Heaven on Earth: The Joy of A Capella Harmony Singing with The B Naturals

What is the greatest musical instrument of all?

I believe it is the human voice.

Nothing compares to the joy of a capella harmony singing – in perfect pitch, of course, and under the tuition of an inspirational musical director… or how about four musical directors, one for each voice part?

Recently I  took part in an Abba singing workshop led by the B Naturals, a fantastic A Cappella quartet.

The B Naturals - Abba Workshop in Leamington Spa 3 Nov 2018
The B Naturals – Abba Workshop in Leamington Spa 3 Nov 2018

We all gathered in a church hall in Leamington Spa and the group members, each taking on the task of training a different part – soprano, alto, tenor and bass – taught us four gorgeous Abba songs: Does Your Mother Know, Eagle, Name of the Game and SOS. When you sing Abba songs you realise how complex they are, and also how discerning and often very moving the lyrics are, relating to so many different life experiences.

The four workshop leaders – Nick Petts, Guy Wilson, Dave King and Jon Conway –  worked together, interweaving with each other as they taught the parts. What a joy it was, along with a great sense of accomplishment,  as we mastered the rich harmonies, and sang the songs all the way through.

As a singer who belongs to two very different local choirs – a traditional choir and a community choir – I have often marvelled at the precious gift of music in our lives. The experience of singing in harmony with others is pure joy and one of the nearest things to heaven I can possibly imagine.

This high spiritual quality of music was recognised by JRR Tolkien in his book The Silmarillion. This book sets out Tolkien’s created world, which grew with him throughout his life: the ancient drama to which characters in The Lord of the Rings look back. And it opens with The Music of the Ainur. He begins: There was Eru, the One, who in Arda is called Iluvatar: and he made first the Ainur, the Holy Ones, that were the offspring of his thought… propounding to them themes of music: and they sang before him, and he was glad….

Quite apart from the immense resources of classical choral music sung by traditional choirs, there is a vast repertoire of music suitable for arrangement for A Cappella Quartets and community choirs, and so many gifted composers and musicians who have created glorious music for us – the music of the Beach Boys, of Abba, of the Beatles among many, along with a wealth of songs of different types and genres from around the planet.

In the midst of a world where there is so much disharmony, tragedy and grief, let us uphold and celebrate one of the greatest and most spiritual gifts of all – joyous and uplifting music.

The Beatles, A Cry From the Heart, and a Curious Collection of Letters From Beatles Fans Full of Youthful Passion

Did you know my very first published work under the name of SC Skillman was a cry from the heart, in the form of a poem which appeared in print courtesy of The Beatles?

No?

A selection of Beatles Monthly Magazines from the 1960's
A selection of Beatles Monthly Magazines from the 1960’s

Here it is, a cry from the heart of a frustrated fan, as it first appeared in Beatles Monthly edition no. 64, testifying to my obsession with Paul McCartney and my shameless dedication to turning up at Paul’s House in St John’s Wood, London, in the hope of catching a glimpse of him. The poem is addressed to Johnny Dean, who was the editor of the Beatles Book.

How not to meet Paul, a poem by SC Skillman printed in the Beatles Monthly Magazine No. 64
How not to meet Paul, a poem by SC Skillman printed in the Beatles Monthly Magazine No. 64

Here is the transcript of the poem:

Dear Johnny,

This poem sums up what I feel at the moment!

HOW NOT TO MEET PAUL (BY, HOWEVER, AN OPTIMIST)

If I go to Paul’s house

He’ll either come back from Greece two hours after I’ve gone,

Or he’ll have just gone off to India.

Whenever Paul goes

To Regents Park or Hyde Park

He makes sure I’m not there.

Whenever Paul takes

Martha for a walk,

Before he does so, he

Makes sure Sheila Skillman isn’t outside.

And doesn’t get a chance of seeing him.

When Paul records at the EMI studios

He makes sure I’m not hanging around;

When I phone up the EMI studios,

It’s one of the secretary’s uncooperative days,

Or she doesn’t know, or

She’s got no idea, luv.

