I usually find the period of Lent a serious stretch, a daunting seven weeks of the calendar. But in 2021, forty more days of restraint (plus Sundays) until Easter feels like no big deal after the life we’ve lived for a year now.
But instead I’ve been observing the Lenten atmosphere in musical form. Firstly, obviously, at a Eucharist service on the First Sunday of Lent. Since Christmas, Westminster Abbey has indicated that its services will be ‘sung by a Cantor’, and I have been intrigued to find out what that would be like. The very word Cantor gives off a beguiling Byzantine vibe. And indeed the singer in question (tenor/baritone? a fine wide range anyway) sang extensively; in other contexts you could describe this as a ‘solo recital’. There was much plainsong, a psalm, a Bach cantata aria, Jeremiah Clarke, all to elegant organ accompaniment. Everything had a spare beauty, and of course a musical economy which would be surely worth revisiting in other church contexts.
Talking of economy, there has also been the constant inspiration of Wigmore Hall’s livestreamed concerts. There’s something Lenten about these too; the sombre lighting, the calmness of the presentation style, the sheer seriousness of the whole enterprise. The meaning of these events goes far beyond the music itself, while suggesting that there will one day be a joyous reawakening of live music.
Lent coincides with a yearly “must go and check on the allotment” impulse after months of winter inaction. We made our first visit soon afterwards. Nothing had blown down, and there was the usual surprise at seeing spring flowers we didn’t plant, and wild sprays of blossom bursting from spindly fruit trees, so unlikely in the monotonous grey weather. Many neighbours were doing the same, with quietly determined start-of-term preparations all around. The gentle sounds of re-opened sheds and squeaky wheelbarrows added music to an atmosphere I would definitely classify as ‘Lenten’.