Sunday, May 4, 2014

Celebrating George

Last week I was invited to a St. George's Day concert at the Albert Hall.
It was moving and memorable . . . and it set me thinking.

St. George, it appears, has a wide-ranging web of influence, far wider than I'd realised.

Did you know that he's the patron saint of Portugal, Greece, Syria, Palestine, Ethiopia, Iraq, Serbia and Malta . . . not to mention several other countries and individual cities?
George doesn't cause division, he unites.

But the George we encountered at the Albert Hall wasn't dressed in armour, seated astride a horse or fighting a dragon.

He was in an old tweed jacket giving voice to the hidden music of the Malvern Hills . . .  he was in doublet and hose, expressing his wisdom through Shakespeare . . .  he was also to be found sheltering in the banks of green willow and inspiring his namesake, George Butterworth.

Down the centuries, St. George has resonated through our culture and countryside.  For all of us that evening . . . orchestra, choir, soloists and audience . . . he created a bond, uniting us in an uplifting, shared experience.

Traditional English restraint . . . ?   Forget it . . . just look at us singing and waving our flags.
Traditional English reserve . . . ?   Hardly . . . we all turned and beamed happily at the erstwhile strangers around us.

In a spirit of pomp and circumstance we relished Elgar, Handel, Holst and Parry, tapped our feet to 'The Dambusters March', united in a whole-hearted rendition of 'Jerusalem', and gave a collective sigh of relief that the blue-birds were returning to the white cliffs of Dover!

Do I sound absurdly sentimental and nostalgic . . . were we celebrating an England that no longer exists, mistaking an embalmed memory for the reality, out of touch with the values of our commercially-driven, modern world?

That could be true.  But it felt as though, beneath the surface of the words and music, there was a quality that we were being encouraged to remember.

As the programme neared its end we were treated to a reading of Rupert Brooke's much-loved poem, 'The Soldier'.
You probably know the concluding lines . . .

"And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds;  dreams happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends;  and gentleness,
In hearts at peace, under an English heaven."

The concert reached its conclusion and, as it did so, in fitting tribute to St. George a profusion of red and white balloons came floating down from the ceiling.

But it was the words of Rupert Brooke that lingered in my mind as I journeyed home.

Nostalgia has been termed 'lazy thinking'.   That may be true . . . but it's not the whole truth.  St. George was doing more than superimposing an air-brushed memory on the present.

It could be claimed that he was offering us something more subtle, something precious that we're in danger of losing.

In our chaotic, pressurised, daily life, could it be that some aspects are being forgotten . . . that their value has been overlooked?
Aspects such as dreams . . . laughter . . . gentleness . . . and hearts at peace?

And are they waiting to be rediscovered . . . out there somewhere, 'under an English heaven'?

Listen to Elgar's 'Chanson de Matin' and see if you agree . . . Chloe knows what I mean!