Spiritual and Unifying: the Dramatic and Emotional Appeal of Brahms’ Requiem for All Who Love Choral Singing

King Henry VIII School, Coventry (well known as representing Gordon Shakespeare’s school in the 2009 Christmas film Nativity!) was the scene on Saturday where a large number of local singers and musicians gathered together for a “Scratch” rehearsal and performance of Brahms’ RequiemCHOIR SINGING

As with all scratch performances of course the majority of participants had sung/ played this music before.

From my place in the choir (Spires Philharmonic Chorus augmented by many other singers) I saw several other singers had crisp clean hired copies – but not me! That’s because I’d brought my tattered, much-used score: inside the front page, every previous date on which I’d sung it before, using this score: June 1978 with the London Choral Society; August 1989 with the Brisbane Chorale, Australia; April 1997 and November 2009 with the Warwick & Kenilworth Choral Society.

Despite having last sung it nine years ago, it’s amazing how easily the music came back to me, along with the (sometimes exasperated!) directions given by previous conductors.

Our Chorus Director Jack Lovell is great fun and has a natural and humorous approach.  He’s always full of imaginative images to describe how he’d like us to sing. In one part he said, “Here, I want you to think smoky Viennese ballroom. You need to sound like the viola coming in.” Elsewhere we were to sing like a posh velvet cushian, the type you can push right in and then it comes out again very smoothly and slowly, not like one of those cheap foam cushians. Later he stopped us, saying that sounds like an Ikea cushian.

Brahms’ Requiem has special associations for me.  My father was a choral singer, and this requiem was one of his great favourites. I first heard it performed when I was 12; my father sang in a local choir the Orpington Chorale, and my attendance on that occasion was, I daresay, not voluntary! I remember sitting in the audience listening to it and not being very impressed!

Over the years my father shared his love of music with us, particularly choral music, and that included several of the most celebrated Requiems. A family friend with a great sense of humour, teased him about the choir: Why is everything you sing so miserable? You should be called The Undertaker Singers!  “Book us now for your funeral.”

The emotional and dramatic appeal of these major works is very strong, irrespective of any religious convictions on the part of either performers or audience. As a choir member observed in the comments on this very interesting blog , “this music is a celebration of our inner spirit whether you are religious or not.”

Brahms’ Requiem, as with all great works of art, encompasses a very wide emotional range. His music is set around words from the bible which express touching and powerful yearnings of the human spirit.

From the mysterious and sombre opening in Movement 1, onto the sumptuous, swishing, spine-chilling chords of “all flesh is as grass”, with Movement 2 Brahms sweeps through brighter and more hopeful moods, via passages of triumph, to the most glorious moments of serenity, floating and ecstatic.  All of human life is here; pleading, urgent and driving; desperation, the restoration of confidence. Movement 4, “How lovely art thy dwellings fair”, is blissful and luminous, ending on a rapturous idyll. It’s thought that Brahms wrote it during  time spent among the glaciers and blue lakes of Zurich which inspired him. The requiem returns to a mournful, reflective mood in Movement 6 , and its transitions take us through intense, vigorous and energetic passages, defiance, triumph and rejoicing; and finally in Movement 7 we regain bliss, comfort, peace and reassurance.

As another choral singer has said, “I see it all as metaphor, I sing it lustily and I celebrate and share the uplifting aspirations that inspired the music in the first place. If we can share the ideals, connect through the values expressed in the words, and join in singing them together, what could be more spiritual and unifying?”

Reflection Upon The Nativity film 2010

Tatiana Masleny as Mary and Andrew Buchan as Joseph in The Nativity film 2010
Tatiana Masleny as Mary and Andrew Buchan as Joseph in The Nativity film 2010

I recently watched again “The Nativity”, the TV mini series first broadcast by the BBC at Christmas 2010 but this time I watched the entire film on DVD.

I remember the series had a strong impression on me when I first viewed it and we could hardly wait for each new episode. Seeing it as a continuous story was a different experience from viewing it in episodes;  I found it much more challenging and harrowing, especially the scenes in which Mary is judged and reviled both by her fellow villagers in Nazareth, and by householders and innkeepers in Bethlehem.

Tatiana Masleny and Andrew Buchan both gave brilliant performances as Mary and Joseph  and I must confess John Lynch came over as a very handsome and rugged Gabriel.

Here’s a Youtube link to a beautiful and moving song by Kate Bush with clips from The Nativity film.

