Monday, 19 February 2007


As the sands of time that make up this shortest month of the year are about to swirl swiftly to the bottom of the hourglass, I have just a few short days left to ponder my time of preparation before meeting with some of the children in our village. I am to help them prepare for and learn the music in their Easter musical, which they will present to the community the Sunday week from Easter Sunday. We will perform it in the Old School Hall. To be followed by afternoon tea.

It will be an ecumenical effort – combining kids from Key Stage 1 to Key Stage 3 who may or may not attend one of our three village churches: Anglican, Baptist, and Methodist. As a community of Believers we have joined hands, hearts, and resources, beginning this year, to meet with any children who would come for Sunday school. So it is through this format that we will be teaching and re-telling the Easter Story.

My husband and I moved from London to this village in the heart of the Shires six months ago. As most of the children will be meeting me for the first time, and will hear their first-ever American accent, I plead for prayers and forgiveness ahead of the musical task set before me. It is therefore right and proper that this week should be the advent of Lent, with Ash Wednesday in just two days. (Seems like only yesterday, in a different time and place, that I posted my thoughts about last year’s ashing.)

It is always exciting to meet with kids in a choral context for the first time. Most are about to discover the intricacies and musical idiosyncrasies of all things choral (well, in an age-appropriate manner, I hasten to add). I have directed six other children’s choral groups since living here in England, and learned that in addition to my having to translate whole notes, half notes, quarter notes, and eighth-notes, etc., into semibreves, minims, crotchets, and quavers, some children have the extra burden of trying to decipher my American vowels and consonants. Many are discovering that the ‘h’ consonant is a good thing and can keep their hands warm in a cold stone church or performance hall!

One thing I pray won’t be lost in translation: a fun time shall be had by all!

So with these things in mind, I leave you with the following …


In any chorus there are four voice parts: soprano, alto, tenor, and bass. Sometimes these are divided into first and second within each part, prompting endless jokes about first and second basses. There are also various other parts such as baritone, countertenor, contralto, mezzo soprano, etc., but these are mostly used by people who are either soloists, belong to some excessively hotshot classical a cappella group (this applies especially to countertenors), or are trying to make excuses for not really fitting into any of the regular voice parts, so we will ignore them for now. Each voice part sings in a different range, and each one has a very different personality. You may ask, "Why should singing different notes make people act differently?", and indeed this is a mysterious question which has not been adequately studied, especially since scientists who study musicians tend to be musicians themselves and have all the peculiar complexes that go with being tenors, french horn players, timpanists, etc. However, this is beside the point; the fact remains that the four voice parts can be easily distinguished, and I will now explain how.

THE SOPRANOS are the ones who sing the highest, and because of this they think they rule the world. They have longer hair, fancier jewelry, and swishier skirts than anyone else, and they consider themselves insulted if they are not allowed to go at least to a high F in every movement of any given piece. When they reach the high notes they hold them for at least half again as long as the composer and/or conductor requires. Then they complain that their throats are killing them and that the composer and conductor are sadists. Sopranos have varied attitudes toward the other sections of the chorus, though they consider all of them inferior. Altos are to sopranos rather like second violins to first violins – nice to harmonize with, but not really necessary. All sopranos have a secret feeling that the altos could drop out and the piece would sound essentially the same. They don't understand why anybody would sing in that range in the first place – it’s so boring. Tenors, on the other hand, can be very nice to have around; besides their flirtation possibilities (it's a well-known fact that sopranos never flirt with basses), sopranos like to sing duets with tenors, because all the tenors are doing is working very hard to sing in a low-to-medium soprano range while the sopranos are up there in the stratosphere showing off. To sopranos, basses are the scum of the earth – they sing too loud, are useless to tune because they're down in that low, low range – and there has to be something wrong with anyone who sings in the F clef, anyway.