When Paul’s at the Apple offices,

he makes sure I’m not going to be in the vicinity,

And then decides it’s safe to turn up.

When the Beatles, ages ago went to Sevenoaks,

They made sure that

When they were driving up Court Road through Orpington,

S. Skillman wasn’t taking her dog for a walk

At the same time

(Because she lives just off there.)

In short, S. Skillman Has Ways Of Not Meeting Paul.

But don’t worry, she’ll do it one day.

Hope you like it

Yours,

Sheila Skillman.

There were, of course, usually many fans congregating outside Paul’s house, and I will admit I have had some fascinating conversations with people there. It’s also known that in the early days of his ownership of the house, Paul might often pop outside the front gate and get the fans to take his dog Martha for a walk, or do other tasks for him.

Nothing like that happened, alas, when I was there. But the poem I wrote about it, within the Beatles Monthly magazine no. 64, remains a part of Beatles folklore, and it forms part of my extensive collection of Beatles memorabilia, along with several other editions of the Beatles Monthly magazine.

I will always remember how I felt when I saw my poem had been printed. I first heard about it from Leslie, a friend of my parents, whose daughter Sarah was also a Beatles fan. Leslie said to me slyly one day, “I see you’ve flown into print, my dear.” I was surprised and didn’t know what he was talking about. He mentioned Sarah, and Beatles Monthly. Shortly afterwards I shot down the road to the newsagent, procured my copy, and began walking up the road. flipping through the magazine. I opened it to the letters page and saw my poem.  The feeling I had then may be compared to that of a first time novelist who gains their first contract of publication with a commercial publishing house. An over-the-top reaction perhaps… but that’s how I felt. I walked up the road to my home in a golden haze.

After this poem was published I received an extensive response from other Beatles fans/ readers of Beatles Monthly, based in the UK and the USA, of which these letters form a small part:

A selection of letters from Beatles fans responding to a poem by SC Skillman printed in Beatles Monthly magazine no. 64
A selection of letters from Beatles fans responding to a poem by SC Skillman printed in Beatles Monthly magazine no. 64

These responses were the equivalent to comments on a tweet or a blog post now.

I also began long pen pal correspondences with two of the writers from the USA and one of them sent me a ticket from the Beatles’ famous concert at Shea Stadium on 15 August 1965, as well as original prints of photos she’d taken of the Beatles; she later visited London and I had the pleasure of meeting up with her. Being American she was much more upfront than me and had met the Beatles and pushed herself forward on occasions when I would have hung back shyly in the background! Chrissy O’Brien, if you read this blog, it would be lovely to hear from you again!

The comments I received in some of these letters are given below:

I saw the letter you wrote… and I said to myself, Hey! There goes a girl with the kind of luck I have! Sort of a kindred spirit you might say (Delana from Detroit, Michigan)

In case you’re wondering how I got your name it was from Beatles Book 64 (how else?). Well at least Paul knows you exist, a privilege shared by few. (Graham, from Swanley, Kent)

I read your letter in Beatles Monthly and I entirely agree with you. When I go to see Paul he is never in. (Sue from Cricklewood, London NW2)

You seem to be enquiring how to meet Paul.. maybe I can help, if you care to write, as I have a telegram from Paul when I met him at London Airport in July 1965. (Brian from Orpington, Kent)

I know this is idiotic but… I just read your poem in Beatles Monthly. It was about Paul Boy. If only I could write  one to George like that!!! Enclosed is a photostat copy of a letter I received from Paul thanking me for my letter…. As you can see it isn’t much but it is Paul. And of course I wish it was George’s instead. Foul of me, I know.  (Sherry from Eugene, Oregon, USA)

I saw your name in Beatles Monthly so I thought I’d write to you… (Anna from California).