Seeing this very realistic re-imagining of the Nativity story again, I realised afresh how divisive the story is, for all those who engage with it, whatever they believe.  To see Mary portrayed like this when she has been so revered by Catholics over the millennia with titles like Queen of Heaven and Mother of God, is certainly very challenging. And it makes me wonder again about the assertions of Christian theology, most notably the question of how God could have chosen to bring his Son into the world by causing Mary so much suffering … huge issues arise from this, and provide much material for argument and discussion. Once again this brings up the question that many have struggled with, of why Jesus could not be the son of God and also born naturally by Joseph.

I thought this portrayal of the story has the power either to strengthen and enhance the faith of the viewer or make them lose it. It all depends on the stance the viewer takes before they come to the story.

Certainly I remember the leader of our group at an Alpha course a few years ago beginning the discussion by saying he did not believe in the virgin birth.

But in this film version, we see Joseph as key. His ability to wholeheartedly believe what Mary was telling him, saved her from the judgementalism and hatred and rejection of all those around her – which, without the protection of Joseph, may even have resulted in her death before Jesus was even born.

This gives us much to reflect upon.

 

 

 

A Diversity of Spiritual Outlooks Through Time at the British Museum in London

The Great Court, British Museum, London
The Great Court, British Museum, London

On Saturday 23rd December 2017  I went to see the exhibition “Living with Gods:  peoples, places and worlds beyond” at the British Museum in London. The exhibition curator Jill Cook had set out to show the development of religious symbols through physical objects which people in widely diverse cultures and historical periods have used to denote their relationships with a spiritual reality beyond nature.

 

The exhibition ranged from a 40,000 year old sculpture of a lion man, through a Buddhist wheel of life held in the claws of the god of death, via a Japanese Shinto household shrine, to a Soviet communist poster of an astronaut with a rather inane grin on his face floating in space and declaring “There is no God.” On the Buddhist wheel of life the artist had depicted instances of human and animal suffering and wickedness of all types, which I must confess reminded me of Dan Brown’s description of Dante’s Inferno…

I was also interested to learn that the image of the many-armed creator/destroyer god Lord Shiva is on display outside CERN in Switzerland, as a symbol of the atom.

However, inevitably much was missing from the exhibition. For instance, I found no reference to the aboriginal image of the Rainbow Serpent said to be one of earliest of religious symbols, in this case symbolising Creation. Neither did I find the spirituality of the North American Indians, nor the mystical system of the ancient Chinese Book of Changes, the I Ching.

The whole tapestry and landscape of humankind’s attempts to build and sustain a relationship with spiritual reality beyond the observed world is so vast and complex, this exhibition inevitably could give just a small representative taste alongside a dispassionate commentary. In reality each religious outlook and philosophical system deserves its own special in-depth study in order to do anything like justice to it – and the curious investigator can find many books to help.

But one of the most moving parts of the exhibition for me was the display about the Japanese persecution of Christianity in the 17th century, during the time of the Portuguese Jesuit mission to Japan, a story told in the brilliant novel Silence by Shusako Endo, upon which was based the 2016 film starring Andrew Garfield.

I remember the impact the book made on me, when those being persecuted were ordered to trample the fumi-e – a bronze plaque showing Christ on the cross. I found myself gazing in awe at an authentic  fumi-e and thought again of the powerful end to the novel Silence.

One of the most interesting things about that novel was the way it showed how Christianity may be introduced into what may seem an alien culture and how those within that culture may take on the Christian faith and understand it within their own cultural terms. I remember a scene in the novel where Japanese Christians were being tortured by being tied to stakes on a beach while the tide rolled in and out around them. They gained the stength to endure by continually singing, We are going to the temple, going to the temple of God.

If there is any lesson at all to be learned from an exhibition of this type, perhaps it is that we have the challenge ahead of us to communicate what we believe to be the truth, whilst also respecting other human beings and where they are in terms of their own worldview.

 

 

A Snowy Walk to the Saxon Mill, Warwick

When thick snow arrives it transforms our world, for as long as it stays on the ground and on the trees, on the rivers and ponds.Abigail and Jamie in the snow covered field behind Saxon Mill image 1

The fascinating thing about snow – as an occasional visitor to our familiar landscape – is how it acts as a catalyst for the negative and the positive in human nature. However you see life, seems to be encapsulated in how you react to the sudden arrival of snow. As a child I was very romantic about snow. river at Saxon Mill image 5.jpgI never saw the negative side. But as adults we can see inconvenience, closure of schools and colleges, cancellation of social events, cars skidding and sliding, accidents and piles of dirty slush.

