08 March 2023

Dancing with Angels
and listening to music
under the full moon

Patrick Comerford

I know these are forms of illiteracy. But I never learned to sing properly, I never learned to read music, and I never learned to play a musical instrument.

My life has been filled with the pleasure of music since I was 19, when I was introduced to the music of Vaughan Williams while I was staying in Wilderhope Manor in Shropshire, and was challenged to listen to Bach and Beethoven.

Although at school in Gormanston they offered to teach me any instrument I wanted to try, there was no encouragement at home. My parents did not play any musical instruments, they never sang in a choir, and there was no musical instrument in the house. Apart from my elder brother’s mouth organ, there was no piano or violin; why, there wasn’t even a record player there until I was 19 or 20.

I have more than compensated for these forms of illiteracy since then. I was delighted to be part of the choir in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, on rare occasions, and to chair the Cathedral Music Committee briefly. I took a particular interest in the chapel music and hymns when I was lecturing in liturgy at the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. And it was a privilege, indeed, to spend five years as Canon Precentor of Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick, Saint Flannan’s Cathedral, Killaloe, Co Clare, and Saint Brendan’s Cathedral, Clonfert, Co Galway.

Additional musical pleasures came with my election as a Fellow of the Academy of Saint Ceecilia (FASC) and later as a Fellow of the Fraternity of Saint Cecilia (FFSC). These days, my limited liturgical and musical engagement includes offering my bass voice twice a month in the parish choir on Sunday mornings in Saint Mary and Saint Giles Church, Stony Stratford, although today’s snow across England means this evening’s choir rehearsal has been cancelled.

I suppose it is too late at this stage to imagine I am going to be able to make more than a poor effort at sight reading music. I am never going to play a musical instrument. So, it was a wonderful surprise this week to be told by the American composer Fran Schultz, who lives in Howell, New Jersey, that my writing and ideas have inspired her latest composition and recording, ‘How Many Angels Can Dance on the Head of a Pin.’

Fran started the week off with her new piece of music, which she describes as in the genre of rock, instrumental and digital electronic music. The musical instruments on her recording include a Steinway Grand Piano, Oak Piano Dream Synthesiser, Stutter Stack and Classic D6.

She warns that her five-minute recording is ‘best heard with headphones,’ and on her website is generous when she extends ‘special thanks to Patrick Comerford for his writing and his allowing me use of his photos.’

She introduced this new piece late on Sunday morning or early on Monday morning, depending on which side of the Atlantic you live, saying there is ‘no better time than a Full Moon to release a new piece of music.’

Fran says ‘How Many Angels Can Dance on the Head of a Pin’ is ‘very inspired’ by a recent piece I wrote and that she wrote this piece of music because of my ‘inspirational writing.’

She adds: ‘I also enjoyed reading all the links he provided about the artist, Emily Young, his thoughts and quotes by her. I thank him very much for letting me make use of his photographs for this piece of music and to the artist Emily Young for making them.’

She continues: ‘The connection point for me in his writing was immediate in his succinct and direct insightful recognition of such questions and in my seeing how in social media distracts us into questions that are essentially “A metaphor for wasting time discussing trivial topics that have no practical value, or asking questions whose answers hold no practical value, or asking questions whose answers hold no consequence, at times when we have more urgent concerns to debate”.’

She is unexpectedly generous when she says my ‘writing has many layers of depth to it that I particularly am drawn to in the subjects of architecture, sculptures, history, theology, questions, the deeper meaning of things and the beauty of things we might not have noticed or fully appreciated before. I love his thoughtful responses to the questions and what brought those very questions up upon reflecting the sculptures made by Emily Young as he was taking a walk in London … and taking photos. Hope you enjoy his writing and enjoy my music too!’

And she then offers a link to my website and my article of 25 February 2023, ‘Emily Young’s Five Angels on Columns,’ HERE.

You can listen to Fran Schultz’s composition, ‘How Many Angels Can Dance on the Head of a Pin’, HERE.

A journey through Lent 2023
with Samuel Johnson (15)

‘And all our yesterdays have lighted fools / The way to dusty death’ … the Johnson family memorial in Saint Michael’s Church, Lichfield, with the inscription commissioned by Samuel Johnson (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

I have a mdeical appointment later this morning to check my Vitamin B12 levels, and later in the day I hope to take part in a Zoom meeting of local clergy in the Milton Keynes area. But before this becomes a busy day, I am taking some time this morning for prayer and reflection.

During Lent this year, I am taking time each morning to reflect on words from Samuel Johnson (1709-1784), the Lichfield-born lexicographer and writer who compiled the first authoritative English-language dictionary.

So often, in Lent as in every other time of the year, we live in our yesterdays, rather than living in today and hoping for tomorrow.

Yesterday was defined by Johnson defined in his Dictionary in these words:

Day last past; day next before to-day.
To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow