Rising up within the uprising channel, I am writing my first piece for t5m. I am grateful to Becca Hutson for giving me this opportunity and I hope that I can be worthy of her faith and produce the occasional piece that is worthwhile.
As you know, t5m is quite hip; its content is current, cultural, with a modern, upbeat, urban vibe. We review the latest trends in music, film, fashion and current affairs as they are evolving globally.
However, in this article, I want to celebrate a cultural product which is very uncool, namely the album ‘Alma Mater: Music from the Vatican, featuring the voice of Pope Benedict XVI’ which has recently been released. You can’t get much less cool than choral music, you can’t get much further from a hip-hop MC than the Pope, but I want to shout about the worth of this album because listening to it over the last few days has delighted me.
My tastes are not fuddy-duddy Radio 2 Terry Wogan Show or smooth classics on Classic FM. I am not pipe and slippers Middle England. On my MP3 player I have Rihanna’s ‘Rated R’, hip-hop like Snoop Dogg’s ‘The Blue Carpet Treatment’ and Tupac’s ‘Until the End of Time’, vocal stuff like Lily Allen’s ‘Alright Still’ and albums by the Streets and Kings of Leon. These are mainstream tastes for a normal 28-year old guy; I don’t profess great edge or originality to my music collection, but it is certainly bright and breezy, rather than quaint and middle-aged.
I have enjoyed listening to ‘Alma Mater: Music from the Vatican’ over the last couple of days partly because it is an aberration from my normal consumption. The high-wattage of modern life pumps us all up into hugely busy performance machines with schedules to meet, people to see and places to get to. Therefore, it is a joy to listen to an album which encourages one to sit back, to relax, to get some candles out, to listen and meditate, to find peace and sanctuary within the quietness that is indeed possible.
The choral music emerging from the Vatican is so beautiful that it softened the tensions within me. I crossed my legs on my beanbag and breathed a sigh of relief. Pressure and strain was replaced by pleasure and bliss, as I listening to music of great accomplishment, of great quality and of great beauty. In between sections of instrumentals and choral vocals, the occasional chants of the Pope in Latin and Italian had a rhythmic, kind cadence, like a sweet lullaby, like William Blake’s pipers, piping songs of sweetness, piping songs of glee.
The religious element to the music is something I am comfortable with, but I am not a Christian. My philosophical convictions follow scientists like Richard Dawkins, who has a presence on the t5m site: http://www.t5m.com/richard-dawkins/
However, I appreciate religions for the depth of the contributions that they have made to our cultures. I value the great stories of old, even if they are just stories and I value their insights into the human condition and the human journey. I am comfortable with an eclectic sense of spirituality which includes elements of science, elements of Christianity and elements of Buddhism; I need not reject a faith simply because I do not believe all of its tenets. Evolution may be ‘the greatest show on earth’, but religion is part of that show, it is part of the evolution of human consciousness and human behavior; I need not reject it because I do not wholly agree, rather I can appreciate it for the richness of the heritage that it has bequeathed.
Before I sound too much like a modern day preacher singing hymns for the new church, let me bring this crashing back down to earth. I don’t want to listen to Music from the Vatican when I am in the gym or on the Tube or on my hi-fi when I have friends round! I don’t even want to listen to it often. But I do want to have a place in my life for occasional reflection, occasional quiet time, occasional abstention from the high-octane life of a young professional trying to make it in the edgy, competitive market place that is 21st Century Londinium.
This album gave me peace and for that I am grateful.