Guys Cliffe House in snow image 1

Or we can choose to see it as millions of exquisite, miraculous ice crystals, as an agent for transformation, as a way of seeing the world through new eyes, even if only for a relatively short period of time.

 

Near our home, the Saxon Mill pub, Warwick, is a popular venue. snow laden table overlooking the mill pond and river at the Saxon MillSituated on the river Avon by a bridge over a weir, with the atmospheric ruins of Guys Cliffe house on the horizon, it is a romantic, historical  place to which people are attracted in huge numbers – at certain times of year.  I love visiting it at any time of year but especially in the snow.the weir at the Saxon Mill image 2.jpg

For some of my other posts about eerie, mysterious Guys Cliffe House, and about the romantic appeal of the Saxon Mill, click here and here.

 

 

 

A Deep Spirituality and Wisdom That Touches the Heart, from Some of the World’s Greatest Mystics

Imagine you could step into the Monastery right now – perhaps like the one which we saw in the 2005 TV series, or even the one in this image – and move apart from all the frantic busyness and stress and tension of your life, and receive some deep wisdom from the heart of the mystics.Annaya Monastery

Yesterday I received something very similar at a Quiet Day in St Mark’s Church Leamington Spa where I heard three talks from Bishop John Stroyan, Bishop of Warwick – a man imbued in the literature of some of the world’s greatest mystics. Bishop John is someone who speaks in a lowkey way and yet treasures of spiritual wisdom emerge almost as asides.  There is no stridency, nothing is declaimed; but those listening cannot but be aware that he speaks of the true underlying structure which drives our behaviour, our motivation and our attitudes and the way we react to events and circumstances in our lives.

During his talk he referred to the Martin Luther Memorial Church in Berlin –  which he described as “the most shocking church” he had been into. Figures of Nazi soldiers and members of the Hitler Youth are interspersed with figures from the Nativity, and an Aryan family of the type Hitler wanted in his Master Race also adorn the church. In addition, a strong, muscular, Aryan Christ is seen on the cross. It’s one of  the hundred churches Hitler built, the only one that has survived, intentionally as a chilling reminder of how evil systems can recruit the Christian faith to their cause. Apparently, the Bishop said, both the Nazis and the apartheid regime used Christian clothing for their causes – making God in their images, recruiting Him to serve their agendas.

This is a very strong warning to us, as the Bishop said: “Beware of what we think we know.”

Some of the wisdom the Bishop shared with us included  the observation that “you’ve faced the darkness and come through it, and God will use that as a gift to help others who struggle.”

How often do we see that those who have suffered the most are in the best position to support and comfort those who now suffer in the same way?

He said that pearls are tears shed around grit that irritates the oyster. Some people, as we know, become hard and embittered and resentful around that grit in their lives.

But the Bishop spoke about the weaving of God’s good purposes through events in our lives that we would never choose to happen. “Crises can be the bearers of grace.”

Julian of Norwich said, “In falling and rising again we are always held close in one love.”

An image the Bishop likes to use in his talks is one taken from his life as a dog-lover. He may be taking his two dogs for a walk and when they get the smell of an exciting rabbit, they rush off away from him after the rabbit. He calls loudly for them to come back. They know his voice. And yet they practice what we all do:  “selective deafness”.

Another image comes from the bird world. The mother eagle puts sharp pointed uncomfortable things in the nest to make the eaglets fly..  Otherwise they would stay cosy in the nest. This is the only thing that makes them leave the nest, take wing and soar on the thermals.

Inspiration, Motivation and Keeping To The Path

On 7th September 2017 on the seventh day  of my Mystical Circles blog tour,Blog tour ad as at 26 August 2017 MJ Mallon published an article by me on her blog which has the wonderful title of  Kyrosmagica.

This is the seventh in a series of blog posts in which I re-publish the articles on that blog tour.

So with my thanks to Marje, here’s the article she first published on her blog on 7th September:

Inspiration, Motivation and Keeping to the Path

Being an author in today’s world is a much tougher journey than one might ever believe, when one first conceives the desire to write stories.

