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Thought for the Fortnight
My choir, which sings all sorts of music from the Bach Passions to ‘Let’s Do It’, had just held a concert in a London church. The principal piece was a very unusual Mass, called Mass in Blue, by the contemporary composer Will Todd.
This is shaped like a Mass (and the text is in Latin, e.g. Kyrie and Sanctus), but it is definitely jazz. It conveys – at different points – the contemplativeness, the excitement and the sensuousness associated with jazz. I highly recommend the piece if you like that sort of music.
And, just as jazz has some of the sexiest music to be found on this earth, it has some very sexy jazz passages, particularly during the Credo sung by the soprano soloist.
By chance, I saw and approached the soloist after the concert, while people were straightening up and preparing to leave. I complimented her both on her very wonderful singing and her general ‘presence’ (hard to define, but you know it when you see it). She thanked me and then noted, “I found it hard to give it the appropriate raunch in a church.”
I smiled and sympathised. I had heard her sing this Mass previously in a concert hall, where the atmosphere was presumably much less inhibiting, and it was thrilling. It had been harder to hear the subtleties of the performance while being a member of the choir.
I would have chatted longer, but I needed to get home.
Churches and sex
Reflecting on this conversation later, I pondered whether being in a church inhibits any sense of sexuality more generally. Having not been raised to the Christian faith – nor any faith, I might add – I see everything from the outside.
It must surely be the case that, for most people – or, perhaps, most Christian people – thoughts about sex and thoughts about religion (or God, the Church or anything related) sit in different compartments of the brain. Yes, sexual intercourse is said to be a ‘sacrament of marriage’, but this pertains primarily to procreation, I believe, and not in any way to the more lustful aspects of the activity.
Doubtless, many PhDs have been written on the issue of Christianity and its attitude to sex, but I have not read them. I work mainly on the basis of logic. If God is supposed to have given mankind all things good and pleasurable, it must be right and good to pursue them within reason. Singing in a church is surely ‘within reason’.
But people’s emotional reactions have little to do with logic. I must admit that I can readily understand the reluctance to give full flow to raunchiness in the confines of a church.
Talking about sexuality
I then began to wonder whether this singer had any idea that I was 81. Most people don’t talk to us old people this way. We’re not supposed to know about ‘raunch’. We have, it is widely believed, ‘finished with all that’. And presumably forgotten about it as well.
Perhaps I was just the first person with whom she could unburden this thought. Perhaps, as my husband said, I have a very matter-of-fact look about me, so that people feel they don’t need to censor what they say. It was in any case quite dark in the church. And, of course, she had just performed – and the last thing on her mind would have been my age.
I was very pleased that she did discuss it. I like the word ‘raunch’ (normally used as ‘raunchy’) which has a rather onomatopoeic quality. It conveys something very earthy about sex – nothing to do with love or procreation but just the hard lasciviousness rarely discussed in polite conversation.
And why, I then wondered, do many people assume we know nothing about sex or its more earthy aspects? Yes, perhaps traditionally, it was something that old people had given up a long time ago (but who knows?). And perhaps it isn’t quite seemly to imagine old people ‘at it’, but what is seemly and what is real are two very different things, as we all know well.
Perhaps I am wrong in my assumptions about what people think. It’s not the topic of much discussion, even among old people themselves. I do know that some years ago, a group of researchers, while planning a study on patterns of sexual activity, proposed age 50 as a possible cut-off point. “But how will anyone aged 50 remember?” one colleague is reported to have asked.
I guess we are all different, but I was very pleased to learn that a study on orgasms had chosen age 82 as the appropriate cut-off.
But even if we are not actually engaged in sexual activity in our later years, we can remember. I was a very proficient horse rider at the age of 14 (due to regular attendance at a summer camp) and, although I have hardly ever ridden since, I can remember very well the joy of the activity. The smell of the horses, the wonderful anticipation when you mounted a horse, the slightly wild pleasure of a good gallop.
Some of us have memories of raunch. Some of us have more up-to-date experience on which to draw.
In any case, there’s a lot more in the heads of many old men and women than their slippers.