06 December 2012

Christening Tunes

Just over the road from where I work in St Andrews is a cafe.  In a town full of architectural gems and charmingly comfortable eateries, this particularly cafe is notable only for the plainness of its exterior and the utilitarian dreariness of its interior.  Yet every day, come wind, rain, snow or (occasionally) sun, one can spot a party of (usually) Japanese tourists armed with cameras and V-signs (why do Asians always wave this disgusting gesture at whomever is pointing a camera lens their way?) outside this cafe, often blocking the street to get them and the unexceptional exterior in view.  Why? 

The answer lies in a large notice pasted to the inside of one of the windows; "Where Wills met Kate".

Those who work across the road in the Younger Hall regard this with a certain disdain; after all, they were the people who hosted a fashion parade at which the future Duke of Cambridge was seen to look on dewy-eyed as the future Duchess of Cambridge strutted her stuff.  While, of course, the University itself can lay claim to being the real catalyst for this famous relationship; it, though, is more discrete in its publicising the fact, content to run out a statistic whenever the public is around that 70% (or some such figure) of St Andrews University students end up marrying fellow St Andrews University students.

That St Andrews is still seen primarily as the place where a real live prince met his princess was emphasised last week when, sitting in a warm and snug candlelit bar in Cork, a swarthy Irishman on an adjacent stool (and lurching dangerously close to a candle perched precariously by his elbow) did what all Irishmen in bars seem to do, and engaged me in a conversation rather more philosophical than one might usual expect in a bar.  He was attached, in some way, to an educational establishment in the city and when he learnt that I, too, worked for a University, he immediately took an even greater interest.  He had already discovered that I was a musician and an organist, and when he heard that I was based at St Andrews he waved a copy of that day's Irish Independent at me (all Irish pubs are overflowing with daily newspapers - there is always one to hand, whether or not the place is lit by electricity, gas or a naked flame) and pointed to the full page devoted to the announcement of the Royal Pregnancy.  "Will you be playing the organ at the Christening?" he asked. 

It was a peculiar question from a man who had already shown an intellect barely troubled by the intake of copious quantities of Guinness, and even more peculiar that he should have assumed that the royal christening should take place in St Andrews at all. One assumes that royal christenings take place near a royal household (such as Sandringham in Norfolk) and would do so in private with no music around.

It crossed my mind, though, that perhaps Christenings in Ireland are accompanied by lots of noise and music.  That same copy of the Irish Independent included a wonderful statement from an Irish local politician complaining that Muslims in his town had asked that bodies of their dead relatives be buried without coffins in accordance with their religious beliefs ("When in Rome do as the Romans do.  They should mark a death by drinking alcohol for 24 hours").  Perhaps the Irish deal with "Hatches" in much the same way as they deal with "Dispatches".

Considering how important baptism used to be (we don't know when Beethoven was born, for example, but we know when he was baptized, while Vivaldi, born premature during an earthquake, was rushed by his nurse to the church to be baptized within hours of Camilla Vivaldi giving birth in case he didn't live long enough to pen the Four Seasons) it seems to have slipped dramatically down the life/church stakes and now happens almost in secret.  True, in a bid to get people interested, some clergy use the most popular services of the year as an opportunity for infant baptism (how many Easter Day services have been extended interminably by hordes of screaming infants getting their heads wettened?) but as a rule, baptism is a quiet and unassuming event.  And certainly not one which calls for music.  If my daughter is anything to go by, the merest sound of an organ playing would  drive an infant into paroxysms of wailing which not even a mighty Tuba Mirabilis can drown out.

But, harking back to my very early days as a church organist, I recall having to go to the local church quite often on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon to play for a baptism service.  As a mere handful of relatives and a couple of elderly ladies, who never seemed to leave the comfort of their pews, looked on, a screaming child was baptised while I drooled something innocuous on the organ.  I vaguely remember George Oldroyd, William Wolstenholm and Henry G Ley provided suitably bland music (some of it coming from a very useful book called A Book of Simple Organ Voluntaries) but if there were hymns or psalms, I don't recollect.  The organ was simply there to drown out the crying and added a certain religious atmosphere to the occasion.

Organs and baptisms don't seem to mix anymore.  If Wills and Kate want to breathe new life into the monarchy, they might like to insist on a Christening complete with bland and dreary organ music to match the bland and dreary surroundings of the cafe in which they, allegedly, met.

1 comment:

  1. Dr Marc,
    If I might add a small Malayssian connection to your story, the papers here are reporting not only the pregnancy, but also asking if the baby might have been conceived in Malaysia during their royal visit. And if so, whether the food, the hospitality or the warm weather were contributing factors.

    Yours,
    Dr Peter

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