As Advent began so my street was invaded by Christmas illuminations. I was a slow learner so the wreath and a short string of lights only appeared on Christmas Day. It was amazing that I achieved this after a tiring Christmas of eight Masses.
Christmas at Sacred Heart went well except that after the Night Mass one dear parishioner came to the organ to complain about the prelude to the Mass. In fact I had offered this prelude the previous year and it had been so well received that the Liturgy Committee requested a repeat. Using texts from John Bell it was typically challenging for those who deny the humanity of Jesus even in the form of a baby. Clearly the complaint was from someone so conservative that he probably also believes that the baby Jesus never cried nor soiled his nappies! But they pick their moments to complain, don’t they? So I returned home rather angry. The same guy had spoken at me two weeks earlier. He had objected to my setting of a psalm. He claimed that it reminded him of the retreat of Napoleon from Leningrad. (He didn’t seem that old). I responded to that with a surprise … “How did you know that this was precisely what I had in mind when I composed it?” On the occasion of Christmas Night I was more curt, suggesting that he had a problem of which I did not wish to be a part!
That aside Christmas was wonderful. Choir and Cantors did great things although it was worrying but understandable that many had to leave Tampa to fulfill family commitments.
Back home after Christmas duties I invited a couple of friends around for a Christmas meal of spiral ham and an assortment of holiday sides supplied by guests. There was a request to play the piano so I launched into Elton John for a while until fatigue and wine got the better of me!
I was in work the next day to prepare for the following Sunday and various weddings during the week. Our winter, normally just a couple of days had extended considerably this year it was easier to be in the office than by the pool. The following Sunday, 1 January, was another opportunity to play the Orgelbuchlein prelude Das Alte Jaht vergangen ist something I had played for almost 50 years on New Years Day. Epiphany was also celebrated on a Sunday so I added an afternoon event, SING OUT EPIPHANY to the usual cocktail of Masses. About forty folk gathered to sing favourite carols including some that never made it into the Masses. We even managed a bit of ‘bible study’ with another John Bell carol text which begged all manner of questions and prompted much discussion. Towards the end I asked someone to draw the raffle. The successful winner was invited forward. I shook her hand and proclaimed “You won the raffle” and then moved on to the final carol. She appeared a little baffled, as were many, and one choir member overcome with sympathy reached to give her a potted poinsettia. Most laughed eventually. When I was living in North London years ago I used to frequent the Red Rose Comedy Club in Finsbury Park. During the interval the compere Ivor Dembina, used to do the same raffle routine. Initially I thought it a bit odd that he had to draw several times before the ticket drawn matched that of someone who had never seen this before. Often visitors from America were left dumbstruck by this comedic action.
On Wednesday 11 January I drove to the airport to collect my two brothers Chris and Pete who would be staying with me for six days. Chris had visited me five years earlier with his family but this time he was always coming alone. It was a great surprise one day a few months ago when my brother Pete asked if he could tag along. These days together were going to be special. Driving home we stopped to collect a pizza and then relaxed over a few bottles of wine until bed beckoned.
Thursday began with a traditional breakfast of bacon and eggs before driving across the bay to St Petersburg. It was a warm sunny day in which we realised that nothing was open until 10am. At Cassis we had a further snack and coffee before stumbling around the vicinity. St Pete is not somewhere I am overly familiar with so it was an interesting trip for me too. The quality of service was immediately impressive everywhere we stopped. We did a fair bit of walking even though Chris struggled at times. OK we did have to pause at a tavern where the barman was an anglophile soccer fan! Our next stop was a shrimp bar where we sat outside to enjoy a seafood meal. We then uber-ed back to where the car was parked but, of course, had to fit in a further bar visit where, unable to drink (and drive) I was particularly impressed by the designer toilets.
Back in Tampa we took an uber to O’Briens where we quaffed too much as I introduced Chris and Pete to folk who have become my good friends. It was a bit late to eat out so we decided to try to order a food delivery. After an hour of searching we realised that Tampa food availability was nbot the same as in London.
We started the following day with a search for Cuban food but after visiting a recommended Cuban restaurant we had only managed bacon and eggs again (although Chris had fried whites of an egg only). The only things Cuban was the bread and the staff! We dropped into Downtown Tampa for a look around Sacred Heart Church and to meet work colleagues that happened to be in the office. I played a wedding and then met up with my brothers in Ybor City, the home of the Cuban cigar industry, which had now become a celebrated drinking and eating area. After a beer at the Tap House we finally were able to sample a Cuiban sandwich at Gaspar’s Grotto! My brothers were taken aback by the number of chickens wandering free in the streets but I was amazed, as we awaited the streetcar back to my car, to see the number of chickens roosting in the trees above our stop. It had been a long day and both brothers feel asleep on the sofa!
On Saturday we drove to Anna Maria Island which I had visited with Chris’ family on his first trip. As we passed the summit of the Skyway Bridge a truck with trailer carrying what appeared to be a tunnel went passed us at high speed. There had been warnings of high winds all along the bridge road but it was a great surprise when the truck and its load jack-knifed just beyond us, hitting the SUV in front of us and breaking its axle in the process. Once we were sure that the occupants were safe we drove on. Even though it was cooler than we might have hoped Anna Maria Island and the Sandbar Restaurant did not disappoint. We spent a casual few hours enjoying seafood, fine beers and a classic Florida view of the sea and white sands. After the meal we visited the Rod and Reel, a tiny bar at the end of a small pier. We then pointed the car towards Sarasota and visited the world famous beach of Siesta Key for a few minutes before driving on to Bradenton where we dropped into a marina bar where we were disappointed by the draughty mediocre environment. Back home we relaxed with a variety of cocktails, campari and gin being the popular starter.
