experiences that will always stay with them. But these experiences are not just personal. They are shared, not only with friends, but with all the various people who have come here and benefitted, who have taken part in this corporate offering of ourselves and our worship to God.