I became a member of the Official Beatles Fan Club a couple of years after it started, and included in my memorabilia collection you may find most of the Beatles’ original Christmas records for Fan Club members, all four Beatles’ autographs, an interesting collection of news cuttings covering the major events of the Beatles’ career from the time my interest began, up until George Harrison’s death; and several newsletters and personal letters from Freda Kelly, former secretary to Brian Epstein, and the first Beatles Fan Club Secretary, who did so much to help Beatles fans during her time as the fan club secretary

Open this link to read all about the 2013 film about Freda Kelly Good Ol’ Freda.

Click here to read another of my posts on Paul McCartney, the first in my blog series People of Inspiration.

I’d love to hear your Beatles thoughts and memories. Please do share in the comments!

 

Beatles Shine with Passion and Energy in New Documentary “8 Days a Week: the Touring Years”

How young, innocent, and naive they were, aged in their early twenties: cheeky and endearing. As Paul McCartney puts it, “At the beginning it was all very simple. By the end it had become very complicated.”the-beatles-8-days-a-week-poster-bb23-2016-billboard-1240

And in the Beatles new documentary “8 Days a Week: The Touring Years” we saw a transformation rather similar to the one which we witnessed in Diana, Princess of Wales – a transition from youth and innocence to another state of being harder, more cynical and worldly-wise, more knowing and more guarded, more self-protective. It is an inevitable transition in many ways, one we all make, and yet we never see our own transition writ large upon the screen, projected before the public gaze, as with those who become famous.

In this respect it is their story, but our story too. There were many moments when the whole cinema audience burst out laughing at John’s humour. There was a wonderful little scene when John told a US reporter that his name was Eric, and the reporter took him seriously, and then kept calling him Eric, and John said, “No, John” and the reporter said, “I thought you were Eric,” and John said to him in a low voice, “I was joking”, as if he’d finally taken pity on the reporter.

The one thing that shines out of the new Beatles documentary 8 Days a Week is the fact that with the creative partnership that was the Beatles, we didn’t get just 100% passion and energy; instead, we got 400%. Their love of what they were doing was paramount; at the beginning they were just a “great little band who loved writing songs and playing music, and having a laugh.” The documentary was inspirational, joyous, funny, moving, thought-provoking, emotional, touching, heart-warming.

There are so many different wonderful things about this documentary. As a former Beatles fan myself (who was never, alas, allowed to go to a live Beatles concert, and so was never one of those screaming fans), I watched it with a big smile on my face, laughing often, delighted in being reminded how funny John was, touched by the poignant moments, and the way each corroborated the others in superbly-cut-in interviews which were recorded individually and at different times. George’s interview was particularly moving; there was so much depth to him.  He made the most thought-provoking remark when he said, “We were torn out of our youth, and force-grown like rhubarb.”

The other thing that struck me was how vulnerable they were at their live concerts – no effective protection at all.  At the end of the concert at Shea Stadium they ran to a limo and sped off. But if they’d had to run from the stage to the dressing room area, they would have been torn to pieces by fans breaking through the barriers, and being chased by fleet-footed policemen (who must have got the most exercise in their career, being on guard at a Beatles concert).

As we watched the footage of the Shea Stadium concert, digitally remastered, so we could hear the music the Beatles made (which they never heard at the time, as the music was drowned out by the screams), we saw many wonderful cameos of audience behaviour.  There were girl screaming in hysterics, overwhelmed by emotion, to a point where they seemed to be in distress; others screaming just as loud, but in ecstacy; every so often there was an indifferent looking male, standing there  with immobile face in the midst of mass fervour ; other men just smiling quietly; there was a mother handing out tissues to her overwhelmed daughters; girls just listening with smiles of joy on their faces; others gazing in rapture, in a state of absolute bliss. And standing at the side, quiet, restrained, appraising, watchful: Brian Epstein, of whom Paul said, “The thing about Brian was – he was Class. Liverpool Class. That was what Brian was. Well-spoken, well dressed.”

