Thursday, 18 December 2014

Not the Nine Lessons Three: Nativity Play

I got into a tiny bit of trouble yesterday by appearing to be rather snooty about choirboys and the excellent King's College Choir. But nothing could be further from the truth.

I'm all for musical excellence and the sound of a traditional choir can be - can be - one of the great joys of musical life. It can also, in the wrong hands, with the wrong voices, be rather painful. In fact, that goes for all singing from X-Factor wannabes to choristers-who-should-never-be.

I purport to be something of a singer myself and not just in the bath. In fact, I love the human voice with a passion. It is the greatest of instruments and I'm an evangelist for the social and medical benefits of singing as an activity.

So, for my third alternative carol (of nine) I thought I'd share an example of the kind of thing I mean. Here's the excellent Taverner Choir with a carol that comes all the way from Boston. (That's Boston, Mass, btw.)

The composer - William Billings - sounds to have been quite a character, described by an eighteenth-century contemporary as 'a singular man... short of one leg and with only one eye.' But let's not hold that against him. His wonderful carol, Methinks I See an Heavenly Host nicely encapsulates my personal belief that everyone can and should sing - but that they should wholeheartedly embrace whatever voice they've got and not try to 'sing' in a particular manner. (Think Hilda Ogden warbling while cleaning or indeed, most if not all contestant on the X-Factor!)

This is rustic, rough-and-ready and racy and about as far removed from the ethereal sound of King's, Cambridge as I can imagine. And it's magnificent.

And today's lesson is also about as far removed from King's as it can be: it's a short poem by Claire Bevan which might strike a chord with every parent of small children involved in the annual performance of primary school nativity plays...

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Not the Nine Lessons... Day Two!

Having dispensed with the traditional festive opening with such cavalier disregard yesterday, I've been feeling a twinge of guilt. But then, this is 'Not' the Nine Lessons, rather than the Nine Lessons themselves.

Nevertheless, for our second carol let's have Once in Royal, not sung by some posh pre-pubescent at one of our elite musical institutions but by Jethro Tull (aka Ian Anderson) from Blackpool.

And let's stay in the regions for today's lesson, the evergreen and evocative Child's Christmas in Wales, by Dylan Thomas.

The real Nine Lessons and Carols (that is, from King's College, Cambridge) has been broadcast by the BBC since 1928 and - thanks to the World Service - is heard by millions all over the globe.

I wonder what reach my little alternative is likely to achieve?

Click back again tomorrow to see what Day Three has to offer.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Not the Nine Lessons and Carols

I do love the Nine Lessons. It's really special. The live broadcast on Christmas Eve from King's College chapel always feels like the moment Christmas really begins. Those wonderful opening lines...

Beloved, be it this Christmas Eve our care and delight to prepare ourselves to hear again the message of the angels; in heart and mind to go even unto Bethlehem and see this thing which is come to pass, and the Babe lying in a manger.

And then, in the darkness, a lone chorister chosen (at King's) just moments earlier, pipes up with the first verse of Once in Royal David's City. It all seems so timeless, so eternal, immutable and beautiful.

In fact, the service as we know it is less than a century old. Using a sequence first devised at Truro cathedral in 1880, the new Dean of King's College, Cambridge, Eric Milner-White, planned the service for Christmas Eve 1918, having become convinced by his army service that the Church of England needed more imaginative worship. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Anyway, much as I love it there's an awful lot of lovely Christmas music and wonderfully evocative writing that doesn't feature, so I thought in the run-up to the big day I'd share my own 'nine lessons and carols' with the world, a sort of 'Not the Nine Lessons' if you like, but every bit as good. I hope.

Here, to begin at the beginning, and in the dim light of my imagination rather than the darkness of a distant college chapel, is a Christmas song by Michael Head, The Little Road to Bethlehem. My earliest Christmas memory of this beautiful little carol is of my mother singing it. Unfortunately, no recording of her doing so exists, so here's Sarah Walker standing in for her instead:

To follow, here's the first lesson from the Gospel according to one of my favourite authors, Laurie Lee. I challenge anyone to listen to this and not start to feel something of the true meaning of Christmas...

Join me tomorrow for number two!

Sunday, 14 December 2014

TV is Dead, Long Live TV!

Did I tell you we'd moved house? Sorry...

But one more thing that is worth discussing is a complete change to our telly-viewing. Gone are the (three? four?) TVs (I know, shameful isn't it) that used to stand (largely unwatched) in lounge, kitchen and a couple of the bedrooms (well, there were aerial points in every room and a clever distribution system for the signal!) to be replaced with one - yes, one TV plus...

My iPad.

Let me explain. Thanks to Talk Talk inviting me to become an ambassador for nine months, we've done away with Freeview, Sky+ and the rest and relied on their YouView box along with a TV Plus package. The beauty of this is that I can sign up for, say, a month's boost of Sky Sports or similar without having to subscribe for any longer. And it's cheaper. In fact, with what we save, I'm paying for fibre-optic broadband into the bargain. Which is where our telly-viewing comes in.

But not just ours, oh no! Apparently it's becoming more and more common to view TV this way, via PC or laptop or - more likely - tablet or even phone. According to Ofcom almost a million homes now have broadband but no telly, and BBC iPlayer requests from tablets or mobiles have risen from 25% to 47% in the past 18 months alone.

Of course, sitting on the sofa (or reclining in the bath or lying in bed) with you iPad requires a decent broadband connection. And I'm delighted to say that our Talk Talk fibre optic line has been a model of stability and speed. (They're not paying me to say that. I'm paying them for the privilege of having it. The ambassadorial programme doesn't extend to the fibre optic broadband, more's the pity!)

But I digress. Telly is now not so much a shared family activity as a rather fragmented - but much more discriminatory - individual experience. Gone are the days when we all sit round the big (or not so big... our main telly used to be a 28-inch cathode-ray-tube antique that my eldest complained you needed binoculars to see) TV being alternately bored, gripped, annoyed or enthralled by whatever family viewing option had been chosen. We no longer have to sit through stuff we don't want to see or watch what we want to watch when it's being broadcast, if that happens to be inconvenient.

It's a revolution, at least in our household. And - as someone who has often had a love-hate relationship with the telly, I'm a fan. Because I can see the day when we might actually be able to dispense with the box in the corner altogether.

TV is dead. Long live TV!

Friday, 12 December 2014

Pants on Fire!

What do you do when your children tell a fib?

Let's face it, they all do. And it's not always malicious. They're not always covering up for themselves. In fact there's a fine line between childhood fantasy/a healthy imagination and a propensity for porkies.

So what should we do about it? After all, we want our children to grow up as responsible, truth-telling individuals, don't we?

Well a recent study by MacGill University at least tells us what we shouldn't be doing. Don't tell Mary off for her mendacity; don't punish Pete for his perfidy! Because punishing kids for lying makes them lie more. Instead, gently persuade the little Pinnochios that telling the truth really is the best way.

But how?

Kant (Immanuel that is, German philosopher) knew how. He valued truth-telling so highly he argued that we should never, ever tell a lie. Even one, little, teensy, weeny, fib. Because once you did, you could from that moment never be certain of anything again. Ah but, what if...

Knock, knock, open up it's the Gestapo. 

Hello Officer, how many I help you?

Are you hiding any Jews in your attic?

Why yes, of course I am you evil NAZI thug, step right thus way...

See? Telling the truth all the time isn't always going to be easy. In fact, it can be downright difficult. Especially at this time of year. And not just for children.

So perhaps we parents should remember, next time we catch the kids out, that we don't always set the best example, do we?

Oh no, no, no!
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