At the heart of my work for The Little Sisters of Joy are the Concerts for Peace and Reconciliation. The first one took place in the beautiful chapel of Clare College, Cambridge in 2004 with about 40 people from different traditions and cultures present. Classically trained, I went back to the singing of my youth, with a mixture of Songs from the 60’s, folk songs and Jewish music, which I suppose has become my ‘speciality.’ Growing up in the Jewish religion as I did I am able to sing both folk songs in Hebrew as well as liturgical music from the Synagogue, which goes well when I accompany the pieces on the guitar.
The third concert in the Lee Hall in Wolfson College, was unusual as it was held on The Jewish New Year for Trees, a minor Feast but one which goes back to the times of the Mishnah, when the Rabbis were commenting on the Torah, dating back to the 3rd century. When I was at Jewish primary school in London, we were told to bring as many fruits as possible on this Feast, and it resonates now through my Christianity and the work I do to bring people together.
On the night of the concert, I prepared myself for the performance. Alex, my young friend who makes sure everything goes smoothly on the night, heard me warm up with the guitar. We decided to open the curtains in the hall so that the sound wouldn’t be muffled and the beautiful gardens-an English one on one side and a Chinese one on the other-were revealed in the evening light.
As usual the audience was very mixed, with quite a few new people, including Geoff our Deacon and his wife Pat coming for the first time. Three members of the Jewish community were there, sitting in front of a Christian lady who had come because she was interested in Jewish cantorial music. One of the pieces I sang, Ayts Chaim Hee (It is a Tree of Life) was from the heart of the Synagogue liturgy, about renewal and repentance, and seemed to go down well.
It was during the Songs of the 60’s that the audience came into its own. I conducted them, unaccompanied, in a rendering of We Shall Overcome and they sang very movingly together in Blowing in the Wind. A Hebrew melody from the prayer book was followed by Rambling Boy, (which I always dedicate to the late Bishop Lacey of Toronto) and Psalm 133, sung as a round, describing a tribe of brothers living in harmony. As a spontaneous gesture of affection to my friend of 95 years, James, I concluded with his favourite song: ‘Last night I had the strangest dream.’