And in the middle of this, John’s humour into the microphone: “oooh, look at her.” And Paul’s charm, ever-present then, exactly as it is now 50 years later, when he performs to mass audiences: “I want everybody over there, and everybody over there – yes, you, all of you, and all of you over there, to clap along.”  When we saw him at Cardiff Millennium Stadium a few years ago, he said, “How are you all getting along up there at the back?”

And the fabulous cheeky, innocent humour at press conferences. When the boys were asked, “Why do you think you are so popular and successful?” John replied, “we really haven’t got the slightest idea. If we knew, we’d start another group, and become managers.”

And then there was the bizarre period when John caused an international incident by saying the Beatles were more popular than Jesus. At the press conference where he knew he would have to apologise, we listened to what he said, and had that terrible feeling that John was trying to dig himself out of a hole by digging himself further into it. As Paul said, “You could tell he wanted to finish with a joke but knew he couldn’t… we were all scared, and we all knew it was very serious. We had all been bought up with a religious background.”

When the boys were asked to account for their fans’ reaction to them, and the screaming, they appeared bemused. They observed that the screams grew louder when they shook their heads. In fact, body language was how Ringo managed to know whereabouts in a song they were, in the huge concerts: he couldn’t hear the music at all. He said, “I watched Paul’s arse, and John’s arse, and when they shook their heads and when they tapped their feet,” and that was how I worked out whereabouts in the song we were.” And astonishingly, when listening to the digitally remastered recording, we can see that despite not being able to hear each other, they were all in tune, and together. Paul observed how instinctive they were with each other, musically, because of their close relationships, and the fact that they knew each other so well. They were good at what they did he said, simply because they did it so much.

There was such a poignant contrast between the first concerts the Beatles did, and the concert at Shea Stadium, and the very last public performance ever on the rooftop of the Apple offices in Savile Row.  As people gathered in the street down below and watched, curious, bemused, and silent, it was sobering to reflect that they had no idea they were witnessing the very last pubic performance ever, of what history would judge to be the best pop group ever, and the most astonishing social phenomenon of the twentieth century. What a huge historical moment that was – and all were unconscious of it at the time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review: The Beatles Lyrics by Hunter Davies

Having received this book as a Christmas gift, substantial 375-page tome that it is, I devoured it in a few days.

The Beatles Lyrics The Unseen Story Behind Their Music by Hunter Davies
The Beatles Lyrics The Unseen Story Behind Their Music by Hunter Davies

I found the book utterly compelling. Hunter Davies starts by describing his search among collectors, companies and auction houses for what must surely rank among the most valuable “scruffy scraps of paper” in the world: those the Beatles first wrote their original lyrics down on. A good proportion of these got thrown away by the Beatles then disposed of by the cleaners at Abbey Road Studios but several of those which didn’t ended up in the possession of certain key individuals who wish to keep the huge value of their possessions secret.

Hunter Davies himself offered his own personal collection of handwritten lyrics to the British Library on permanent loan and they now reside in the Manuscript Room alongside the Magna Carta, Shakespeare and Wordsworth.

Alongside photos of the handwritten lyrics, some on the backs of letters and birthday cards and envelopes, Davies gives an account of how the words were chosen, and what they mean, with some intriguing memories from his own personal contacts with the Beatles and with Brian Epstein. In so doing, he tells the story of the Beatles’ lives as musicians and songwriters entirely in and through the lyrics, the way they were composed, and the way in which their writers developed personally between 1957 and 1969.

During his observations on the songs he draws out not only the intended sense of them (if there was any – and sometimes John Lennon would deliberately write nonsense to defy the intellectual analysts) but also the unconscious meanings in the words, what they reveal of their composers’ inner lives. On one occasion, referring to some of George Harrison’s lyrics, Davies observes: “Perhaps George fooled himself, harbouring a subconscious fear that he was not admitting at the time or even aware of.”

Davies also examines the way the words emerged from the Beatles’ own life experience. I found his insights into Paul McCartney and John Lennon all the more moving because a lot of those biographical details held high emotional charge for me at the time. I became a Beatles fan at an early, and very impressionable, age – too young to be allowed to go to any of their concerts. Nevertheless I was devoted to them; every detail of their lives reported in the media, I followed avidly.

