About this blog

This is a window into the weird world of Anglicanism, as experienced on a Cathedral Close. Has anything much happened since Trollope's Barchester Chronicles? You will still see the 'canon in residence' hurrying across to choral Evensong, robes flapping, as the late bell chimes. But look carefully and you will notice he is checking the football score on his iPhone as he runs. This is also a writer's blog. It charts the agony and ecstasy of the novelist's life. And it's a fighter's blog. It charts the agony and ecstasy of the judo mat. Well, the agony, anyway.

Thursday 22 July 2010

The Close is Foreign Country...

...they do things differently there. They speak a foreign language. Even those fluent in Anglican-speak need to get their ear in to understand the local dialect of a Cathedral Close. Firstly there are the bits of technical jargon, often abbreviated to make them even more impenetrable to the outsider. ‘Mag & nunc’, ‘can and dec’, ‘volly’.

Before I go any further, a little disclaimer: I am naught but an ignorant Nonconformist in origins, daughter of the Baptist Manse. It is possible that one or two errors may creep in to this blog. I have already been informed that it would have been the Royalists trying to climb into my back garden via the moat, as the Parliamentarians mainly attacked from the south. Yes, yes. I'm a novelist, not a historian. AN historian, I should say, to head off any more nit-pickers. Pedants seem to thrive in the eccentric conditions of your typical Cathedral Close. They don't watch 'Doctor Who', round here, they watch 'Doctor Whom'. I get a bit fed up with pedanticism, to be honest. (Ooh, nearly got you.)

The terms mentioned above are concerned with the Choral Foundation (music stuff), and mean ‘Magnificat and nunc dimittis’ (the two anthems sung at Choral Evensong, i.e. ‘My soul doth magnify the Lord’ and ‘Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace’.) ‘Can and dec’ refer to the two opposite sides of the choir aisle, and by extension, the two halves of the choir who sit facing across the chancel (top bit nearest high altar). This is a historic arrangement which enables the lay clerks (choir men) to smirk at each other when the Psalm for the evening contains the verse ‘Neither doth he delight in any man’s legs.’

‘Can’ is the precentor’s side (the precentor being the canon in charge of music stuff) and ‘dec’ the dean’s side (the dean being the one in charge of everything). There is some Latin explanation for can and dec, but you’ll have to google it. (It will ask if you mean Ant and Dec.) If I'm not careful I will end up with parentheses within parentheses, like Russian nesting dolls, and you will get bored and start looking at porn instead. I daresay you can buy an iPhone cathedral phrasebook app to help you navigate your way round the linguistic labyrinth.

A ‘volly’ is an organ ‘voluntary’ played at the close of a service; a strange term my sons think, as it is involuntary from their perspective. ‘I have wasted hours of my life waiting for the voluntary to end,’ lamented my younger son at the end of one (long) piece. He went on to compose his own volly on his computer software, capturing perfectly the tedium and discord of the French style, and the well-known 'False Dawn Syndrome', in which the piece appears to end several times… but no, another movement. This work came to an abrupt stop with the sound of a gun-shot, followed by a final thunderous discord as the organist slumped dead on the keyboard. Or manual, I should say. My sons have not learnt to love the Cathedral Choral Tradition in all the four years we have lived on the Close. But then, other residents of the Close have perhaps not learnt to love their drumming and electric guitars, so fair dinkum.

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