I was inspired at the age of seven by the adventure stories of Enid Blyton and wanted to write exciting stories like hers. Essentially my desire was to write about girls my own age doing thrilling and dangerous and intrepid things quite out of my own daily experience. I created two girls called Marilyn and Sylvia and wrote many stories about them. They were good, brave, beautiful, clever and talented, everything I wanted to be. In other words, the desire was for transformation.

And this is why I believe we read fiction. Our longing is to be transported from out of our own lives, our own minds, into the mind and heart of someone else, to enter into a different world, to be inside someone else’s skin, to share his or her joys and sorrow and hopes and dreams.

Listening to conversations and observing people and the interaction of their personalities has long fascinated me and is a large part of my desire to write. I wrote a detailed daily journal throughout my teens and twenties, which ran to many volumes, and in it I would often record conversations I had been a part of or had overheard, and observations about people I knew, including family relationships.

The changes in the publishing scene over the past couple of decades have held out a seductive allure to independent authors, offering power and autonomy. Yet the snares along the path are even greater. We have all these opportunities, but also there are many people pursuing the same dream, and recording their success and offering their advice on social media. This can prove overwhelming for sensitive, introverted creative people – which is the case with many writers.

So it can prove a lifeline when we find inspiring quotes to strengthen and uplift us. Here’s one, from St Paul: But one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead, I press on towards the goal to win the prize. And he also encouraged his readers with these words: Only let us live up to all we have attained.

Knowing that others have struggled for years and eventually, with persistence, won through, is a very helpful reminder for us when we start to doubt the value of our past achievements and allow it to weaken our faith in what we are capable of achieving in the future. My non-fiction book Perilous Path, an inspirational writers’ guide, contains several chapters which help authors to overcome obstacles in their path, and suggest how to use art and music as therapy as well as a source of fresh inspiration.

So, finally, what makes us carry on? We need to draw the water of inspiration and motivation from a reliable well. I found one particular saying of Sir Winston Churchill very powerful. When invited to speak to an audience of school pupils, who were all waiting to hear wise words from the great man, he said, I only have five words to give you. Never, never, never give up.

 

SC Skillman Author photo WEB

SC SKILLMAN AUTHOR
I was born and brought up in Orpington, near south London. As a child I was inspired by Enid Blyton. I started writing adventure stories at the age of seven; the love of writing that her stories first instilled into me has strengthened over the years.

I studied English Literature at Lancaster University, and my first permanent job was as a production secretary with the BBC. Later I lived for nearly five years in Australia before returning to live in the UK. I now live in Warwickshire with my husband David, son Jamie and daughter Abigail. Nearby are three of England’s most famous destinations: the Royal Shakespeare Theatre at Stratford-upon Avon and the two great castles at Kenilworth and Warwick.

My two thriller suspense novels Mystical Circles and A Passionate Spirit are set in the beautiful Cotswolds hills, not far from my present home. I’ve also written Perilous Path: A Writer’s Journey, a book of encouraging advice, tips and reminders for authors.

I am currently working on the second draft of my new novel, Director’s Cut. I’ve always been fascinated by the interaction of different complex personalities, an inexhaustible source of inspiration for a writer!

And my advice to anyone who wants to be a writer? Read a lot, listen to people’s conversations, be observant about the details of your world, and especially about human behaviour and interaction, and persist in your writing, being single-minded to the point of obsession… never give up, always believe in yourself despite all evidence to the contrary, and hold out for what you first dreamed of.

 

 

Psychology, Spirituality and Family Relationships – a Volatile Mix

On 4th September, on the fourth day of my Mystical Circles blog tour, blogger Susan Hampson hosted a guest post from me on her blog Books From Dusk till Dawn.Springboard

This is part of a series in which I reblog my articles from that blog tour.  So today’s post is the article Susan first published online, called:

