Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Friendship and psalms

salm
The Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights, from Upper Coll, Back, Isle of Lewis. September 2003. Photo courtesy www.johnmacleanphotography.com

When you have lived on your own for an extended period of time, as I have, it is always, um, interesting to share your space with another for a while, particularly when that space is limited. Having G stay with me over Christmas was at once a pleasure: catching up on news, opening presents on Christmas Day, cooking lunch, watching films on television, and generally enjoying each other's company; and a low-level challenge: sharing the bathroom, managing access to the kitchen, trying to balance our various individual requirements.

G and I met some thirteen years ago when we lived in the same building in West London. Since then she has moved out of town and I have moved south of the river, and I now only see her a couple of times a year, though we keep in touch on the telephone and via email. We have taken holidays together, in Italy and in Ireland, and are planning to do some longer distance travel in a few years time.

In some ways we are very different: she is an intellectual atheist, I'm a non-specific believer who never went to university. She has a history of serious political activism and I haven't. She is slow and meticulous, I am perpetually in a hurry, with my mind always galloping ahead. But there is that mysterious factor X that means we just like each other. There are similarities as well - we are both now single with less than happy romantic histories, and interested in travel, other cultures and languages. We both have analytical minds and understand each other's tendency to worry and obsess. Intimacy in relationships is an ongoing challenge for me and I am grateful to G that she is willing to hang in there. In time I may even tell her about this blog!

Part of G's Christmas present was Salm Vol I, a CD of traditional Gaelic psalm singing from the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. She attended a live performance recently and is now an enthusiast, lack of religious belief notwithstanding. It is an extraordinarily emotive and raw style of musical worship, quite new to me, where the precentor (or leader) leads with a line of the psalm and the congregation responds. Gaelic psalm singing has its own specific musical and spiritual tradition, but similarities exist between it and other types of world music. In the words of the sleeve notes:

"The style defies description with so much of the sound texture relying on the congregation's original response to the melody and the individual precentor's leading. The musical term is 'Free Heterephony' , and in the hands of the Gael this became quite different from the original. In some black congregations in Alabama and North Carolina, a similar style exists, where Hymns are used rather than Psalms. There are also striking similarities to be found for instance in the singing style of the Coptic Church of Ethiopia."

Salm Vol I is unaccompanied singing, not immediately tuneful and in a language I don't understand. One reviewer describes it as being "...like waves crashing against the walls of the church, washing the congregation in a sea of sound". I've been playing the CD practically non-stop since Christmas.

9 Comments:

Anonymous beth said...

This music sounds quite wonderful, Mary. Glad you had a good Christmas!

8:04 pm  
Blogger rdl said...

The music sounds interesting. My fav. xmas CD is the trans siberian orchestra. glad to hear you had a relaxing time.

11:29 pm  
Blogger Sonia said...

Mary, I like so much this post about friendship!

I would like to add three quotes about it:

Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born." - Anais Nin

"Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour. For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he fallen; for he had not another to help him up." - Ecclesiastes

"My best friend is the one who brings out the best in me." - Henry Ford

Wishing you a New Year filled with Joy, Love, Peace, Health and Friendship. Warm greetings from your friend Sonia.

1:53 pm  
Blogger MB said...

Extraordinary music. The other day I stood with my daughter and a friend and watched a flock of small birds wheel and turn to drive away a hawk. We stood amazed and wondering at the beauty of the collective movement. If that flock had been music, it would have sounded something like this.

It sounds like you have a good friend. :-)

7:05 pm  
Blogger zhoen said...

Oh, marvels and wonders. Thank you.


Have you ever read Eva Figes 'The Seven Ages'?

12:23 am  
Blogger Sonia said...

Me again, Mary.
Thanks for the links. I download the MP3 tracks and I love it!

2:06 am  
Blogger Mary said...

Beth: Thank you. Yes, Christmas was actually OK!

Rdl: The trans Siberian orchestra! I think I need to do some googling and find out more - the name is so intriguing.

Sonia: Lovely quotes, thank you so much for your kind wishes. And I'm glad you like the music!

MB: The flock of birds analogy is such a beautiful one. The music is just like that. Thank you.

Zhoenw: Marvels and wonders indeed. No Idon't know the book, but I did a quick check on it on Amazon and think I might have to read it now!

12:56 pm  
Anonymous John MacLean said...

A good post, and thanks for the website plug ;-)

1:03 pm  
Blogger Mary said...

John, hi. Thank you. Just discovered your comment - I'm not sure when you left it but really appreciate you dropping in. You have a great website!

2:44 pm  

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