But there were several things I misunderstood.For instance, by the time “Beatles For Sale” came out, the acquisition of a new Beatles LP was so precious to me, so desirable, that I would never have guessed this title emerged from the Beatles’ own feelings of almost unbearable pressure at the commercial expectations being laid upon them.

One of the most engrossing aspects of the book is Davies’ reflection on the nature of success, and upon the creative process, often erratic and uneven. For instance, he recounts journalist Kenneth Allsop encouraging John to show his feelings more in his pop lyrics, closing the gap between his literary outpourings and his pop lyrics. And writing song lyrics is comparable in one sense to writing a novel, something Davies is quite explicit about, showing the way writers may unwittingly betray attitudes never consciously intended. “Novelists in particular,” writes Davies, “often create situations on paper, out of their imagination, which then come true.”

Davies gives a sensitive and penetrating analysis of John and his angst in particular, for, as he notes, “the discovery that success is all rather hollow, that you are still alone with yourself, can of course lead to self-destruction through excess be it drink or drugs.”

On page 234 Davies notes: “This was their philosophy: you could do these things, if you really wanted. There was no need to follow the rules or be bossed around.” How I identify with that ideal. Yet the truth is that this can only really apply to creatives when they have established themselves and become successful. As Hunter Davies says, “it helped that by this time they were multi-millionaires who had already made their mark in the music business.” And they’d made their mark through following Brian Epstein’s rules and letting him boss them around.

To conclude, I found studying this book to be a very intense experience. As we see the lyrics developing from boy-girl love songs fixated with promises to “be true” into richer, profounder and often more disturbing lyrics, as we study how the Beatles’ lives became more complex and their experience of the world deepened, it’s almost like seeing a reflection of our own lives, moving on from naivety, simplicity and idealism, through all the mistakes, folly, betrayal, loss and disillusion, along with the flashes of wonder, fun, hope, and joy.

 

Comic Opera of Gilbert and Sullivan – the Great English Comic Theme of People Pretending To Be Better Than They Really Are

On Saturday evening I enjoyed watching and listening to a concert by the Warwick & Kenilworth Choral Society given in Kenilworth School, during which the choir performed Gilbert & Sullivan’s comic opera Trial by Jury.

A scene from Trial By Jury as illustrated in the magazine Illustrated Sporting & Dramatic News of 1 May 1875
A scene from Trial By Jury as illustrated in the magazine Illustrated Sporting & Dramatic News of 1 May 1875

I have personal memories of Trial By Jury; during my childhood and teenage years I sang in a girls’ choir in Orpington, Kent. The Orpington Junior Singers, conducted by Sheila Mossman, were called upon to sing in The Chorus of Bridesmaids in Trial By Jury when it was performed by Sheila Mossman’s adult choir The Orpington Chorale (a choir which my father sang in, too, for several years).

It was such a joy on Saturday evening to sit in the audience on Saturday evening and watch the performance of this, the first collaboration between Gilbert & Sullivan (often regarded as the Victorian equivalent of Rice and Lloyd Webber).

As we watched the pompous insistence of the Judge on telling everyone how he came to be a judge, and how he himself cheated the rich attourney by jilting his elderly ugly daughter, (whose parents assured him she could very well pass for 43 in the dusk with the light behind her), and as we enjoyed the Defendant in his loud jacket offering to marry the jilted bride one day and his new girlfriend the next, I was reminded once again of the central comic theme which appears in every generation in English society: The theme of people trying to appear better than they are. Only in Gilbert & Sullivan part of the humour is that they openly reveal their true murky selves.

The Jury admits they were once irresponsible cads, just like the Defendant; but now of course they’ve given that all up and they “shine with a virtue resplendent”.

We delight in seeing these themes played out before us. It is such a recognizable “trope” and we love it. Jane Austen thrived on it and found in it a fertile source of irony.