THE ALTOS are the salt of the earth – in their opinion, at least. Altos are unassuming people who would wear jeans to concerts if they were allowed to. Altos are in a unique position in the chorus in that they are unable to complain about having to sing either very high or very low, and they know that all the other sections think their parts are pitifully easy. But the altos know otherwise. They know that while the sopranos are screeching away on a high A, they are being forced to sing elaborate passages full of sharps and flats and tricks of rhythm, and nobody is noticing because the sopranos are singing too loud (and the basses usually are too). Altos get a deep, secret pleasure out of conspiring together to tune the sopranos flat. Altos have an innate distrust of tenors, because the tenors sing in almost the same range and think they sound better. They like the basses, and enjoy singing duets with them – the basses just sound like a rumble anyway, and it's the only time the altos can really be heard. Altos' other complaint is that there are always too many of them and so they never get to sing really loud.

THE TENORS are spoiled. That's all there is to it. For one thing, there are never enough of them, and choir directors would rather sell their souls than let a halfway decent tenor quit, while they're always ready to unload a few altos at half price. And then, for some reason, the few tenors are always really good – it’s one of those annoying facts of life. So it's no wonder that tenors always get swollen heads – after all, who else can make sopranos swoon? The one thing that can make tenors insecure is the accusation (usually by the basses) that anyone singing that high couldn't possibly be a real man. In their usual perverse fashion, the tenors never acknowledge this, but just complain louder about the composer being a sadist and making them sing so high. Tenors have a love-hate relationship with the conductor, too, because the conductor is always telling them to sing louder because there are so few of them. No conductor in recorded history has ever asked for less tenor in a forte passage. Tenors feel threatened in some way by all the other sections – the sopranos because they can hit those incredibly high notes, the altos because they have no trouble singing the notes the tenors kill themselves for, and the basses because, although they can't sing anything above an E, they sing it loud enough to drown the tenors out. Of course the tenors would rather die than admit any of this. It is a little-known fact that tenors move their eyebrows more than anyone else while singing.

THE BASSES sing the lowest of anybody. This basically explains everything. They are stolid, dependable people, and have more facial hair than anybody else. The basses feel perpetually unappreciated, but they have a deep conviction that they are actually the most important part (a view endorsed by musicologists, but certainly not by sopranos or tenors) despite the fact that they have the most boring part of anybody and often sing the same note (or in endless fifths) for an entire page. They compensate for this by singing as loudly as they can get away with – most basses are tuba players at heart. Basses are the only section that can regularly complain about how low their part is, and they make horrible faces when trying to hit very low notes. Basses are charitable people, but their charity does not extend so far as tenors, whom they consider effete poseurs. Basses hate tuning the tenors more than almost anything else. Basses like altos – except when they have duets and the altos get the good part. As for the sopranos, they are simply in an alternate universe which the basses don't understand at all. They can't imagine why anybody would ever want to sing that high and sound that bad when they make mistakes. When a bass makes a mistake, the other three parts will cover him and he can continue on his merry way, knowing that sometime, somehow, he will end.

(Source: A Mystery to All)

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Friday, 2 February 2007


I do what I can to try and keep up with what is going on back home in America. Mainly because most of my friends and family back in the US expect or assume that I would know what is happening on the national level. To be honest, this sometimes annoys me, as I know they will not take the time and energy it requires to read up on what is happening in the community and country where God has placed me. I do care always about what is happening in their world. But if I let it consume the hours in my day to watch or read only American news, I become less of the community here in the UK.

So, to that effect, I try to gauge the mood and progress of American affairs through reading newspapers with columnists and journalists I find thought-provoking and globally savvy (i.e., The Washington Post), as well as finding out what goes on locally in the hometown where my folks live and hold our history (i.e., The Abilene Reporter News, also dubbed by locals as The Abilene Distorter News). One source informs me of the death of national figures who have inspired me, like Molly Ivins. The other notifies me of the deaths of those precious souls who have shaped and touched my life in personal and spiritual ways, before my family knows to E-mail me with the news.

(Warning: My husband says I'm starting to get preachy here...)

To go beyond these two print sources, as mentioned above, would short-circuit any energy for living and becoming engaged in the lives of those in my current village community in the UK. But sometimes I read a story that blends elements of my life on both sides of the ocean. And from today’s Washington Post comes the article, ‘Border Policy’s Success Strains Resources’, brilliantly written by Spencer S. Hsu and Sylvia Moreno, one I will not be able to put down for a good while.

