A London holiday story

This is probably the most encouraging story I’m likely to read this holiday season. It was posted by my London friend Tom Deveson– a childrens’ music teacher– as a comment at the Horizon blog.

It has the potential to confound anti-immigration scaremongerers and infuriate extreme Islamic fundamentalists– both worthy objectives.

One reason I’ve only just found the time to jump in here with some Horatian glossing is that I’ve spent much of the last five weeks directing a version of A Christmas Carol with sixty ten-and-eleven-year-olds in Paddington. (This was after doing The Tempest with another sixty children of the same age in Oct/Nov.) The school asked for this as their Christmas production for parents. About two-thirds of the children are Muslim, many of the girls wear the hijab, and when we did the show on Wednesday many of the mothers in the audience were wearing it too.

Following the head teacher’s plan, two other classes sang explicitly Christian songs before and after the performance. Everything was warmly applauded – songs about Jesus, authentic Dickensian sentiments including God Bless Us Every One, my little after-show homily about Scrooge reminding us that we can change our hearts as well as our external circumstances. There were no prior complaints from parents and no one walked out or protested. It was a very dark/expressionist version with lots of tritones in the instrumental music the children played and with the figures of Ignorance and Want featuring in frozen tableaux accompanied by sung semitonal tremolos. But that went down well too, and parents spoke afterwards about how good it was to hear the children as musicians as well as actors.

To have a hall full of people from Iraq, Iran, Libya, Afghanistan, Algeria, Somalia and West London all finding something valuable and powerful in Dickens’s genius seems an occasion for happy reflection. The fact that it also came wrapped in a Christ-our-Lord outer package was pretty interesting and thought-provoking too.

Perhaps, from time to time, everyone needs to take a deep breath and relax.