Class consciousness is a constantly-renewable resource for English writers, and long has it been so.

Do you recognise this as a strong theme in any of your favourite writers? Please share in the comments!

 

 

The Joy of Singing, from the Challenge of J.S. Bach, to A Community Choirs Festival in Stratford-upon-Avon

Singing is  a gift of God, and a channel for empowerment.

Community Choirs Festival
Community Choirs Festival

This weekend has been an amazing time of singing.

And I’ve learned a few things about this life too.

On Saturday night, the choir I sing with, the Warwick & Kenilworth Choral Society, gave a performance of Bach’s B Minor Mass that truly honoured the composer’s purpose.  This was against all expectations – our own, and those of the conductor.

And yet, despite weeks of agony and doubt and struggle in rehearsal (plus the temptation, I suspect, for several singers, to give up) we succeeded.

“There will be some stunning moments,” said the conductor at the final afternoon rehearsal, “and some very hairy moments. Just find the next cue when you can come in.”

Not for a single rehearsal had the first sopranos ever sung it without getting lost.

And yet, on the evening itself – we sang it all the way through, even the most difficult bits, and didn’t get lost.

At the end,the conductor (probably rather bemused), said, with a beaming smile: “Well done. That was superb!”

This experience has taught me, that whatever we dare to believe, sometimes God’s grace snatches success out of the most unpromising places.

From a major choral work to a community choirs festival in Stratford-upon-Avon on Sunday.

Here, a gathering of different community choirs from around England, all came together to learn some new songs, under the guidance of four Natural Voice Practitioners – dynamic, fun, energetic and inspirational.

Untrammelled by inhibition, these gifted singing teachers gave of themselves for the joy of others.

The whole day was a totally uplifting, empowering experience.

Through a mixture of harmony songs – slave songs from the American south, songs from the Eastern orthodox church, or songs arising from Australian aboriginal or North American Indian spirituality, to “Price Tag” by Jessie J – the different choirs delighted with their singing.

I was enthralled to watch the varied styles of the conductors. Some conducted in a tradiitonal manner, others danced and bopped around in from of their choir.

And at the end the four teachers treated us to a hilarious and top-rate performance of the Beachboys’ song God Only Knows What I’d Do Without You.

A wonderful life-enhancing weekend of singing!

People of Inspiration Part 6 – Gareth Malone, The Love of Singing and the Rediscovery of the Power of Sound

What or who would inspire you to start singing?

Gareth Malone, British choirmaster and broadcaster (credit: www.independent.co.uk)
Gareth Malone, British choirmaster and broadcaster (credit: http://www.independent.co.uk)
Gareth Malone, self-described as an “animateur, presenter and populariser of choral singing” (Wikipedia)

Even if you’ve spent years of your life  thinking  you “can’t sing”?

And there are many people with this gift – I’ve met quite a few in my own life of singing – but today I celebrate Gareth Malone.

What a difference Gareth has made to the popular perception of choral singing, here among the British people!

In the UK, according to a recent article in The Independent:

A nationwide choral singing boom is giving fresh meaning to the sound of music, with new choirs popping up at the fastest rate in decades.

Increasing numbers of people are starting their own vocal groups, inspired by the nation’s new choirmaster-in-chief Gareth Malone, ….  because they want to boost their wellbeing, mental or physical.

I’ve sung in choirs since I was very young. I was first introduced to it by my father, a great choral singer himself – he held high-value currency, as a tenor.

I sing in a number of different groups, and I love singing! But, even with all that experience, I would still love to sing under the direction of Gareth Malone! Perhaps one day I’ll achieve that wish!

I belong to the Warwick & Kenilworth Choral Society. Right now, we’re rehearsing to perform Bach’s Mass in B Minor in Leamington Spa in March.

Personally, I can’t get enough of singing! So now I’ve also joined a local Community Choir in Leamington Spa called “Songlines”.

“Songlines” is one of many community choirs. They’re all linked into the Natural Voice Network.

