April 2019 Letter

A highlight of March was the Finkle Street Singers concert at St James’ Melsonby. There was so much enjoyment in the singers’ faces as they sang a programme of many classic and evocative popular songs. My little boys enjoyed the concert so much that they asked to go back the next day!

Singing for fun groups are becoming more popular following the Gareth Malone effect, and as people realise the real health benefits of singing. Recent research from the University of Leicester, published in January, gives evidence that singing in a workplace choir can reduce workplace stress and feelings of social isolation.

March was ‘Music in Schools’ month, or so I kept hearing on Classic FM. In a letter to The Observer last summer, musicians, including violinist Nicola Benedetti and cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason, expressed their concern that music education is being ‘left to decay in many British schools’ – a tragedy, especially given the benefits that music brings to a child’s academic ability and emotional development.

We are lucky to have some really brilliant music going on in our village primary schools. My favourite part of collective worship at Eppleby is always the incredibly enthusiastic singing of action songs by Fischy Music; songs which draw upon biblical verses and imagery as well as giving children a vocabulary with which to express feelings and emotions.  Meanwhile at Melsonby the music making is getting so good that in early April all the children will be taking part in the Wensleydale Tournament of Music and Speech as a school choir and a smaller group as a brass band ensemble.

Whether at school, in church, in our homes, or in our and work and leisure places, music can also contribute greatly to our spiritual health and be an important way in which we feel close to God. Music can be a way of expressing our faith and deepest prayers and sometimes of expressing the inexpressible. Rose Tremain, in her 1999 novel, Music and Silence, says that music is ‘the human soul, speaking without words’ and describes it as ‘a reaching out in the soul towards God’. Centuries before, St Augustine, wrote this in his sermon on Psalm 32:

‘At the harvest, in the vineyard, wherever people must labour hard, they begin with songs whose words express their joy. But when their joy brims over and words are not enough, they abandon even this coherence and give themselves up to the sheer sound of singing. What is this jubilation, this exultant song? It is the melody that means our hearts are bursting with feelings words cannot express. And to whom does this jubilation belong? Surely to God, who is unutterable. And does not unutterable mean what cannot be uttered? If words will not come and you may not remain silent, what else can you do but let the melody soar?’

As we approach Holy Week and Easter, music can be a special way of remembering and making present Christ’s passion and resurrection so that we are caught up in the saving actions of Christ. In our Benefice there will be an opportunity to take part in the devotional work, The Cross of Christ, on Good Friday at Aldbrough at 10.00am and at St Mary’s Richmond in the evening. The devotional work includes readings, hymns and choir anthems. There will also be a special Easter Eve service at Melsonby this year, as the sun sets. This Service of Light is the first service of Easter and our selection of music will be lighter and joyful. If you would like to join the choir for either service please get in touch with Chris.

Wherever you are this Easter, whether you believe or doubt, I encourage you to ‘make a joyful noise unto the Lord’. Bang out a rhythm on a drum, pick up an instrument and play or just sing, and join the voices of all creation in celebrating life and the new life given through the risen Lord Jesus Christ.

God bless,



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