We awoke a bit late on the Sunday and after breakfast we prepared for the arrival of friends for a bbq. While I took steaks and a pork loin from the fridge, Pete set about decorating the backyard with a flagstaff and union jack! An hour before the first arrival we brothers were relaxing outside with several glasses of white wine. Dan, the first arrival, arrived with wings (not a mode of transport but delightful morsels). Before long the place was full of food and drink and good company. It was particularly good to welcome Matt whom many had not see since his recent heart bypass operation. At 5.50pm one of my friends reminded us that there was a rocket launch from Cape Canaveral 140 miles away. We trooped into the park via my back gate and we’re amazed to see the glow of the rocket in the setting sun. We also saw the moment when it separated from the lower sections.
As dusk and the cold increased we moved a table near the fire pit and played ‘left-right-center’ a game this group of friends regularly enjoys.
Later on the Monday evening I would be driving Chris and Pete to the airport but much of the day remained so we drove to Dunedin a town famous for its restaurants and craft beer outlets. We stopped to eat at a marina restaurant which appeared to be popular. However we were not impressed and after a brief walk we found Bon Appetit a superior restaurant. This was a good way to spend the last hours. Later we ventured to Dunedin Causeway where we visited a tiki bar on the beach. Then we returned home and after collecting bags we headed for the airport. As soon as I got into the car I became overcome with tears. We Jakobs are emotional cripples at the least stimulus but these days together had been special. I have two other brothers and if I had been driving them to the airport it would have been the same. I only get the chance to be with my family once a year at best and Covid had made my return in May 2022 the first after a hiatus of a couple of years. Chris and Pete had been terrifically generous towards me throughout the duration of the trip and we had created many happy memories together.
The next day I was back at work, with a wedding on the Saturday and the usual stuff on the Sunday.
At 6am on the Monday I was back at the airport for a direct flight to St Louis for the 25th anniversary meeting of the Liturgical Composers Forum. On arrival at the LCF meeting point I had to ring Paul Hasser for assistance. “Look out for a beautiful young black woman”, he said. I was on speakerphone and a yelp of laughter alerted me to Bernadette standing behind me. It was not long before 4 others joined me and we headed for the transport. Unfortunately there was not space for all of us so I played the martyr and waited for Paul Inwood to arrive. It was a little before midday when we arrived and a light lunch was provided. The opening of the Forum would be at 5pm so I worked on my psalms until then. It was great to meet up with everyone once again. I had seen some of them at the NPM gathering in Louisville in July but this was going to be four complete days with colleagues who had become friends.In the course of those days we worshipped, reviewed each others compositions, ate and drank together. Our main speakers were ValLimar Jansen and Rawn Harbor. ValLimar is known to all of us as a Forum member but Rawn was new to us. Over the course of the next few days both delighted and challenged us with their introduction to African American culture and music. ValLimar was on fire but Rawn was amazing in the most understated way. Every time he approached the piano we knew we were in for something special as his technique drew magic effects from so familiar and instrument. Memorable moments were his unique and inspirational rendering of Dan Schutte’s ‘You are near’ and his accompaniment to ValLimar’s ‘Motherless child’ during Janet Sullivan Whitaker’s extended time of Lament on the Tuesday evening. On several occasions whether in the auditorium or the chapel the whole room was moved to tears. What is it that brings this phenomenon about? Certainly the simple answer would be to say that the Holy Spirit was blowing where she chooses. We were being offered an experience of the numinous. We were getting a glimpse of God. For wherever there is real beauty, there is God. During the Thursday night concert Liz Owen, a new associate member of the Forum, stepped forward to be the solo singer for Rawn’s setting of Psalm 63: another profound moment.
On a personal note it was good for me to meet with OCP and share the psalm project I had been working on for 3 years. It would not be possible to submit any of the psalms to the publisher until the matter of the psalm responses had been resolved but I did welcome the positive acceptance of the lyric settings I had been gradually amassing.
On Thursday afternoon we had a zoom meeting with Fr Andrew Menke of USCCB. This would be our first encounter with him and it needed to go well. In the event we discovered someone who spoke openly about his work and about matters that interested us in particular. I was able to ask about the Abbey Psalter and about the psalm responses. It was clear that little work had been done on the responses to date and therefore it might be good to be proactive at a later date. Andrew shocked some of us with the Bishops’ request that the liturgical song between the Glorias of Triduum should be unaccompanied. This would be a head-scratcher for many of us unless our local bishop was more understanding and over-ruled it.
Forum nights are often late and wine-fuelled. The Thursday night after the Concert was no exception. Chris Walker and I even managed to provide a couple of stories for Craig Colson’s amusing podcasts. I hope our speech was not impaired! At 2pm we sipped our last wine and hugged good friends for the last time. I would be leaving the Mercy Center before breakfast.
After barely four hours sleep I took my bags downstairs and left them outside the front door which promptly closed behind me, leaving me freezing for five minutes as I had forgotten the entry code. Fortunately it was not long before Remi Fonseca Bauer and driver Paul Hasser joined me. At then airport I shared a bagel breakfast with Remi and boarded the plane. The return flight passed without event … I was asleep. A great Forum reunion was over.
Today, Saturday, my church was closed due to a pirate invasion of Downtown Tampa on what has become known as Gasparilla Festival. This presented me with the opportunity to complete this blog installment. I hope you enjoy reading it!