bbc proms


Despite the heavy rain earlier in the day, the afternoon had turned hot. Ros and I carried sandwiches as we walked down Exhibition Road, past the museums. Around the corner and down the street our friends waited for us, already in the queue that stretched from the doors of the Royal Albert Hall to the street. We passed around the sandwiches and waited, chatting, slowly baking and wishing we were in the shade, until finally the doors opened a few hours later. We were waiting for the coveted £5 tickets to the BBC Proms.

Once the doors opened, the queue moved steadily, if slowly. We eventually handed over our £5 notes and made our way up to the gallery. As the auditorium filled with the audience, we settled into our places on the floor, where we still had a good view of the stage. We traded glances of disapproval about others who brought books or laptops into the hall. Would they put them away when the concert began? They might as well as stayed home and listened to the concert on BBC Radio 3! Some joke was being made at Tristan’s expense (or was it Charly’s?) that was quickly hushed as the musicians walked onto the stage. The hall erupted with applause.

And then there was music.

Photo: BBC Proms in the Royal Albert Hall, London.

here, now: st matthew’s passion

DBS Matthew Passion 2015

The first thing I do when I move somewhere is to join a choir: I sang in the women’s chorus in university, the Balliol College Choir in Oxford, the St Andrews Renaissance Singers in St Andrews, and now the Denton Bach Society Choir. I have been part of choirs since I was thirteen; my routine feels incomplete without the steady rhythm of rehearsals. When I am singing in rehearsal, there is no room for me to think about work or chores or things that need doing outside of that moment. What matters is the pitch, the words, the breath, listening and blending with the other parts, the beating heart of the piece as the director keeps time, shaping the notes, the breath, and the time into music. There have been several times over the past months when I felt that the best thing about living here is the Denton Bach Society Choir.

Today we will be performing St Matthew’s Passion by Johannes Sebastian Bach. I am excited, because it is a challenging piece and it’s come together very well during our full rehearsals this weekend. And also because it is the second of Bach’s Passions that I will perform: the Balliol College Choir performed St John’s Passion the term that I studied in Oxford. But I’m disappointed, too. After today I won’t have my regular dose of choral singing. The choir won’t reconvene until next autumn–and I don’t know yet if I will still be in North Texas. This could be my last concert with them.

And so I’m glad it’s going to be a good one. The concert is going to be streamed live on the UNT music website, which you can watch here. Tune in at 3.00PM U.S. Central Time and enjoy!

Photo: The Denton Bach Society rehearsing in the Murchison Performing Arts Center, UNT Campus.

Over the frozen sea

Crossing the brilliant sea of white clouds reflecting the sun, the clouds parted after some hours and out of the steady, solid blue of the Atlantic came this: sea ice.

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IMG_9393(Click photos to enlarge.)

Can you determine what is land, what is sea, and what it ice? Look closely enough and you can even see the cracks in the ice floes…

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These last three are in reverse order than when I took them in order to demonstrate how we flew along the delta of a frozen river, somewhere in New Brunswick, I think.

What beauty, what stark contrasts, what chill runs through my bones when I consider such thing as a frozen sea. I knew it existed of course, but had never seen it with my own eyes. I wonder what it would be like to walk along the ice, to live in such a forbidding place such as this. I was reminded of the folk song Frobisher Bay, here sung by the St Andrews Madrigal Group:

Cold is the arctic sea
Far are your arms from me
Long will this winter be
Frozen in Frobisher Bay
Frozen in Frobisher Bay

“One more whale,” our captain cried
“One more whale and we’ll beat the ice.”
But the winter star was in the sky
The seas were rough the winds were high.

Deep were the crashing waves
That tore our whaler’s mast away
Dark are these sunless days
Waiting for the ice to break.

Strange is a whaler’s fate
To be saved from the raging waves
Only to waste away
Frozen in this lonely grave.

A little seed

In the past couple of posts I’ve mentioned depression. I won’t go into all of the causes, reasons, whatevers here — my close friends and family know, and that is enough. What is making it even more difficult this time is the loss of dreams, of hopes for the future… specific ones that had come to have so much meaning and promise in my life. Now I am left holding air and the faded shreds of old dreams, staring into the unknown.

Some have heard me say that Sara Groves “sings my life”. The chorus of this song has crept into my head, and, well, I want it to be the song of my heart.

From this one place I can’t see very far.
In this one moment I’m square in the dark.
These are the things I will trust in my heart:
You can see something else, something else.

One of the things I’ve been wrestling with this Advent is that God is a God of the impossible. I am still learning what that means. But I am praying that he will plant a little seed in the remnants of my heart and that that little seed will grow into a dream. And that prayer, maybe, will give me Hope.

Learning to say no

The other night, while having dinner with some friends, I chided one of them for overfilling his plate for work this semester. He said it was his idea of fun, but I reminded him of his exhaustion last semester. He wasn’t dissuaded, of course, nor is it really my place to tell him what he can and cannot do, but it made me wonder when it was that I started saying ‘no’ to commitments, for I, too, used to overwork myself.

