Friday Fun with poetry & singing

As is traditional for Friday Fun, there is some TfL geekiness, but there is an entire blogpost of geekiness imminent, so I’ll keep it to a minimum today, with just one piece of fun.

I am a big fan of tube etiquette posters – largely because I am also a big fan of keeping tube etiquette. However, the recent series of posters using rhyming couplets to instruct us to give up seats; not eat smelly food; and let others off the train first has been derided by some. One such person decided to bring some quality poetry into the etiquette messages, re-writing them in the style of Blake, Byron, Shakespeare etc…

Blake Tube Etiquette

Kipling, Byron, Barrett-Browning

Not, strictly speaking, TfL fun, but both London and Transport related, is Jake Foreman’s third instalment of Unfinished London.  The first two are well worth checking out if you haven’t already (the unfinished Northern Line plans & the inner London orbital) and this one does not disappoint. This time, the subject is London’s airports:

Moving on. Still riding high on the joy of seeing Les Mis in the flesh last week, I very much enjoyed this rendition of One Day More – with lyrics translated through layers of Google Translate. It’s excellent, partly because the singers are, and partly because it’s just ridiculous. Quality intellectual musical fun:

Next, am I alone in feeling something of a Harry Potter absence at this time of year? For years, early summer involved heady anticipation of a new book or film – until 2011, when the final movie arrived. If you share my wistfulness, and don’t have the time/inclination to read all 7 books or watch all 8 films, then you can relive the joy through 5 minutes of how Harry Potter should have ended:

And, as I said at the start, keep watch for further TfL fun in the next couple of days…

The Les Misérables Mass

As I mentioned earlier in the week, at least one of the Greenbelt sessions I reviewed for the Church Times was worthy of more than the 150 words I submitted to the editor. Nothing over the whole weekend provoked more interest on Twitter than the Les Mis Mass – admittedly, this may be because I live-tweeted it, I’ve yet to meet a single person who hasn’t been intrigued/horrified by the concept. Thus, it deserves a little more of an explanation than I was able to give at the time.

Les Mis Mass Tweets

Anyone who has listened to sermons on a fairly regular basis over the last 8 months has almost certainly heard a sermon in which Jean Valjean and the plot of Victor Hugo’s novel has featured – I heard one (that was fairly decent) in Westminster Abbey the Sunday after Easter. This trend irritated me slightly, what with the novel having been published in 1862 and the musical nearly 3 decades old, these were not new themes, simply a Hollywood bandwagon to be jumped upon. However, the mass was different…

To be honest, I signed up to review it not really knowing what to expect. I went with an attitude of “well, I like Les Mis and I like communion, so what could go wrong?”, and only minutes before it began discovered a little more detail about the format. This was no Les Mis singalong, the mass was a thoughtful re-interpretation of the traditional sung eucharist, using tunes and themes familiar from the musical.

Les Mis is well-suited to such a setting. The themes of forgiveness, redemption and salvation sit well with the similar themes of the eucharist. If you’re a fan of a sung eucharistic setting, then you can’t do much better than the music of Boubil & Schönberg. (Well, with the exception of Bach, Mozart, Handel…) To be honest, I’m rather surprised that no one had thought of it sooner – but it took Transcendence (an alt.worship community based at York Minster) to develop the concept into what we experienced at Greenbelt.

And it was a popular one. When I arrived, ten minutes before it was due to start, the queue was 100’s of metres long – and the room was already stuffed with people. My fabulous Press Pass got me in past through the crowds (I don’t feel guilty about that, it’s exactly what it was intended for) and I secured a spot on the floor that was nearer the back than I might have liked. It was unfortunate that someone took the decision to ask the congregation to stand so that another 150 people could enter, as it meant that only the first couple of rows could see the screens with the rather crucial liturgy on them. [Greenbelt, don’t over-rule your venue managers in such situations. The room was already packed and like a sauna – the event should have been in a larger venue. Rant over.]

