Janet (j4) wrote,

Beating time

On Friday afternoon I sang in a funeral service -- a slightly odd use of a long "lunch-break" but they were desperately short of choristers, so I volunteered (and should in fact at some point get paid for it).

To be honest, the rehearsal was a fairly frustrating experience; everybody was joking and messing about, and several times I had to bite my lip and refrain from shouting "Can you all please concentrate so we can get this piece learnt? I am giving up my lunchbreak for this!" -- but this is what I get for singing with students, and in the end we got the anthem (a setting of the Nunc Dimittis by Orlando Gibbons) sounding really quite good.

I've already ranted about the dress sense of the choir as a whole in a similar context; this time we managed to get nearly everybody wearing black. One notable exception was D, who turned up in a blue shirt over a green t-shirt -- fair enough, I thought, looking down at my own blue t-shirt; she'll change in the half-hour between rehearsal and service, like me. (After nearly two decades of singing in choirs and playing in orchestras, I can change from casuals to concert gear in approximately 2 minutes, in a space the size of a stationery cupboard, like some kind of rather mundane and middle-class Superman.) As we waited in the JCR, I asked her (trying to avoid sounding like I was nagging), "Are you going to get changed?"

"Er... no," she replied.
"Um. Don't you have anything black?"
"We-ell... I've got a black jumper, but Nick's got it, and he was going to stick it in my pigeonhole this morning, but he forgot."
"Don't you have anything else?"
"Er, no, not really."

How difficult can it be to borrow a single item of black clothing? In the end I lent her my black cardigan, which I'd brought in case it was cold in the chapel, persuading her that really, it would look better if she took the blue shirt off so that its collar wasn't sticking out from under the surplice, and just wore the cardy over the green t-shirt. We also managed to persuade S to take off his novelty cartoon-character tie ("But it is black!" he protested, and indeed it was, but only as the background to the garish colours), but I didn't dare challenge C over her polka-dot headband, because she's bigger and meaner than me ... and I only noticed as we went into chapel that she was wearing scarlet shoes.

Sure, she and D both looked great in their clothes, far more stylish than I did in my plain black jersey dress and black mary-janes (all smart, but certainly not stunning), but -- surely it doesn't even need saying? -- a stranger's funeral service is not the time or the place for a fashion show. I feel like such a grumpy old woman, but really, I don't remember ever being so ignorant (except wilfully, as a sixth-former) of issues of register, of dressing appropriately. My family wasn't particularly pernickety about how to dress, but there were things which one wore for home, and things which one wore for school (admittedly, for many years that was school uniform, so not a difficult decision), and things which one wore for parties, and things which one didn't wear to visit one's grandparents.

But back to the funeral. The organ scholar gave us last-minute instructions for the service: when to bow, when to sit, when to stand. "And remember, be respectful in the antechapel," he concluded. C (she of the polka-dots and scarlet shoes) looked somewhere between contemptuous and baffled. "Respectful?" she said, eyebrows raised, half-laughing, half-sneering. "He means not giggling, like we all usually do," I said, unable to disguise my irritation. She rolled her eyes at me.

Later, in the antechapel, they all chattered away, mostly sotto voce, with the exception of me (standing quietly, trying to smooth my scowl into an expression of dignified regret) and B (standing quietly, looking nervous). I raised an eyebrow at him, and he gave a flicker of an expression somewhere between amusement and resignation. He's sung in cathedral choirs, and he knows the drill. You okay? our eyes said, and Yeah, just a bit nervous, they replyed, and Never mind, it'll all be over soon. A twitch of an eyebrow, a quirk of the lip, nothing more. There's a time to be nervous, and that's it, in the last ten minutes before the performance; then there's a time to Just Go Out There And Perform to the best of your abilities.

Just then, somebody made the mistake of telling C something funny, and she laughed, with a squawk like a cockatiel.

"Shhh!" said the chaplain, and at least two members of the choir.
"This is me being quiet," she stage-whispered, with a sulky pout.
"C, just imagine it's the night before Christmas," said E, trying to smooth things over.

Imagine it's somebody you know that's just died, I thought (but didn't say).

There's a time and a place for messing about, and this is not it, I also thought (but also didn't say), as we processed in, bowed to the altar, and took our places. I am not a quiet person, but even I (though addedentry might not believe it) can shut up for 10 minutes when required; and yet I feel as though I am speaking a foreign language when I try to explain to these teenagers why any sort of discipline -- and we're not talking about some kind of boot camp, we're not talking about arbitary and abusive rules that take away their right to self-expression; we're talking about wearing something decent and being quiet for a few minutes -- might be required of them, might be behovely.

I am speaking a foreign language, and as the reading was given in the service, I observed two things: first, that somebody else had already said, far better, what I was trying to say; and second, that the people who could most usefully learn from it were not listening:
To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:

A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;

A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;

A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;

A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;

A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;

A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.
I kept my hands folded, and avoided catching anybody's eye, and sang when it was required, and stayed silent, still, and at least outwardly attentive the rest of the time, composing bits of this post in my head, musing on dignity and discipline.

And it occurs to me, a fleeting half-thought somewhere between standing and kneeling and sitting and singing: it's not a restriction, it's a release. But that's not something I can teach, so I let the thought go, silently offering it up in lieu of a prayer.

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