I’ve just watched a documentary called “Janet Baker in her own words”.
In the 1980’s I was a huge fan of the Mezzo-Soprano Janet Baker: I remember going to a concert she was involved with at the Albert Hall proudly wearing a “Dame Janet Baker rules O.K.” T-shirt, and I managed to see her live a number of times including her penultimate Opera appearance in Gluck’s “Orfeo & Euridice“ at Glyndebourne on 15th July 1982. I’ll always remember that day: I’d got a return ticket & wandered spellbound around the grounds before Dame Janet’s mesmerising performance in the old auditorium which was like an overgrown village hall, with its amateurish charm lost now in the svelte wooden amphitheatre of the new House. She was, needless to say, glorious. She continued to sing in recitals and concerts for another seven years and I heard her a few times before she retired fully in 1989.
It was hugely moving to hear this amazing singer break her silence after thirty years and to be reminded of the subtle beauty of her voice and the power of her stage presence.
But why this in a Rector’s letter?
Well, partly because in the introduction of her autobiography “Full Circle” (of which I have a signed First Edition) she says “I have sustained a certain measure of sanity by keeping at the forefront of my mind the sole reason for being a performer - that I believe my voice and power of communication through music were given to me by God to be shared with others.”
I think it’s a wonderful thing that – in an increasingly ego-centric world – a gifted musician humbly and gratefully gives thanks to God for their gift.
All of us are given gifts and abilities to be used (though not all blessed as Dame Janet!) & we are called to use them in his service for the building up of His Kingdom on earth. A comfort & a challenge!
Also, again thinking of Dame Janet, her voice was not flawless or perfect: there were idiosyncrasies and imperfections (rather like Maria Callas, but that’s another story) which she used to make her voice instantly recognisable and individual; God works through all our faults and shortcomings to make something unique in each of our lives, something which he cherishes, encourages and uses in his Love for us.
We are all called to trust in God and in his Providence for each one of us. As I said above, that is both our comfort and our challenge!
I’m now going to listen to her recording of Elgar’s “Sea Songs”. I’ll probably cry again, but I don’t care!
Love Fr. John