Despite the crowds, the temperature, the fact that it was 9.30pm and I was existing on little sleep and low blood sugar levels, I was surprised at how quickly I found myself in a worshipful state of mind. That says a lot for the way in which the service was conducted. It was dramatic, but no more so than worship in a high church context. The singing didn’t feel that much different than singing a regular sung eucharist (in fact, at one point the regular sung responses were used), although sometimes the lyrics were a tight fit to the tunes and occasionally it wasn’t entirely clear what the congregation was meant to be doing (the obscured screens didn’t help). The team could possibly have done with a more confident vocalist leading the congregation, but singing skills aren’t always the most important aspect of leading a eucharistic service.

Les Mis MassLes Mis Mass: celebrated. (Credit.)

For me, the fact that we sang familiar words to familiar tunes (tunes which have always had the ability to tug at my heartstrings) made it all the more meaningful, but I wasn’t entirely convinced by the meditation on a pipe cleaner man section. To be honest, given the amount of connection between the readings (Job 33:23-25 & Luke 18:9-17) and Hugo’s text, I’d have preferred something that linked them all together. But the idea of manipulating pipe cleaners is at least one to file for future reference. Oh, and the team missed a trick by not using baguettes as the bread element – baguette and vin rouge would have been genius!

However, there was one thing that destroyed the holiness of the experience for me and left me ranting. (In fact, I ranted so hard in the beer tent afterwards that I was barely coherent in my views on the service itself.) I had the misfortune of sitting adjacent to a group of student-types who appeared to have musical theatre inclinations – given away by the fact that one was wearing a Les Mis amateur production t-shirt, and that the group was singing along in harmony before the service had even started. Now, I am an ardent musical theatre fan and have been devoted to Les Mis since the age of 13, but I also know the difference between a singalong and an act of worship. Singing the liturgy lustily is fine; singing as if you’re on a West End stage is not. I finally lost my rag during the distribution of the elements. For some reason an instrumental version of Coldplay’s Fix You was playing and this group sang along, in not particularly great harmony. When they launched into a second verse, I’d had enough and quietly asked them if they realised that this was an act of worship, that people might be praying and could be disturbed by their noise – they agreed to stop. Seconds later, the band began singing along and one of the boys turned to me with a gleeful “see, they’re doing it now!” to which I felt the only valid response was: “yes, but they’re leading the service and you’re not, so shut up!”. Perfectly reasonable, surely? (I did exchange looks with fellow worshippers before intervening…)

Les Mis Mass screenEnding the service with a ‘Do You Hear the People Sing’ recessional.

Annoying MT fans excepted, it was an interesting experience and one I’d contemplate trying to replicate at some point. I really don’t think it lessens the meaning of the act of worship, and if it connects with new people then surely that’s a good thing? For ages, I’ve been plotting some form of musicals-inspired worship and now I think it might be doable. It has to be the right musical though, I suspect Grease would not work.

Friday Fun with allergies, Christians and puppies

I’m counting down until I finally see Les Mis, but there’s still another 11 days to go. It’ll be worth the wait though, as I’ll be with longtime musical companion Morven and we’ll be experiencing IMAX for the first time. In the mean time I’m satisfying my French musical desires by essay writing while accompanied by the score and trawling the internet for tributes. After the genius of the wedding flash mob discovered two weeks ago, I thought it would be hard to find something that compared, until I discovered One Grain More. Yep, that’s a food allergy themed version of One Day More

Where it wins – aside from the comic puns and references to ‘Epipen’ (as opposed to Eponine) – is in the voices of the cast. Like the wedding flash mob, they’re awesome singers, and you can’t do Les Mis without the voices.

Continuing the costume drama theme, my Monday morning Twitter feed has revealed that Americans are now getting season 3 of Downton Abbey on a Sunday night. In their honour and as a tribute to fabulous Dame Maggie winning a Golden Globe last week, here are the Lady Dowager’s finest moments. (She is, officially, the best thing about Downton.)

