BEL MOONEY in The Daily Mail on Pascoe's Secular Requiem
Monday 3rd February, 2020
GOD DOESN'T HAVE ALL THE BEST TUNES
Bel Mooney, Daily Mail, 13th April 2013
The Easter article which replaced this column (Mail, March 30) drew a large, heart-warming response. One reader, Collette, wrote to say it was read out by her parish priest as his sermon on Easter Sunday. That was amazing and humbling at once. Humility is partly why I’m not an atheist. Yet my agnosticism bothered some Christian readers, who counselled me to take the step into belief. The truth is, I don’t want to. I like the condition of ‘not knowing’. It’s like having a surprise ticket for a magical mystery tour, with lots of guide books to pick from —including the Bible.
One ‘tour’ took us to Truro a few weeks ago. You see, I had heard that the Cornish composer Russell Pascoe (an atheist) had written a non-religious Requiem. He worked with a retired professor of clinical immunology called Anthony Pinching (an agnostic), who carefully assembled a libretto of magnificent poems. How intriguing, I thought . . . why should religion have all the best tunes?
The work was to be premiered in Truro Cathedral, sung by the Three Spires Singers. We thought it worth a round trip of 300 miles — just to find out how a piece of non-sacred ‘sacred’ music can address the stages of grief, and provide spiritual consolation without being attached to any one faith. We live in a secular society — yet bereaved people write to me in pain, often just wanting advice on poems to read at a funeral. But the point is they long for ceremony, for seriousness, for meaning. The great structures of religious ritual and art have always given spiritual support when people need it most.
Russell Pascoe’s Requiem was outstandingly beautiful and I wish it could be heard in concert halls and churches up and down the land. Because loss is something we all face, and glorious music like this can guide you through grief towards a necessary acceptance. It was universal, and — ultimately — full of hope. And another worthwhile journey in my personal quest.