As we usher in the new year, the choir are busy preparing for our first engagement of 2023.
SUCC is delighted to be participating once more in the St Mungo Festival. Established 14 years ago, the Festival aims to both celebrate Glasgow’s patron saint and increase awareness of Glasgow’s history in order to bring alive the story of the city’s founding.
St Mungo, or Kentigern, was a missionary in the Brittonic Kingdom of Strathclyde in the late sixth century, and founder and patron saint of the city of Glasgow. Legend has it that he performed four miracles in Glasgow. This verse is used to remember them:
Here is the bird that never flew
Here is the tree that never grew
Here is the bell that never rang
Here is the fish that never swam
The bird was a robin who was restored to life after having been killed by some of Mungo’s classmates. The tree refers to a branch used by Mungo to relight a fire he had allowed to go out when he fell asleep. The bell is thought to have been brought from Rome by Mungo, to use in services and to mourn the dead. The original no longer exists but a replacement, created in the 1640’s, is now on display in the People’s Palace. The fish was caught in the Clyde and miraculously contained a lost ring belonging to Queen Languoreth of Strathclyde. Her husband King Riderch had accused her of infidelity and threw her ring into the river. This part of the story, however, may have been confused with an almost identical one concerning King Maelgwyn of Gwynedd and St. Asaph in North Wales!
Today, the four miracles are represented by the city’s coat of arms and the motto “Let Glasgow flourish”. Originally, the quotation was attributed to Mungo who called out “Let Glasgow flourish by the preaching of the word.”
The music to be sung in this concert spans over 800 years, showcasing a selection of chants to honour and celebrate well-known saints. Most of the chant melodies to be performed would have been sung in medieval times on the feast day of St Kentigern (or Mungo), which is the 13th of January. The chants can be found in the Sprouston Breviary, held in the National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh. Dating from the 13th century, it offers a rare glimpse into Scottish worship from this time, as more than 90 percent of manuscripts were lost or destroyed during the Scottish Reformation in 1560.
As well as St Mungo, other saints included are St. Patrick, who is credited in folklore as having rid Ireland of snakes, St Peter and St. Andrew, Scotland’s patron saint. The First Vespers Hymn reconstructed from the Sprouston Breviary describes Andrew as “most kindly, of all saints the most gentle”.
In contrast is a series of pieces entitled ‘Ninian’s Gift’, which is a collaboration between composer Tom Cunningham and the writer Alexander McCall Smith. The introduction reads:
Some of these saints are accepted historical figures – others are not. Some of the accounts of their doings are realistic; others are completely improbable. Their lives were often hard: Scotland at the time was a wild and dangerous country. The places settled by the early saints were beacons of learning and light in dark times.
The association of SUCC with the music of Tom Cunningham goes back over a decade, at the start of his collaboration with Alexander McCall Smith. Cappella Nova, also directed by Alan Tavener, premiered their Scotland at Night in 2007, followed by The Painter’s Eye and A Time of Gifts in 2009. Soon after, Alan introduced SUCC to the music and the Members enjoyed the lightheartedness. Most recently, SUCC have performed sections of Incredible Beasties which Tom generously shared freely and widely to all Choirs to give them encouragement as they grappled with the limitations of the COVID-19 pandemic. Since then, Tom introduced Ninian’s Gift to Alan in the hope that the choir would enjoy it as much as the other pieces. It has proved to be a great success as it encompasses a range of themes – religious, secular, legendary – blended with a lightness of touch.
There’s even a holy cat. But you will have to come along to the concert to hear more!
Further details about the St Mungo’s Festival can be found here.