Saturday, March 31, 2007


A wonderful album I bought last week from Amazon is Voices of the Valley from the The Fron Male Voice Choir. Although some of the tracks are sung in Welsh, the majority are in English with some truly magnificent performances of Sailing, Abide with Me, Jerusalem, and World in Union. I first heard a piece from this album on Alan Titchmarsh's Sunday evening programme on Radio 2 about a month ago and thought how good it sounded and I've always liked listening to choirs and music for massed voices.

On the subject of choirs, Five showed a follow up programme last Wednesday on The Singing Estate. The original series was a brilliant idea, forming a choir from the residents of the deprived Blackbird Leys estate in Oxford. Almost none of the choir members had done any public singing before and for the most part were complete novices. Over the course of the series, their transformation into a choir of professional standards was amazing. I was fortunate to see them perform for the first time live at the Royal Albert Hall last April in a Classic FM concert. At that concert the choir gave a stirring and for them at least, an emotional performance of O'Fortuna from Carmina Burana. The programme last week was a follow-up to what had happened to the choir since and for the most part the stories were positive and uplifting. The experience had given some hope and inspiration to do something positive, for others it led them to evaluate their lives and find renewed purpose. All in all, it showed that music and particularly singing, are extremely important in all our lives and can define and express our identities.

Last week I finished reading The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst. An interesting novel that is on one level a savage satire on the hedonism and greed of the 80s and on another a thoughtful and moving reflection on love and growing up. The central character, Nick Guest, I came to despise by the end. For me, he was altogether too charming, wonderfully handsome and self-absorbed. His central pursuit is that of beauty, wherever he goes and in everything that he experiences. He is very much the cuckoo in the nest of the Fedden's home, the family he becomes a part of and it is clear by the end of the novel that Nick really doesn't belong, ultimately the dark secret of his own homosexuality bringing shame and embarrassment on his adopted family.

While Hollinghurst's novel mixes satire and darkly comic moments against a vivid backdrop of grandeur and opulence, its abiding memory for me is the insidiousness of Nick. I felt that despite all his charms and assured confidence, that he is a self-destructive and vain character, largely reflecting Thatcher's Britain.

The BBC adapted the novel for a three-part series in 2006 and have a mini-site guide to the series here.

Currently I am reading All the President's Men and will probably follow that up with its sequel The Final Days, both books charting the Watergate break-in and cover-up that led to the downfall of President Nixon.

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