There is always something different about every Argyll & the Isles Music Weekend and the Spring 2014 one held at Kinnoull on 16-18 May did not disappoint. First of all, many of the participants became aware, as they drove through or round Perth on Friday that there were lots of blue bunting, scarves etc visible. The non-football supporters among us had not realised that the following day was the Scottish Cup Final and the local team, St. Johnstone, was in it for the first time ever.
The following day, the town was so quiet as people were either in Glasgow at the Final or watching it on TV. However it was really heartening to see the whole town supporting its team, with a large video screen in the main street for shoppers to watch, and there was a real warm sense of community which we could identify with.
At Kinnoull itself, just under 50 musicians gathered from all corners of the Diocese – from Stornaway to Rothesay – and it was good to see many new faces among them. The fame of the weekends had clearly spread beyond Argyll & the Isles as we were joined by seminarian Emmanuel from Nigeria, who felt he had to experience a Pastoral Music weekend before he returned to Nigeria and then went on to Rome for the next stage of his studies.
As ever it was a hardworking weekend, with both revised and new music, and a certain amount of anticipation in the air in view of the recent announcement of Bishop Toal’s appointment to the Diocese of Motherwell. In his welcome, Fr. Hutson read out a text message from Bishop Joe, expressing his disappointment at being unable to join the participants, and his thanks for all they had done for the diocese during his time as Bishop.
Fr. Hutson reflected that the weekends had started with a rehearsal of music for Bishop Murray’s episcopal ordination and they had then expanded to cover development of repertoire for the liturgy which could be taken back to parishes. The talks, by a variety of presenters, had also developed and were now a significant part of the weekends, giving musicians background to the liturgy and their part in it. The social side too was so important for musicians in such a geographically widespread diocese.
The music learned or revised over the weekend included recent works such as the MacKillop Mass (Rose-Conlon), the sung General Intercessions from the Haas Mass for a New World, Gerry Fitzpatrick’s setting of Psalm 8, James Quinn’s “To God with Gladness Sing”, Dom Philip Gaisford’s “In the Quiet of the Evening” and Stephen Dean’s “May you Walk with Christ beside you”. More “venerable” pieces included “Ye Gates, Lift up your Heads” and Webbe’s setting of Regina Coeli, and there was a mix of new and old with Gerry Fitzpatrick’s setting of verses from Revelation, linked to Christus Vincit.
At Evening Prayer on Friday, Fr. Roddy Johnstone got everyone thinking with his challenge to us to think who it was we were praying to. He explained that for many Jews nature was seen as “the back of God” and he invited us to look at how well we were placed at Kinnoull to catch glimpses of the God of Life in nature. Over the next couple of days, we should get out and meet God.
(This invitation rebounded on him somewhat when Fr. Michael suggested that he should lead a walk next afternoon in the beautiful grounds of Kinnoull and give us the benefit of his experience from his former life as a forester. Onlookers the following day would have been somewhat bemused to see a group of church musicians out in the gardens examining the trees but it truly was a great experience and we did learn to recognise some of the wonders which exist right under our noses.)
On Saturday after Morning Prayer, Fr. Roddy gave another of his fascinating talks on the psalms, this time using Psalm 8 which had featured in the Morning Prayer. First of all he drew our attention to the superscription of the psalm “According to the Winepress”. For the early church the winepress was a reference to the church itself. Just as the winepress removed the externals of the grape and got down to the core of the fruit, so the church by prayer gets us down to the essence of who we are.
The psalm itself is odd in that it does not follow the format of other psalms. The first verses seem out of place with what follows, but the reference is to what makes human beings different – the power of speech. Linking to his comment the previous evening, he pointed out that the psalm looks towards nature – the back of God – for evidence of God, but it contains a paradox in that the psalmist wants God to be both “other”, totally different , but also here with us, to be transcendent but also immanent. It also recognises the transcendence in mankind, the paradox which is humanity.
At Mass later that morning, Mgr. Jamie invited us to recognise that the Gospel for the day was not one to understand but to experience. In the same way it is not enough to believe in the resurrection – we have to experience it and the new life it brings, and so to know Christ. To know Christ is to allow him to know us. As St. Teresa of Avila said, the most important journey is the one internally. We all need to go there and to clear out the clutter and find God there. God just “is” and is at the heart of our “being”. Quoting psalm 138, he said the experience of the resurrection is the recognition of the “wonder of our being”.
After the usual therapeutic break for visits to Perth town, and the afternoon rehearsals, Fr. David Connor gave the last of the talks, entitled simply “Joy!”. He started us off in the right frame of mind by referring to the recent Easter bulletin of a parish which shall be nameless but which invited parishioners to “sin joyfully”! Amazing the difference one missing letter can make, but it did brighten the day for many who read it.
Fr. David said he loved Easter, that joyful season, which produced so much evidence in parishes that there is still faith in our world. There is a view of Christians that we are boring and miserable but this is not the case. We are free and should show this to the world by our actions. He referred to Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium” where the Pope challenges us for not looking resurrected or redeemed.
The Kinnoull weekends, he said, were always known for their joyfulness. We need also to recognise the importance of our work for our parishes and we need to be adventurous as the Pope calls us to be in his Exhortation, to do something new. God’s word is unpredictable in its effects so we do not know the impact that our music ministry can have but we should be aware that music can touch people at their core.
He recalled his experience of Mass in Africa where there was real joy in spite of the poverty of the people. The Word of God enables us to keep joyful even in difficult days. It is up to us to spread the Good News. As St. Augustine said, “Sing Alleluia and keep on walking” on our way to the Kingdom.
As always, the musicians led the parish Mass on Sunday, putting into practice what they had learned over the weekend. Fr. Roddy, in the homily, invited everyone to recognise that singing lifts the heart – the idea of joy again. He reflected that many of the ideas expressed by Christ in the Gospel were not easy ones for people to take on board and Philip’s response was a very human one – “let us see”. However once we realise that we have been saved, then we can see in a new way and look at the world differently.
As we set off home from the weekend, we had a great deal to ponder, not just new music and how we would use it in our parishes but also new and challenging ideas from our speakers – a workout for minds and hearts, as well as voices!