|Birth To Glory or maybe the nearly not We'll All Be There.|
Of course I am talking of the 54th London Festival, a relatively new experience for me, only the fifth that I have heard, but already there is a sense of knowing, a mistake on this occasion. It all started in the usual way, defeating the transport system into London, never an easy experience, with no satisfaction of achievement, then you are exploded into this melee of Oxford Street. Depositing my husband I ventured forth to the shops, as many of the wives do. I am sure this is often a distraction to the men as to how much their wives will be enjoying the experience. Of course for some it is the worry of how to react to the items purchased, very distracting. You return to the haven that is The Salvation Army where your real understanding of the festival materialises, the women have a real sense of fellowship as acquaintances are renewed. As it should be for their husbands have attended for fifty years and so have they, how the bank balance has suffered over the years.
Suddenly everything changed the men came out of the hall, an hour and a half early! Everyone was disturbed, some wives had not returned and I will leave it to your imagination as to what frame of mind their husbands were in, maybe panic at the spending or concern about them. Was it this or the wisdom of others that made us aware that things had been changed! I hope that I was not alone in expecting it to be the same.
As the men went to pray the women took their seats and the evening really began. All around me I heard the woman discussing which hymns they knew and pointing out people. Added in were comments on The Millionheirs, how much they had enjoyed previous performances and how they were formed, far more informative than any programme. Then the music started and the men came on to the stage and soon the humming began, rapidly this developed into singing from both the men and the congregation. The sound produced was wonderful it seemed to exude joy and celebration, not something that is normally experienced during community singing. In fact when the conductor rose to direct us, some of the magic disappeared more attention to detail and less to personal motivation.
The festival had begun and the sound was uplifting, the music chosen was inspired. As the hymns were sung we were moved as so many forms of music were experienced. Even with so many men present my ears heard barber shop in "Why do I sing about Jesus?" and reminiscences of College singing in old American movies when they sang "In my heart there rings a melody" Obviously there was too much to comment on individually but the atmosphere in the hall was lifted by each piece. How could the guests compete, I need not have worried they were everything that the people around me said. They sang with passion and conviction even if they did have eight mikes.
The music that surrounded the speaker was definitely affected by his words. Before Peter Cotterell spoke, the choir sang "O Love that will not let me go". Always a powerful hymn but these men made it bounce off the walls with the fullness of their singing. As Peter Cotterell started to speak I was amazed by the constant comments of agreement that surrounded me. It may have been something to do with the fact he talked of the change in the world from yester-year. He commented on those differences that so jar with Christianity. Encouraging a more positive approach to Christianity he said the following, when faced with entering freezing water you can either do it death by inches or dive in head first. His words more adequately explained his point of view than mine could. For him the word must be spread because he believes that society is not rejecting Jesus just ignoring him.
Is it any surprise that the choir replied with passion with the Battle hymn, the swelling deep throat sound of a welsh choir swelled throughout the hall. By contrast their rendition of "Love Divine" could only be described as beautiful, an opinion that was shared by others around me. Then it was all over, but no one moved, why you ask. Then he bounded on the stage and explained that even though the festival had overrun he had been told he would be hung drawn and quartered if the choir did not sing "We'll be there". The hall erupted in anticipation, the men rose and without rehearsal or words they gave the best performance that I have ever heard. Now it was truly over.