Record of Meeting, 13 August 2008

We met on 13 August at David Lambourn’s house. Present were David Belcher, Michael Bennett, John Challenor, Sara Clethero (welcome), John Howard, David Lambourn, Simon Mapp and Stephen Williams with an apology from Paul Graham. As arranged, we discussed art and religion in the light of the national conference.

David Belcher and Stephen Williams reported back on what had been a well-run and very enjoyable conference. Many of the workshops were activity-based (singing and dancing etc) and more generally there had been an emphasis on expression rather than argument. It made for a more nuanced approach in which different, sometimes ambiguous or contradictory ideas could be embraced.

The main “academic” input had come from George Pattison, reflecting on monotheistic religion’s problems (or rivalry) with artistic creativity, and arguing instead that both art and religion are in the business of transformation of matter and experience. In the central part of his address he reflected on the idea of creation out of nothing drawing on his special expertise, the writings of Kierkegaard. The freedom to be ourselves, the foundation of creativity, can be too great to bear, and there is comfort in conformism. If we think, however, about the transformation or “re-creation” of real life, both art and religion can be sources of consolation. The argument here had been quite difficult to follow and was not helped by the excessive heat in the room so the reprint in due course in Sofia will be much awaited.

Sara Clethero went on to talk about her experience in teaching singing and more generally in the use of voice, in the context of both performance and therapy. She suggested that unlike other forms of expression, voice belongs in the moment and with the speaker or singer (cf. post-modern approaches which treat products as objects and therefore public property). Voice is existential (Sara has an academic interest in existential Christianity) and has its own authenticity. She gave as an example the ecstatic vocalisations to be found in Pentecostalist churches. Other members of the group were less sure of the distinctiveness of voice as against for instance writing, especially when we shift the emphasis from expression to communication. Where in that context does the listener or reader fit in?

The discussion led us back to the concept of performance and looked forward to the idea of rites of passage, the ceremonies used to mark significant life stages, that we had already identified as a possible topic for the next meeting. As previously agreed that will be on Wednesday 24 September 2008 at 1930 at David Lambourn’s house, 28 Frederick Road, Edgbaston. The meeting after that will be on Wednesday 12 November.