After reading this, I felt compelled to write the authors the following:

Thank you for finally bringing some light to this situation, with an American twist. It reminds me of the woes we went through here in the UK with the Sangatte refugee camp, its consequences, and ultimate closure. Hard to believe it’s been almost four years! Detention centres for illegal immigrant detainees pose many problems, and rarely are ideal solutions borne through this story of the human saga. Judgment, ignorance, and naiveté are the attitudes which first must seemingly be conquered before positive progress and humane justice can get on with the task of helping illegal immigrants or citizens in the countries they run to rebuild lives or society. The comments to your article read so far attest to this. Many of those commenting do not seem to understand your article is addressing illegal immigrants who are non-Mexicans. The vitriol is glaring. I am saddened, but not totally disheartened. Yet.

By the rest of the world’s standards, the saga of all those involved in these refugee camps, for both the American citizen and the illegal immigrant, is just beginning.

This excerpt from the article got my immediate attention:

Ringed by barbed wire, a futuristic tent city rises from the Rio Grande Valley in the remote southern tip of Texas, the largest camp in a federal detention system rapidly gearing up to keep pace with Washington's increasing demand for stronger enforcement of immigration laws.

About 2,000 illegal immigrants, part of a record 26,500 held across the United States by federal authorities, will call the 10 giant tents home for weeks, months and perhaps years before they are removed from the United States and sent back to their home countries.

The $65 million tent city, built hastily last summer between a federal prison and a county jail, marks both the success and the limits of the government's new policy of holding captured non-Mexicans until they are sent home. Previously, most such detainees were released into the United States before hearings, and a majority simply disappeared.

The new policy has led to a dramatic decline in border crossings by non-Mexicans, according to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.

I highlighted ‘non-Mexicans’ because many readers who have commented have misread the aim of this article’s authors to show what is being done for those illegal immigrants who come from other nations besides Mexico.

It is already being dubbed Ritmo. But it is hardly The Ritz for those unfortunate enough to be placed there. Indeed, it belongs to a group of centres that will take a while to get a 5-star rating:

An inspector general's report last month on a sampling of five U.S. immigration detention facilities found inhumane and unsafe conditions, including inadequate health care, the presence of vermin, limited access to clean underwear and undercooked poultry. Although ICE standards require that immigrants have access to phones and pro bono law offices, investigators found phones missing, not working or connected to non-working numbers.

Illegal immigration is a topic that has polarised not only the American citizens, but citizens in the UK. Feelings of resentment, hatred, and injustice stemming from those who are blessed to be born with ‘constitutional rights’ seem to supersede anything that resembles Christ-like compassion. Tolerance becomes a dirty word.

How would The Beatitudes of our Lord reside inside the walls of places like Ritmo?

Turn the coin and fly into another continent to ask that same question. My husband and I recently viewed ‘Blood Diamond’, and were reminded of the squalor of humanity in the visage of a refugee camp inhabited by one million desperate souls, mostly illegal refugees from neighbouring African nations. I could just about taste the red, gritty dust between my teeth and feel the flies bombard my eyes and nose.

In a nation – and yes, a state like Texas with its preponderance for Christian church culture unlike any other in the world -- which has sold its brand to the rest of the world as a caring Christian nation with solid family values, one does not expect to have to ask that question and demand answers. But apparently its time has come.

With roughly 1.6 million illegal immigrants in some stage of immigration proceedings, ICE holds more inmates a night than Clarion hotels have guests, operates nearly as many vehicles as Greyhound has buses and flies more people each day than do many small U.S. airlines.

Many American and British citizens want to know why deportation of an illegal immigrant cannot happen immediately. For most, the question is a knee-jerk reaction. They have not taken the time to talk to immigration experts or attorneys in their midst, or even invested energy in a relationship with a foreigner, legal or otherwise. It’s probably been years since they had to sit it out in a boring social studies, world history, or geography class. None of those courses would ever become relevant to their daily lives. It becomes much easier to judge the surface than to help solve the problems of those who become entangled beneath that deep, murky surface.