In a “community choir”,  the singers stand in a circle, without having to follow printed music, and the leader is at the centre, teaching the lines of music by singing them, and the choir members pick up the music from this. The lines of music seem very easy to sing, you master them quickly, then the fun comes when the leader directs you to sing it, perhaps, as a round, accompanied by movement. He may divide the choir into 4-8 groups and get each group to stagger their entries.

The sound of the voices blending is magical. And this – with the right direction – is really very easily achieved.

The Guardian article above refers to “wellbeing, mental or physical”. To that I want to add “spiritual wellbeing”.

Many different spiritual traditions have recognised this, and make full use of it.

Bliss through sound, using the human voice, is part of the Buddhist and the Yoga traditions. Years ago I went to the Buddhist Centre in Bethnal Green, East London.  There I joined weekly sessions of Buddhist chanting: an experience of joy and deep peace.

The Yoga tradition, too, has fully understood the healing power of sound, incorporating yogic humming and chanting into their practice.

Taize prayer , in the Christian tradition, also uses beautiful harmony singing, to achieve a similar sense of upliftment, and connection with God. I do this, too, every month,  at St Peter’s Catholic Church Centre in Leamington Spa.

Of course few experiences of body, mind and spirit can equal that of singing with a large choral society in Bach’s B Minor Mass –  and, indeed, any other major choral work. Being part of this grand swell of sound can lift you right out of this world.

So I celebrate Gareth Malone for spreading wide the love of choral singing and the knowledge that we can all sing – whether or not we currently believe so.

What about you? Do you believe you “can’t sing?” Has Gareth Malone encouraged you to believe otherwise – or perhaps to join a singing group yourself? Or maybe you’ve already experienced joy through singing in a group, large or small? Have you been inspired by the work of Gareth Malone? Let me know your experiences – I’d love to hear them!

You may enjoy these other posts by SC Skillman Blog on the subject of singing:

Susan Boyle

Heavenly choirs

Searching for Love… And Craving Celebrity

In my last post, on the case of Jimmy Savile, I wrote about the dark side of celebrity.

We crave love, fame,wealth, success - but where is it leading us? (image credit: GoToSee.co.uk)
We crave love, fame,wealth, success – but where is it leading us? (image credit: GoToSee.co.uk)

We live in a society obsessed with celebrities – the gods of this secular age.

And we try to convince ourselves that fame would guarantee entry into a perfect region of love, wealth and success. Yet the reality for the famous themselves is often not as appealing as we might think.

There are many examples of celebrities who suffer from depression.

“It is strange,” observed Albert Einstein, “to be known so universally and yet to be so lonely.”

The cure for loneliness, we are led to believe, is love.

And in our midst, there are those who feel unloved and unlovable. These people may not take a recognizable form. The most attractive people may be among those who feel unloved and unlovable. The rise of depression, anxiety and stress in our society provides ample evidence of this – as does the incidence of poor body-image, low self-esteem, and eating disorders such as anorexia.

It is rare to find love that is not conditional.

“All you need is love,” sang the Beatles. And as it happens, I’m listening to them singing those very words right now as I write this.

But the love we need must be unconditional.

Unconditional love is a very difficult concept for human beings to grasp. Only divine love can be unconditional.

The love of God can work through the most unexpected people – and that includes people who are not religious, and have nothing whatsoever to do with churches.

So it may indeed be that the cure for all this is unconditional love.

Compassion, humility, and gentleness are not the exclusive province of religious people.

I believe we taste something of that unconditional divine love in any place where compassion, grace, love and faithfulness are to be found.

People of Inspiration Part 3 – Susan Boyle, Who Made a Choice to Use the Gift God Had Given Her

As the third personality in my mini-series on People of Inspiration, step forward Susan Boyle.

Susan Boyle onstage at the end of I Dreamed a Dream musical

In the musical “I Dreamed a Dream” , which I saw at the Birmingham Hippodrome, I learned much about this gifted singer  and deepened my knowledge of her life-experiences and background. The show starred Elaine C. Smith in the role of Susan Boyle.

