Baebes in the Cathedral

Last night I went to see Mediaeval Baebes perform at Gloucester Cathedral. I think they’re an amazing group and have followed their progress with interest from that first album. It was mediaeval songs and for reasons that escape me, anything of that ilk seems Christmasy to a lot of people. If you’ve not heard them, I have no doubt youtube can fill the gaps in your knowledge.
The Baebes do anachronism in a way that I love. That urge towards a mix of historical and new always draws me, as with things Steampunk. In this case it’s a mix of words and tunes from the time before major and minor scales, and the days of Latin and Middle English, with wilder, modern beats, really modern arrangements and an energy that simply is not like anything else. I like eclecticism. I studied music formally until I was 19, including exposure to 20th Century art music. Generally classical music does not do it for me, it never goes far enough and I respond more to the raw, earthy qualities of folk. Somehow, Mediaeval Baebes combine the technical skills of more classical music with the innovation of 20th Century art music and the human passion of folk. I like it, a lot.
Gloucester Cathedral has fantastic acoustics, and last night’s music seemed designed to engage with the echoes of big Church spaces. There was also a really interesting blend of Pagan and Christian content. Much of the mediaeval material in the repertoire is gothic in its Christianity, full of ideas about corporeal decay and the transience of the flesh. There were pieces taken from the Pendle witch trials, exorcisms and other unlikely sources alongside things that were songs back in the day. A real adventure in ideas and cross-pollination.
Perhaps the strangest moment of the whole night came at the start, when someone acting on behalf of the cathedral got into the pulpit and undertook prayer. Now, I like cathedrals as performance spaces but I never feel easy about taking people who came as an audience and, because it’s a church, making them pray. I think you do better PR for religion by not pulling stunts like that. But that’s what we got. And after the amplified ‘amen’ of the speaker, came silence. As a Pagan it is my habit to sit in respectful silence through other people’s prayers. There must have been a good 500 people in the audience, and not one ‘amen’ into the silence after the prayer. A long and uneasy silence, as I felt it.
The cathedral hums and reverberates to music and clapping, as though it had been built for the express purpose of being filled with song. At one point, there was a solo voice piece that had a distinctly Arabic/Islamic feel, and I wondered if anyone had ever sung from that tradition and in that space before. It worked. The building held that sound as beautifully as any other, and while there was a strangeness to it, there was also a rightness.
There is nothing more likely to turn a person off from religion than cold, formulaic content that washes over and does not affect the listener. There is nothing more conducive to spiritual experience than beauty that appeals to the senses. They were temple dancers and priestesses, they were invocations to wild goddesses and to the Virgin Mary, they poured a vast array of emotions and ideas into the great space of the cathedral, and the space resonated to their singing as though it loved them in turn. Maybe it did. And whether we connect that feeling of being uplifted to a God, or a Goddess, or human endeavour, or community… doesn’t really matter. It’s the innate soulfulness that really counts.
After the awkward prayer, there was awkward silence. After the Mediaeval Baebes, there was clapping and happiness.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

5 responses to “Baebes in the Cathedral

  • Cathryn Meer Bauer

    So envious that you got to hear the MBs life, and in such a setting! I am a great fan of theirs. Love their ingenious, original harmonies and instrumental settings.

  • Valerie Hinton.

    Thank you for today’s “reading” I live France, in a village with many Muslims..they exude a feeling of calm and I am pleased to live amongst them…val H I would have liked to have share your Cathedral evening with you…..

  • Jennifer Tavernier

    Ditto Here! Lucky you! Cathedrals (and stairwells), were made for the assonance’s and resonances acoustic-wise, and early music (which I love, seems to go so much better with SPACE! Just look at the beginning, like some of the vids we see, which have the sponsor’s adverts first. LOL!

  • tim50stroud

    Ditto.. I thought I should have gone, but I had a similar experience in Lincoln cathedral a couple of weeks ago, at the advent candle service; beautiful singing as the choir processed around but a dismal response from the celebrants. Advantage that you couldnt make out the words of the singing due to long reverberation, of sin and guilt and unworthyness, but it sounded wonderful!

  • gaiamethod

    Beautiful cathedral with amazing energies. I have done a lot of energy work there, as have others. I love the MB’s! I can only imagine what that evening was like. Music charges the energy lines beneath the cathedral with all the thought-forms of the music and its intentions so your evening sounds quite prefect indeed!

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