I think I am the sort of person a real artiste dreads: "I don't know anything about music/art/literature etc., but I know what I like..." - I was steered into the Sciences early on (my natural inclination) and remained a complete Philistine in other areas.
So I hadn't heard much about James MacMillan. I'd heard his name mentioned a few times, always very positively, and knew that he was a composer of some standing. He then wrote a letter to The Bitter Pill protesting about their disgraceful treatment of Fr. Tim Finigan, followed by another one in defence of bloggers, and he went up even higher in my estimation.
Then I heard he had been chosen to compose a Mass setting for the Papal Visit, using the new English translation, and I realised that he was a very big noise indeed, as is borne out by the Boosey & Hawkes Music Publishers' biography.
James' talk, on how music can be used as a tool for evangelisation, was fascinating, though quite a lot of information was packed into a very short time. I need (and want) to listen to it again in more detail - it should be available for download on the Faith website quite soon.
The final part of his talk was on some of his own work which had caused a bit of a stir because it was so very clearly pro-life in its message. James went through three parts of a work he had done in collaboration with Michael Symmons Roberts - Quickening. He read out the texts, and explained some of the background and meaning, and finished up by playing a recording of the first part (he read them in reverse order, something I only knew because I'd typed the text onto PowerPoint slides for him) - Incarnadine.
It really moved me, and in the few minutes between the end of the talk and the start of questions I chatted to my neighbour, who had been equally affected. The text itself (of which I'd had a preview, as I'd typed!) was enough to make one sit up and take notice, but put together with the music, it simply blew me away. I hope I'm not infringing copyright by quoting a few of the phrases which really jumped out at me:
"This is love’s alchemy, mercurial,
what risk to bring another pair of hands
into the world!..."
"...Yet this new life is our elixir,
this soft dividing pearl is our great price."
"Incarnadine, vermillion, crimson;
that night your words were made flesh I became
a hummingbird trapped in a scarlet room,
whose wings beat so quickly they cannot be seen."
I love the way that several well-known phrases are turned upside-down - "another mouth to feed," "the pearl of great price," "the Word was made flesh." Unfortunately, I wasn't able to track down any recording of the work on YouTube, so, if you really want to hear it, you'll just have to go and buy it from Amazon or iTunes (I did!)