Review of Silver Sunday at Croydon Minster

By - Thursday 31st October, 2013

Liz Sheppard Jones enjoys an afternoon celebrating older people and their contribution to society

I love old hippies, and whatever unkind detractors may say, it’s not because I am one. Far from it – as a brutal reductionist with a violent allergy to patchouli oil, I’m no sooner asked to ‘sense the space’ than I’ve sensed the way to the nearest exit. This was why, having turned up to the Silver Sunday concert at Croydon Minster with an open mind, an examination of the programme left me struggling to keep it that way. What kind of person objects to a peace concert? You can’t – but I did find this one puzzling.

The concert was held on Sunday October 6th as the culmination of a week of campaigning by charity Age UK. Its chief organiser was Catherine Pestano from the Croydon Music Development Network, and its conductor the formidable and beautifully-voiced Reverend Professor June Boyce Tillman MBE. Events held throughout the week had marked the contribution of older people to their communities, to encourage seniors to take steps to address the isolation experienced by too many, and to raise awareness both in wider society and among the age-group themselves of the rights of those in later life. As life expectancy rises it’s imperative that we address difficult topics such as elder abuse and the cost of care for those who need it. Above all, there needs to be a challenge to the patronising intolerance which too frequently colours the way older citizens are treated.

What followed was both a peace concert and a fascinating and serious experiment in musical space-sharing

An opening address by local poet and campaigner Eileen Walkin got the afternoon off to a positive start, focussing clearly on raising the expectations of seniors. She was absolutely right – as other interest groups have grown more assertive, this one has too often been left behind.  Improving communication between generations is important too.

This was, however, the only part of the afternoon which focussed on older citizens. What followed was both a peace concert and a fascinating and serious experiment in musical space-sharing. I am aware that a great deal of thought and planning lay behind the occasion, and there was much in it to be celebrated. The seniors themselves, however, were lost in translation – and that has to be a flaw.

We began by chanting for peace: ‘Shalom, my friends, Shalom my friends, Shalom, Salaam. May peace be with you today.’

The occasion was not overtly religious although hosted by Croydon Minster, the idea being that participants brought their own spiritual traditions, or none, and pooled them. Great stuff. Having chanted and sung together, the various choirs and music groups, which included children from Monk’s Orchard Primary School and The Ridgeway Primary School, the Rainbows Across Borders LGBT Choir, the Imagine Mental Health Group, the Lewisham Seniors Choir, the Soul Symphony Choir and the Waddon Includion Network Community Choir, then dispersed around the building. The audience circulated at will, either listening as the participants performed in their separate locations or remaining in the centre so that the contributions of all present blended together around them. We were advised to be aware of each other, that we could join in any group’s singing if we wished and that musical merging and combining within the space was the goal of the occasion.

Inversion of the roles of performer and audience is exciting. It overturns the expected power balance and, if successful, includes everyone in a democratic listening exercise. I’m therefore both irritated and sorry to report that we were just the wrong kind of audience – or perhaps we’d missed the point. Despite clear instructions not to talk, a great many people did so throughout, and loudly.

Croydon Minster has a beautiful acoustic and at certain moments, as I sat in the central aisle, I genuinely experienced the intention of the occasion. There really was a blending of sound, constantly changing, directed by no-one and owned by all. Mostly, though, what I heard was chatter.

What I wanted and expected, however, was more grey power

Silver Sunday was very well attended – the Minster was full and I hope it was a successful fund-raiser for Age UK. It was a profoundly humanitarian occasion, demonstrating at its best how power can be shared and how different groups can listen effectively to one another without a fight for control. That’s a valuable lesson. What I wanted and expected, however, was more grey power – more campaigning, a greater presence for seniors and a louder voice to be raised both for them and by them. They are no more an homogenous group than women are – later life is as rich and varied as any other stage. What of those who, in Dylan Thomas’s words, ‘Rage, rage against the dying of the light’? Too soon to say, but I think I’ll be one of them. I’m not at all convinced old age should be so readily equated with tranquillity.

The afternoon ended as the performers gathered on the stage once again, and here was a real demonstration of the potency of music.  At no point were we ordered to be silent, but the prattle died away as the peace chant swelled, gathered and filled the Minster.

I realised I’d left my phone in a distant pew 40 minutes ago and rushed over to search for it. It lay there untouched, and it’s a nice phone. That wouldn’t have happened in Croydon Town Centre – but here there was peace and respect for all. The old hippies must be on to something.

Shalom, citizens.

Liz Sheppard-Jones

Liz Sheppard-Jones

Writer and editor. Views personal, not representative of editorial policy.

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  • Anne Giles

    Great article. Good for you.

    • Liz Sheppard-Jones

      Had you in mind when I wrote it :-D

      • Anne Giles


  • catherine

    Thanks Liz, yes it would have been nice to have a little less chatter but I think people were genuinely excited by the power reversal and in such a grand space too. It was super to have so many performers and audience over the age of 50, 60, 70 and 80 present so I do think that the Silvers had it! We had lots of comments afterwards about how it had felt special to be part of it.

    In a new place this takes time for people to ‘get’ the hang of it so maybe a future event will have a calmer space -sharing quality ….. For the moment I will settle for the joyful exuberance of doing something that felt a little different , maybe even transgressive!