But for those of us who have become familiar with the processes, we first learn and then always become aware of the many complexities of the laws involved, national and international. Within these laws are many shades of grey. When I worked as the office manager for a British consultancy group seconded to a utilities company in Texas, they were required by their visa stipulations to return home every three months in order to hold onto their visa to stay in the US and retain their work permit.

Sounds simple enough, right? But after many of them had been working legally in America for their first five months, I learned through our company’s New York office that the director of US operations was flagrantly flaunting the rules. He was British, of Indian descent, and had previously been fired by one of the Big Five accounting firms for dodgy dealings. For months he refused to listen to us when we warned him he needed to abide by the advice of a legit immigration law firm in Manhattan. While he was secretly scamming the company, he also threatened to fire some of us Americans who were concerned about the legal ramifications. Unbeknownst to the diligent hard-working Brits whom I was looking after in Texas, they thought their visa status was solid.

It was a tense situation in our Texas and New York offices. By the time we exposed the truth and forced the director’s hand with the powers that be back in the UK, it was too late for one of the young consultants and his family to return to the US. In a sense, they were fortunate. But it was a sad thing for me to ring them up on their mobile phone, whilst they were fighting traffic in Central London, to tell them they could not come back due to an illegal and irresponsible oversight by the director (who is still scamming, but as a private contractor). Instead we had to make arrangements to ship all their belongings, including their baby’s furniture and equipment, back to the UK without them being present. As angry as they were, at least this good British family did not have to suffer the humiliation of being hand-cuffed and detained whilst wading through the process of deportation in a cold prison-like facility, with no relatives or close friends nearby.

Taylor, Texas near Round Rock and Austin, will soon become home for illegal immigrant families when a new centre welcomes them with 512 beds. Those in Texas who harbour objections to the illegal Mexicans in their midst might all breathe a sigh of relief to know those beds will only be slept in by illegals from other nations.

With all the Christian communities in Taylor, Round Rock and Austin, how many will be genuinely interested in finding out about these newest neighbours? The website for Taylor, invites those coming to the city ‘… to explore Taylor...A city with a true sense of community, and a clear vision for the future!’ Wow. How honest are they about this statement? According to today’s Washington Post article:

Legal advocates contend that some of the older facilities where immigrants are housed are in deplorable condition and that growing pains afflict even new facilities.

Under fire in Taylor, for example, ICE has expanded hours of daily schooling for children from one to seven hours to meet Texas guidelines.

If we are Believers we should take politics out of the equation when looking at the living conditions our democratic government imposes on people, many who do innocently get caught in the trap of our immigration laws. I am also speaking of those here in the UK. Those who bled through the Channel Tunnel and are still here after the closure of the Sangatte refugee camp in France, near Calais, are being sent to appalling old military facilities. So it is certainly not any better than those conditions found in Texas. Consider what is being observed at places like Ritmo:

Detainees are subject to penal system practices, such as group punishment for disciplinary infractions. The tents are windowless and the walls are blank, and no partitions or doors separate the five toilets, five sinks, five shower heads and eating areas. Lacking utensils on some days, detainees eat with their hands.

Because lights are on around the clock, a visitor finds many occupants buried in their blankets throughout the day. The stillness and torpor of the pod's communal room, where 50 to 60 people dwell, are noticeable.

According to Hsu and Moreno, Jodi Goodwin, an immigration lawyer from Harlingen:

‘… described a group of women who huddled in a recreation yard on a recent 40-degree day with a 25-mph wind. "They had no blanket, no sweat shirt, no jacket," she said. "Officers were wearing earmuffs, and detainees were outside for an hour with short-sleeved polyester uniforms and shower shoes and not necessarily socks."
The assistant director of ICE detention and removal operations, Gary Mead, seems at best naïve in his current assessment of the long-term solution:

"The short answer is, it is not sustainable," Mead said. "There comes a
point where we can't detain any more people. Hopefully, prior to getting there, the
deterrence factor will kick in."

His short answer is correct. However, if he and the others in command of ICE were to take any lessons from Sangatte, Darfur, Ethiopia, etc., they will note that there has never been a successful deterrence factor.

But what would happen if just one church community close to Ritmo became involved and were to extend The Beatitudes of Christ inside just one of those Kevlar tents?

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