It came out of self-preservation. On the verge of mental breakdown my final year of university, I withdrew from most of the world, it seemed. Save for a few choice friends, for the obligations necessary to graduate and my jobs (yes, note the plural), I stopped going to choir, various society meetings, and so on. The following year during my gap year I was very jealous and protective of my internal source of energy, a jealousy I took with me into my master’s programme. I had pushed myself to my uttermost limits and thus I knew my limitations. I was, and am, determined to never let that happen again.

I’m healthier in mind and soul now, and so I am letting myself take on more commitments, but I still look at my diary and say, ‘No, I need an evening at home. I need to be able to sit in quiet and read a book and not talk to anyone.’ I need time to think my own thoughts in solitude. I am an introvert, after all.

But self-preservation isn’t the only reason I’ve started to slow down. Ironically, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realised I’m in no hurry. I don’t have to finish my PhD, publish my thesis, write my magnum opus science fiction novel, publish the Pooka novels, travel the world, and everything else, by the time I’m thirty. Lord willing, I have a full life ahead of me, and time to do and learn all the things I want to do and learn. So trust, also, is why I’ve started to slow down: trusting in the Lord that there will be a tomorrow, that his mercies are new every morning, that there will be time to do the things I want to do to live a full and abundant life, and most importantly, time now to live intentionally, focusing on the quality of what I am doing, rather than filling my diary with a quantity of activities.

In other news, I’ve discovered the band ‘Of Monsters and Men’ and I really like their sound. Below is a video of ‘Little Talks’, though I also like ‘King and Lionheart’. (This is also one of the strangest music videos I’ve seen. Just listen to the song, you don’t have to watch it.)

Briefly, London

St Martin in the Fields is a nice little church in Trafalgar Square, London. I made it there with my bags just after the choral concert started, so I lugged them down into the crypt, to sit in the aptly named Café-in-the-Crypt until the interval. The Café-in-the-Crypt is a lovely café/restaurant with a wide range of options to fit most any budget. I myself had a large bowl of soup and a roll for £3.75. Not bad for London. After dinner I waited upstairs until the interval. I found myself standing in the doorway of the church, listening in rapture to the pure soaring notes of Allegri’s Miserere Mei Deus* in one ear and the sounds of sirens and traffic noise in the other. I found Charly at the interval, shared crème brûlée with her dad, and sat inside the church to hear the rest of her concert.

As already mentioned, I spent most of my time in London at the British Library. No touristy things this time. I stayed with my friend Charly and her family, met up with friends for lunch in the BL courtyard, did lots of research, and then jetted off to Oxford.

* For the record, I want Allegri’s Miserere sung as part of my funeral/memorial requiem mass.

Favourite things

The Harbour:

The words to the Dalmation lullaby I am learning are much more poignant for living in a town that it is still, in some ways, a fishing village:

Hush my babe, my little one,
Thy father sails the deep;
But warm thy bed is, pretty one;
Lie still my dear and sleep.

Cold the wind is blowing,
Angry is the sea;
Guard, ye saints, his going,
And bring him back to me.

When the morn shall break again
Over hill and lea;
Then my love shall wake again,
And dance on daddy’s knee.

Hush my babe, my little one,
Thy father sails the deep;
But warm thy bed is, pretty one;
Lie still my dear and sleep.

Voice lessons

This morning I had my first-ever voice lesson. Despite singing in choirs since as early as (at least) 7 years’ old, I haven’t had any formal voice training. My housemate, who is a professionally trained singer, has inspired me to become more musical but, ah, you can understand if living with aforesaid professionally trained singer would make me a bit self-conscious. I enjoy singing, I want to get better at it, and to be more confident: hence the lessons.

I sing alto in choirs — I have since I was 12. As an alto in a Renaissance choir, I can quite happily rumble around with the tenors if I wanted. So imagine my surprise when I found I can sing a high A! I’ve been sent away to practice ‘Over the Rainbow’ and a Dalmatian lullaby that reminds me of Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea. This morning was a lot of fun and I look forward to practicing for next week.

Favourite things

St Salvator’s Chapel:

St Salvator’s, or Sallies, is one of the University’s chapels, named after one of the University’s colleges. The main choir that I sing in, the Renaissance Singers, rehearses here every week.

Weekend in pictures

The weekend in pictures:


Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace.

A very bold squirrel that came up to me during lunch in Regent’s Park.

An Asiatic lion in the London Zoo. Isn’t he beautiful?

A Kestrel named Solo and his keeper.
Kestrels are the only falcons that can hover in mid-air.


A day spent in Surrey watching the final instalment of the Harry Potter films and hanging out with friends.

A view from outside the pub we went to for drinks after the film.

An enormous glowing fox outside the Queen Elizabeth Hall.

I seem to have acquired the habit of walking across London bridges at midnight.


Three guesses where I went on Sunday…

Dr. Watson in the sitting room at the Sherlock Holmes Museum.

Sunday afternoon and evening were spent promming at the Royal Albert Hall. Over a thousand performers coming together for Brian’s ‘The Gothic’, the longest symphony yet written. The choir alone consisted of over 800 singers. The phrase ‘O for a thousand tongues to sing’ has entirely new meaning for me. It was epic.