Next, how about some inspirational reading – you know, much like Victor Hugo’s work of genius? Or, how about the 12 worst Christian book covers of 2012? [Have patience with that site’s rather weird design, it’s worth it!] We all know that Christian publishers can sometimes make ill-advised artistic decisions and there are some crackers from last year. This was a favourite:

Not only is that an awful cover, it has also revealed to me that there is such a thing as ‘heartwarming inspirational romance’ books! From what I can see, many of such books seem to involve cowboys (#2 on the list was another example) and a lot of soft-focus. Christian romance books?? Who’d have thought it…

While on the subject of Christian romance, here is a ridiculous video parodying the things Christian girls say, particularly in relation to relationships (“where is my Boaz?!?”; “she has a real Jezabel spirit!”; “let me be an Esther”…). I would like to say that I have never said any of these phrases, but there is a small possibility I might have said one or two (and I am a very big fan of journalling). However, it is utterly hilarious:

Finally, because cute animals are the epitome of Friday Fun, here is the cutest dog video you might ever see. Yes, I realise the internet was created for cats, but I am a dog person and this is awesome. Watch a grown up dog teach a puppy how to come down the stairs…

Belated Friday Fun

I’ve rather neglected Friday Fun the past few weeks and fully intended to get back on the wagon this week, however the last couple of days have been a little on the manic side – meaning that I missed my chance to blog on Friday. However, I felt it was worth sharing it belatedly, if only to ease the pain among teaching friends who have to return to the fray on Monday.

Firstly, is there anything better to drive away the new year blues than a musical-fest of epic proportions? I have bemoaned the fact that the international release schedule of Les Mis the movie meant that – unlike the Americans – we Brits could not make a cinema trip to see it part of our Christmas celebrations. [Because nothing says Christmas like a bloody barricade.] However, watching it imminently is currently one of my 2013 highlights. Les Mis is up there as one of my all-time favourite musicals (there are times when it might even beat Wicked), and it was the first one with which I was utterly obsessed. I saw it, I sang it, I had the full double CD, I wore the t-shirt, I had the score, and my 14 year old self identified wholeheartedly with Eponine (my 31 year old self still does, sadly). I have my reservations about the movie – Amanda Seyfried’s voice being my main issue – but it will be a joy, I’m sure. I wonder if wearing my beret to a screening would be taking things too far?

What probably is taking a love of Les Mis too far is having a rendition of one of its songs at your wedding. No, I can’t think of any particular songs in the show that would be appropriate in the context of nuptials, except possibly A Heart Full of Love. However, this did not stop one couple having a Les Mis flashmob at their wedding reception, singing the classic One Day More:

Stunning, no? Not many people would have talented enough friends to pull that off (though I’d like to think that I do). However, it raised a few concerns for me. Weddings are stressful occasions and conclusions could be drawn from the different stories within the song. For example, is the girl singing Eponine’s part an ex of the groom (or someone who’s harboured unrequited feelings for him)? Are the Thenadiers the rowdy relatives no one really wanted to invite? Anyway, it’s a fabulous rendition…

While on the subject of fighting for one’s rights, it is clear that a hot topic in 2013 will continue to be the issue of women and the episcopate. Yesterday an atheist friend pointed me in the direction of a campaign video about women clergy – but this time it’s not bishops, it’s about female Catholic priests. In a common Friday Fun theme, it’s also another Call Me Baby parody. I’ve already shared it on Facebook & Twitter, but it deserves a blog mention too. Amusingly, some friends have already pointed out some issues with their clerical garb…

Continuing the somewhat feminist theme, some of you may recall a recent furore over Bic’s biros for women – ‘Bic for Her’ – and the comedy reviews that subsequently appeared on Amazon. But not everyone was against them, here’s a moving, giggle-inducing tribute about why pens for women are a good idea. “You can write with your own breast milk, it’s like invisible ink…”

I’ve just delved into my favourited Tweets (where I stash potential Friday Fun fodder) and discovered a ton of Christmas favourites I never got round to posting. However, as Christmas isn’t officially over until tomorrow, I feel justified in sharing one that’s more beautiful than fun and serves as a reminder of just how lovely the Big Smoke is at this time of year:

Happy Epiphany!