Janet (j4) wrote,
Janet
j4

Devices and desires

Yesterday was my first full choral evensong with Peterhouse choir. (There was a shorter evening service on Thursday, with no sermon, no hymns, and only spoken responses.)

It's amazing what the body remembers. The walk, measured and dignified but not too slow, for processing and recessing ("For a proper Anglican procession, you should walk as if you're holding a 10p piece between your buttocks," a particularly camp organ scholar once told me, and I wish I could lose the memory, but I remember him and his lurid Warhol waistcoat every time I walk in and out of chapel); the bow to the altar at the beginning and end of the service. The standing, the sitting, the half-kneeling. The constant awareness, without self-consciousness, of where the body is and what it's doing.

The brain remembers too, though with singing and speaking it's a fine line between mental memory and muscle memory: the whole of Tallis's If ye love me, for which I only realise halfway through that I've not needed to look at the music, though the miracle there is that I've not sung the tenor part by accident; the arcana of Anglican chant; the Apostles' creed; the collects, which are buried somewhere deep enough in the brain that the shivers along my arms at the Lighten our darkness catch me by surprise.

I remember the general confession that we have left undone those things which we ought to have done, and we have done those things which we ought not to have done, and how the simple phrases cut through the modern language of stress and faff and guilt and angst like a knife, like a flaming sword.

What I had forgotten, though, was the pace, and the peace; the way each word is weighed and set in place; the solemn gravity of the dance. There is space for contemplation, or for merciful release from contemplation; there is fragile, precious space between people and words and notes like the inch of air between the flame and the glass. Inside the chapel time slows down, falling like flecks of dust through the candlelit shadows. Even the flurries of activity are quiet: the choir creaks and scurries its way up and down the stairs to the organ loft, depositing bags and coats and folders out of sight; the Master and the Chaplain walk swiftly past, gowns swirling and billowing through the small doorway as the choir rustles into white surplices, fluttering in the gathering dark like wings outside a window.
Tags: music, space, the still point
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