Hallo there. It’s time you joined the choir. It’s blooming brilliant. Trouble is, not all of you lovely people reside here in Brighton and Hove… but even if you don’t live here, please carry us in your hearts, and wish us a great future, for the Interfaith Choir is a thing of beauty that defies the odds and goes on and on, sounding better and better, even when we find ourselves in situations where we amount to little more than a handful of very enthusiastic singers.
The Choir at the Annual Service. Photo by Sarah West.
The Interfaith Choir of Brighton and Hove first popped up a couple of years back when Interfaith Contact Group executive Charlotte Gravestock decided to ask the interfaith minister and musician Razia Aziz if she would help start up a choir for the annual interfaith service in November. And so Razia did, and in doing so she called on the power and glory of the famed choir-master Judith Silver… and so it came to be that the twin choir-masters of the Interfaith Choir are members of the the Islamic and Jewish communities respectively, and I cannot think of anything more beautiful or inspirational than that; the two are so massively gifted, it’s hardly surprising the choir is so very special.
The problem was the choir masters needed to be paid, and this began to present problems as funding money dwindled away. Judith doesn’t even live in Brighton and is a choirmaster by profession, and Razia is a professional musician, so when the grant ran out, it seemed that the choir might fail. But, no, this was not to be. Taking reduced fees, and sometimes even working for nothing our leaders have continued to support us with heartfelt enthusiasm. Meanwhile the choir has done something pretty wondrous in its own right. It has taken responsibility for its own rehearsals and practice, with different members of the choir leading, and in some cases, we have reaped the benefit of a gifted musician from within our own ranks, like Laura Hopper, who is already an acclaimed solo performer, with her partner Jason. On Saturday the Choir sang at the opening ceremony of the Horsham Circle of Life Festival. The weekend was a public holiday weekend – the Saturday before May bank holiday.
The Choir in Horsham, led by Rev Razia Aziz
More than two thirds of the choir had long standing family commitments which left us with just six singers for the occasion. As we sang in Horsham, I realised that we are now far more accomplished than we started out with around 18 to 20 singers over two years ago, gathered together for the interfaith service. Some wonderful new members have joined, and they are destined to make us even stronger, and also people have dropped out, thinking that we would never be up to the mark, while others just found the commitment too much. But today, with a core of very special and enthusiastic singers representing people from the Quaker, Methodist, Catholic, Jewish, Islamic, Buddhist, Pagan, Interfaith and Atheist communities of our City, we have the joy of sharing a sentiment that is beautiful and inspiring both for ourselves and those we sing to. The choir rules OK, and not only does it rule for us, those listening realise the significance of what it represents; it’s about the authentic spirit of love and harmony.
Laura leads us, and Razia looks on sweetly as we all chime in mellifluously
I have made a discovery. Life is not easy if one clings on to expectations. It is so much easier to wander around in a cloud of bemused jollity, expecting almost nothing other than to have a jolly time, or a serious time, or a thoughtful time… but a good time.
I learned about the pleasantness of having no expectations when I started to do funerals in quantity. As I got better at it, and focused on the crucial bits that make people feel better and more connected, things happened. Families would send me lovely ‘thank you’ cards, and sometimes even flowers and plants. It came as a massive surprise that families and friends of people that had died were able to find the time to be gracious and say ‘thank you’. It continues to be a surprise, no matter how often it happens.
Other surprises just shouldn’t be surprises. The physical changes that happen as one gets older. I find myself looking in the mirror thinking “Blimey, that person in the mirror looks exactly like my dad… or my granny… hang on a sec… Oh No! It’s me!”
A lack of expectation is so freeing. A week ago I went to my 90-year-old cousin’s birthday party with absolutely no expectation whatsoever. She is a grand old lady, who has got an impressive gong (Member of the British Empire, methinks) for services to bibliographic conservation. She is remarkable – but I had no expectation of how her party would be; in fact, it was wonderful, and it was one of three, because her social circle is so vast that she had to have three celebrations to accommodate us all. It was a brilliant occasion, one of the best parties I have been to in years – so unexpected. And yet when I think of my mother’s 90th, it seemed as if all her contemporaries had just drifted away, and only a tiny handful of friends were left. Clearly one cannot make comparisons, and one cannot have expectations, either.
The Crest of Brighton & Hove’s Mayor
The most unexpected thing to happen to me of late is that I have been appointed Chaplain to the Mayor of Brighton and Hove. I am still surprised and overwhelmed by what it involves, and what it means, but as soon as I was told, it seemed that the job began. It’s an honorary title, but this is immaterial – with 27 different charities covering everything from food recycling to cycling, from housing to environmental conservation, from bereavement to hearing loss, this task, serving the spiritual needs of the mayor and those he supports is an honour, and also an education of the highest order. And now for something completely different… I am looking at the page that this blogetty blog appears on, and I notice that it is out of date. The Brighton wheel has gone. It was a thing of beauty. We are stuck with a giant and pointless pointed stick instead. Everybody I know does not feel affection towards it… not in the way we loved the wheel. Can the pointed stick (called the I360) win us over? I have few or no expectations.