Continuing the module on Religion and Music with Transition Year,
I used the song Stairway to Heaven by Led Zepplin as this had been
suggested by a student the previous week. Not sure how religious this
is - I'd never paid much attention to the lyrics before and they're rather
obscure, but with a few possible religious references included. In the
same class I also included God Bless the Artists by The Roches
(could be the theme song for Faitharts!) and Shot Down by Larry
Norman (an excellent version by Michael Anderson). The latter song tells
of the stick Larry Norman got from some Christians when he first started
mixing the gospel with rock music. Have yet to read over the students'
comments on the songs - will report back here soon. The songs can be sourced
on sites like iTunes and 7Digital, or streamed from We7, Grooveshark,
Eircom Music Hub etc
Earlier tonight I got to attend one of Liam Lawton's workshops on his
new Glandalough Mass, including settings that incorporate the new
Mass texts. The event was across the road in my local parish of Templerainey,
Arklow. I expected to observe but ended up singing in the men's section
- I think I got the hang of the melody lines, but as for the men's harmonies,
I was a slow learner! I thought the music was very appealing, from the
soulful Kyrie to the uptempo Glory to God. One of my favourites
was one of the proclamations of the mystery of faith, Save Us, Saviour
of the World. It was a great insight into the creative to hear Liam
outlining some of the reasons for various musical choices he had made.
I like his encouragement to choirs to sing only the melody lines for a
few weeks, so that congregations would get used to them, and not be put
off joining in by harmonies being introduced too early. The evening ended,
suitably, with a prayer, accompanied by piano player Mark who was effective
but unobtrusive for the whole workshop.
my first class with Transition Year last week and first off I'm doing
my module on religion and music. There's so much material out there,
but each year I like to rely on a combination old favourites and new material.
I lways find Amy Grant's version of What About the Love (by Janis
Ian and Kyle Fleming) goes down well. It has a powerful message and a
great final verse. I've added the song in video form on left above. When
Will We Ever Learn to Live in God, a Van Morrison/Cliff Richard duet
also went down, thank's I'd say to the catchy rhythm. A more challenging
song I tried was Now is the Time for Tears by Charlie Peacock from
the "Coram Deo" album (a brilliant music resource for RE). Most
if not all these songs are available on download or streaming sites like
iTunes, 7Digital, We7, Eircom Music Hub etc.
Today I came across a blog post "What's
the Problem with Christian Rock". I sympathise with some of what
the writer Marc Barnes is saying - - he thinks the average Christian Rock
song , as played by Christian radio stations is weak and imitative, not
worthy of its subject matter. But I still like Larry Norman, Mark Heard,
Randy Stonehill and early John Michael Talbot. These were always a cut
above the average anyway. Apart from the article, the follow up comments
are well worth reading for anyone with an interest in the area.
30/8/11 The Courageous Heart of Irena Sendler, a film shown on RTE
in the early hours of last Thursday, told the inspiring and true story
of a Catholic social worker in Nazi-occupied Warsaw who smuggled Jewish
children out of the ghetto to save them from deportation to extermination
camps. Anna Paquin, a former child actor who has made a fine transition
into adult roles, played Sendler, and was the emotional heart of the film.
While it lacked the dramatic intensity of Polanski's The Pianist,
one thing the film did well was to show the internal conflicts among the
Jews about whether they should let their children be looked after by Polish
families who would pretend the children were Catholic. Some couldn't let
go emotionally, some couldn't believe that the cultured Germans could
plan such a fate for the Jews, some feared their children might be converted,
though Sendler stressed that this wasn't her intention.
Though it was somewhat slow in developing the story in the early stages,
there were some heart-rending moments, especially when children were separated
from their parents, even to save them. There was an especially unsettling
scene as children were rounded up from the ghetto orphanages - they went
off singing as they thought they were going to a better place. The bleak
faces of the adults and Sendler's frustration told a different story.
atrocities were not that graphically portrayed, though the atmosphere
of fear was well conveyed. The worst sequence was the interrogation of
Sendler by the Gestapo.
As for specifically religious content, it was unobtrusive. The local priest
was seen helping Sendler, convents were seen to be hiding Jewish children,
was shown to the Jewish tradition - there was no intention to convert
the children, and Sendler kept records so that the children could, if
possible, be reunited with their own families after the war.
Scenes that would be useful in class include a Seder meal, a family discussion
on whether the children should be hidden with Christian families, an early
scene where some of Sendler's co-workers can't bring themselves to help
the Jews because of prejudice (see clip above, which also features other
useful scenes). A
Jewish community scene also discusses the issue of what to do with the
children and raises the difficult of lying to stay alive e.g. documents
are forged, Jewish children pretend to be Christian by learning to bless
themselves and say Christian prayers - mental reservation anyone?
As the film ends there's a touching addition where the real Sendler speaks
about the Jewish mothers who gave
up their children and the Christian mothers who risked their lives to
save them. She died in 2008 at the age of 98!