Probably the words which stood out for me in Susan’s story were these, spoken near the end of the show: “I realised it was my choice, to use what God had given me. I didn’t have to do it. But my mother made me do it.” Her mother’s words were the deciding factor for Susan: “God has given you a gift for you to use.”

In November 2010, backstage at the Rockefeller Center, New York City, as Susan cried and raged and shouted and faced the consequences of not going on stage to face a massive audience, she was told by her manager: “You don’t have to go on. You don’t have to do it. I’ll go out there and tell them you won’t be coming on. If it does this to you, it isn’t worth it.”

Susan then had to answer a question for herself: “If it does this to me, is it worth it?”

Before Susan’s famous big break in “Britain’s Got Talent”, there were always factors in her life which held her back. The doctor’s words to her mother shortly after her birth: “Don’t hold out too much hope for her.” The fact that she dealt with her nerves with flippancy and fooling around. The sarcasm and bullying and jealousy she met. The low self-esteem, the lack of self-confidence, the boyfriend who never was, the mother who asked her to “do something with your singing instead of staying here looking after me.”

To me the most outstanding thing about Susan as a person is that she felt the fear, and did it anyway – because of her mother’s words.

Right at the beginning of the musical these words were spoken: “We all have dreams. But as we grow older we let them  go. We lose them in the sheer business of just getting through life day by day. I think that’s sad. We should hold onto our dreams.”

The message in Susan’s story is that you need words to hang onto when you’re on the edge, and about to go into meltdown. Words like: “You will get there… I’ve always taken you seriously…. I have every confidence in you.”

And words like the ones that finally got Susan through: “God has given you a gift for you to use.”

I’d love to have your comments! Have you seen Elaine C. Smith in the musical, or listened to Susan Boyle on stage? Are you, like me, a fan of her sweet, rich and powerful voice?

People of Inspiration Part 1 – Paul McCartney, Muse, Minstrel and Keeper of Dreams

Today, opening a new mini-series on People of Inspiration, I offer my first choice: Paul McCartney.

Sir Paul McCartney in Mexico show Fri 11 May 2012
Sir Paul McCartney in Mexico show Fri 11 May 2012

He was my childhood hero. I first fell for him when a schoolfriend put a souvenir programme into my hands and I saw a picture of him singing “Yesterday” at the Royal Variety Command Performance, a few years after that performance.

Keeper of Dreams. This is a phrase which sprung into my mind in 2010 while I sat in the audience at the Cardiff Millennium Stadium watching Paul in his Up and Coming Tour. 

I watched and listened to him with my husband and teenage daughter and son, and all of us were captivated by his music and charisma. 

Paul has reinvented himself a number of times – a gift possessed by all those who persist in a career in the public eye for forty or more years. But to me he is poet, minstrel, storyteller, observer and interpreter of life, all in one.

His fellow Beatles mocked him for the sentimentality of “Yesterday” – yet for millions this song came to define the point where the establishment’s narrow presumptions about the Beatles radically shifted.

The appeal of Paul McCartney isn’t solely in his skill as a showman, and his personal qualities, but in the effect his words and music have on those who hear them.  Profound, moving, haunting, cryptic, puzzling, bizarre, touching, quirky, intriguing, beguiling, poignant, playful –  every mood and emotion can be found among his songs.

Although he is an international rock star and pop icon he makes his audience feel as if they’re in the pub with him having a singalong. Synthesis of special and ordinary – no-one can doubt that who has visited his mid-terrace childhood home at Forthlin Road in Liverpool – yet international superstar, you’re sharing a seat with him on the bus at Penny Lane, you’re standing with him looking down at Eleanor Rigby’s grave, you’re beside him on the Mull of Kintyre gazing over to Ireland.

How do you feel about Sir Paul? Have you been to his concerts?  Have you admired him for years, or are you a new fan? I’d love to have your comments!