Psychology, Spirituality and Family Relationships – a Volatile Mix

In books on the craft of writing fiction, one of the key areas to which a writer must pay attention is high emotional charge. And if the new writer is in doubt about whose point of view to take – in other words, whose story is this? –  the main question to ask is, Who has the highest emotional stakes in the outcome of the plot?
I’ve also read that when the author is building conflict into the plot, and setting up a protagonist and an antagonist / villain, a sure way to increase depth and high emotional stakes is to make the antagonist / villain a close family member.
When we write fiction we all draw upon our own life experiences. And for many of us, our greatest challenge in life, after the challenge of self-knowledge, is how we handle our closest relationships.
In my psychological suspense novel Mystical Circles I drew upon my observations and personal experiences of many people and relationships throughout my life. But family relationships do rank highly; father and son; two sisters; two twin brothers; mother and son.  I have of course transposed real relationships into fictional situations. When we use real people to create fictional characters the wisest strategy is to employ a composite of different individuals within one person. So we can never say, this character is based on X or Y whom I know personally. But the fact remains that some fictional characters do contain a greater proportion of certain individuals.
I have drawn upon those for whom I have a strong affection and also those whom I’ve found challenging. But beyond all this I think it’s true to say that there’s probably a little bit of me in all the characters.
One of the greatest joys of reading fiction is to enter into the heart and mind of someone else to share their joys and sorrows, and to understand how they think. How can this be so unless the writer incorporates part of their own psyche into those characters? I know this is certainly true for Mystical Circles.
I also believe this principle applies to the creation of a villain, who in order to be compelling, must be a complex mixture of influences, memories, desires, wounds, compulsions, longings and choices.
In life often the ultimate villain is hidden, shadowy, the manipulator behind the scenes.
And so it is in Mystical Circles. I’ll leave my readers to work out who that might be, but hope that this particular plot-spoiler will never appear in the reviews!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The New Luminarie Editions of Mystical Circles and Perilous Path Are Out Now

I’m pleased to  announce my two new books are on sale now. Mystical Circles Front Cover Final Version4 They can be found online through the links below and also, of course, to order through all good bookshops.

You can download my psychological suspense novel Mystical Circles here, and you can buy the paperback here.

My inspirational writer’s guide Perilous Path can be downloaded here, or ordered as a paperback here.

There are many ways to help an author besides buying the books! Cover design of Perilous Path by SC Skillman, a motivational and inspirational writer's guide pub Luminarie 5 Sep 2017You can get the word out by sharing, recommending and reviewing online. And in the real world you can recommend titles to your own book club for discussion; or order the books through your local library to increase their awareness and encourage them to order copies for their stock.

It all helps. And if you do support me in any one of the above ways,  thank you very much!

 

 

Luminarie editions of Mystical Circles and Perilous Path Out Today!

Today is publication day for my two new Luminarie editions Mystical Circles (psychological suspense novel) and Perilous Path (inspirational writer’s guide).

Mystical Circles Front Cover Final Version4
Cover Design for Mystical Circles by SC Skillman – psychological suspense pub Luminarie 5 Sep 2017

Both are widely available through online retailers, or to order from bricks-and-mortar bookstores.

They are available both as ebooks and as paperbacks.

And from 8 September both books will be on Goodreads giveaway to UK readers. Yes – I have 10 paperback copies of each book to give away to the lucky winners!

The giveaway will last for one month. If you live in the UK and you’re a Goodreads member why not hop over there and enter the giveaway.

Cover design of Perilous Path by SC Skillman, a motivational and inspirational writer's guide pub Luminarie 5 Sep 2017And if you do win, and you read the books, please do remember, we authors always love Amazon reviews, no matter how many stars, and whatever you choose to say in an honest review.

And that’s not all my news. Today (5th September 2017) is also Day 5 of my Blog Tour. Today I’m on Sue Vincent’s Daily Echo and the title of my guest post is “Inside a spiritual hothouse.” Hope to see you over there!

Follow the new Mystical Circles Blog Tour 1-9 September 2017

Mystical Circles will be released by Luminarie both as a paperback and as an ebook with a new cover design on 5 September. To celebrate, I’m doing a Blog Tour Blog tour ad as at 26 August 2017which will see me stop off at nine blogs, each with a unique guest post.

Do take a look at each blog post if you have time – there will be other opportunities to read them here on my blog later if you miss them on the tour!

Over the course of the 9 stops on this tour, I write on the following subjects:

Sacha Black

A guide for authors – how to survive the siren voices of the internet

Jenny in Neverland

Genre – what is it exactly?

Rosie Amber

On the art and inexact science of a good ending to a novel

Books From Dusk till Dawn

Psychology, spirituality and family relationships – a volatile mix

Sue Vincent

Inside a spiritual hothouse

Shelley Wilson

An author interview by Shelley Wilson

MJ Mallon

Inspiration, motivation and keeping to the path

Chat About Books

Intense relationships in closed communities, and the stress and tension of life

Linda’s Book Bag

An author interview by Linda

I do hope you can stop by the blogs to read more about the source of my ideas for the characters and story of Mystical Circles and also to find some personal inspiration and motivation along the way!