Soon after moving to Hebden my wife and I were lucky enough to have a little boy. We named him Henry. Not being properly house trained, us not him, and lacking relatives in the vicinity we took him to any activities we participated in. This meant that he could be found entertaining all manner of people at all manner of events that might normally be deemed inappropriate for a baby to attend.
One of the activities we discovered through the Hebden Diary was Taizé singing. It’s a form of chanting in the round that was begun in southern France in the town of Taizé by a Swiss monk named Brother Roger who set up an ecumenical community to spread ideas of simplicity, kindness and reconciliation. The singing is one aspect of the community that has carried around the world. It invites people to come together to sing simple songs of praise. We would plonk Henry down outside the circle, keeping a weather eye out for him as he crawled around, snatching him up if he crawled too close to the candle in the centre.
The group we attended four years ago met at 8.30 in the morning in the Wellbeing Centre on Valley Road. We would sit in the waiting room until everyone arrived. Then we went through to the designated room where the chairs were laid out in a circle. Once everyone was seated, Sue Askey who led the singing lit a candle and placed it in the middle. After a brief, settling silence she would begin to sing. There were a number of books for anybody who could read music but it wasn’t always necessary to use them. The words of the songs are minimal and repeated over and over until the whole group is singing in harmony, at which point the song comes to an end and a new one is chosen. It is inspiring to be amongst people who you haven’t met before and within minutes be joining them in singing simple harmonies, creating a strange and beautiful sound.
Having not attended the group for four years, it was a pleasant surprise to arrive to film this selection of singers and find that although the location and the make-up of the group had changed, the feeling of openness and kindness was still apparent. There were two faces I knew from the old sessions, Marilyn and Tim. The rest of the people were new to me. Although I knew Ralph who was leading I had never heard him sing before. My initial trepidation at getting a camera out quickly disappeared as the old songs that I had learned so long ago came flooding back to fill my senses.
It’s a strange thing to sing with strangers. In a small room, with only short distances for the noises to travel, it is incredibly moving to hear the strength of the human voice. I hope I’ve managed to capture something of it in the film above.