For more information on Irena Sendler, including educational resources,
go here: http://www.irenasendler.com/
I'm glad to say the arts figured strongly in the World Youth Day ceremonies
in Madrid last weekend. And fortunately it's possible to look back on
some of these events online. The music of the opening Mass on the Tuesday
and the closing Mass last Sunday was superb I thought - massed choirs
and orchestra, composed largely of young people. The Way of the Cross
last Friday wasn't as striking as that in Sydney three years ago, but
the scupltures used were quite striking. I liked what Pope Benedict said
about them: "In these images, faith and art combine so as to penetrate
our heart and summon us to conversion. When faith's gaze is pure and authentic,
beauty places itself at its service and is able to depict the mysteries
of our salvation in such a way as to move us profoundly and transform
our hearts". Ireland's Dana sang at one session, the band L'Angelus
from USA played a set at one of the venues as did John Angotti. You can
look back on some of these events at wydcentral, click here
and scroll down for the video archive.
On Monday of last week RTE broadcast the annual Eurovision Mass for
the Feast of the Assumption, this time from Fribourg in Switzerland.
I love Masses in French and the choral and orchestral music was fine as
expected, but the introduction was a pleasant surprise, with some background
information on the area, especially relating to religious artists whose
work featured during the ceremony. The area also hosts a museum of stained
glass, and we got to see people doing restoration work on these. During
the ceremony the camera often lingered on the beautiful windows in the
church. We got to see the artist Marcel Dorthe at work and one of his
artworks of Mary figured prominently in the coverage, as it was set up
in the church for the occasion. Well worth a look - at the time of writing
the programme is still available to view here.
Finally I get back to blogging. About two weeks ago I went to
see the L'Angelus sacred hymns concert in Carrig-on-Bannow as part
of the annual Phil Murphy Weekend. Great that this long-running summer
festival should include a faith element (there was also an Ó Riada
Mass). The group performed some old favourites from last year and some
new songs - including the haunting "Were You There" (clip on
left). For some songs they were joined by their mother Linda and little
brothers and sisters. The band kindly allowed me to film the event and
I hope to add some more songs soon - check out "faithartswebsite"
on YouTube, where there are also songs from last year's concert.
12/7/11 The Tree
of Life: director Terrence Malick specialises in reflective storylines,
interesting characters and stunning visuals. The Tree of Life includes
all these but the emphasis is not so much on plot this time, which makes
for challenging viewing. It's a long film (about 2 hours 20 mins), it's
episodic like a series of memories, the timeline isn't chronological,
the viewer will have to work hard to make sense of it at times, but I'd
say the patient, reflective viewer will find it rewarding. The plot, which
is only one aspect of this complex film, concerns a family in USA in the
1950's - the father (Brad Pitt) loves his wife (Jessica Chastain) and
children but is gruff and rather domineering. This causes problems for
his three sons, one of whom, Jack (Sean Penn) we see in his later adult
life, trying to find meaning. The film was most appealing to me in the
family life scenes, but these scenes are just fragments, only sometimes
approaching "normal" film style.
The acting throughout was superb - Pitt can be both appealing and off-putting
as the father, Chastain is the moral and emotional core of the film as
the mother, Sean Penn doesn't have a lot to do, while the child actors
are excellent, especially Hunter McCracken as the young Jack.
The visuals are beautiful - the camera lingers lovingly (boringly, I'm
sure some will say!) on water, skyscapes, sunflowers. These visuals are
accompanied subtly by light classical music, and overall the clarity of
the picture is exceptional - see it on Blu-Ray when it comes out on DVD!
There is a strong faith element, but it's more reflective than preachy.
The Book of Job figures strongly (the film starts with a quote
from the book) and a variety of prayers and scriptural quotations graces
the film. Some of the background music is religious as well - e.g. there's
a striking Agnus Dei at a particularly significant moment.
Big meaning of life questions are raised and answers are only hinted at.
The issue of human suffering is tackled, mainly through the efforts of
Jack to make sense of what he has learned about God and the world. The
father is a religious man, but it seems too much on the surface, while
with the mother it's a more internal thing. Her opening voiceover (clip
above), on what she has learned about the difference between nature and
grace is crucial to an understanding of the film's themes.
Needless to say I was wondering how this might be used in school. Certainly
I can't see myself showing the full film - I'd suspect students might
mitch to avoid it! But there are some useful clips - e.g. the opening
voiceover of the mother, a scene where young Jack is praying, a sermon
in church, a scene near the end that may be a representation of Heaven.
One could fault the film for its perfunctory plot, its overuse of lingering
pretty pictures, its excessive length,. Some critics have accused it of
being ponderous and pretentious (which I wouldn't agree with). Yet it
gives the impression that it was well thought out and that everything
is the way it is for a good reason. The one thing I'd be less inclined
to make allowances for is the difficulty at times of making out what the
characters are saying - what with the regional accents and the mumbling
and whispering. There's little enough dialogue, so I would have thought
it should be clearer. I'd be inclined to activate the subtitles when I
get the DVD.
The more I think about the film the more I find I want to see it again,
and that wasn't my first reaction. I think it's one of those films that
call for a second viewing - there's just too much to take in first time
to Italy on holidays last week, and I was struck more than ever
before about the how casually there's so much religious art around. Of
course you can get it in the museums and famous sites, but there was an
ambundance of it even in the smallest and most obscure churches you'd
stumble on. We were in the Lake Como area and the hillsides leading down
to the lake were dotted with little churches, monuments, monoasteries.
It wasn't always allowed to take photos, but I'm including here a pic
of a rather distinctive Baptismal font from a church in Bellagio. It might
be useful for projects/classes on Baptism - higher resolution version
available on request, along with one of the font on its own. There was
a painting of the Baptism of Jesus right above the font.