A guest blog by Alan Mitchell, Chair of Rochester RSCM
OK, I’m a slow learner. I must have done Bach’s St John Passion at least a dozen times, but this Easter it struck me that the opening chorus isn’t from John’s Gospel at all –it’s Psalm 8. There’s Johann Sebastian, just arrived in Leipzig, and he wants to make a big impression with his first Good Friday Passion. How does he start? “Jesus went out with his disciples across the Kidron . . .“ No, let’s set the context with Psalm 8, verse 1, “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth” (Herr, unser Herrscher in Luther’s translation). Bach spins it out for a good seven or eight minutes.
I remember we also had Psalm 8 at Justin Welby’s enthronement as Archbishop. A setting by Walter Parratt. Not really in Bach’s league. Maybe OK if you have a cathedral choir to hand? But to be honest it’s just not going to work in St Pancras and St Mungo’s on a rainy Sunday morning. And it can be painful to try.
Never fear, help is at hand. RSCM Rochester is on the case – not just robed choirs any more, we’ll support everything from worship bands to Monteverdi on period instruments. Last year we ran a workshop with Graham Kendrick on psalm surfing – spontaneous singing on an improvised melody. And this year on 23 May we have Andrew Reid, the Director of the RSCM, who was a chorister in Otford, “coming home” to lead a workshop on how and why we should sing the psalms.
“The psalms recognise praise and worship of God as our highest duty and joy, soaring to the heights and plumbing the depths of human experience. Flexible in length, varied in style, broad in scope, rich in imagery, noble in language.”
Sounds like an enthusiast!
Andrew was previously Director of Music at Peterborough Cathedral and was assistant organist at both Westminster Abbey and Westminster Cathedral so he must have sung a few psalms in his time. He’s a very eloquent theologically-literate musician (or musically-literate theologian) so this should be a great event for clergy, lay ministers and musicians to come together. And if you’d like a chance to meet Andrew and quiz him on Bach or Parratt, please stay for a pub lunch in The Bull afterwards.
We might not manage verse 1 of Psalm 8 but I can guarantee it will be an event filled with singing.
Saturday 23 May 10.00 am – 1.00 pm, St Bartholomew’s, Otford, TN14 5PD
Contact Alan Mitchell: firstname.lastname@example.org / 07985 070734