Sunday, 20 May 2018

Cross-cultural threads embellish the royal wedding

A bearded Prince Harry wore a plain, dark military uniform and his fiancĂ© Meghan Markle wore a white, off-the-shoulder Givenchy gown to get married in. Harry’s brother William was best man. William wore a uniform which matched his brother’s but it had an additional aiguillette on the right shoulder.

Yesterday’s ceremony borrowed from both American and English traditions to give spectators around the world some idea of the kinds of themes that the pair, now styled the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, will observe in their future careers as members of the royal family.

The measured, temperate tones of a royal event such as this were thoroughly ruffled when Bishop Michael Curry, the first African American to preside over the Episcopal Church in America, took to the pulpit.  Curry had been installed as leader of the US-based member of the Anglican Communion in 2015 and he gave the attendees – and, through the medium of television, the global audiences – a glimpse into the distinctive preaching styles used in the American south. The spicy sermon was full of striking images and evocative rhetoric.

He spoke about the invention of fire as a watershed moment for humanity and noted that he had harnessed fire to get to the event by flying across the Atlantic in an aeroplane. His main message was that people should embrace the logic of love in their daily lives. Love, he said, was as powerful as fire and could change the world. It was a reminder for the audience of how Harry’s mother had embraced the humanitarian elements of the job when she was a royal. Harry’s championing of the Invictus Games demonstrates that he also is a conviction player who is motivated by his passions as much as by a sense of duty.

Meghan, who is 36 years old, was born in the same year in which Diana and Charles were married. In another nod to Meghan’s heritage, a gospel choir based in England, the Kingdom Choir, led by Karen Gibson, performed a vocal rendition of 'Stand by Me' with no musical accompaniment. It is a 1961 hit song written by Ben E. King (1938-2015). I wrote about the roots of pop in gospel music and its own roots in the hymns of the 18th century on this blog some years ago. In that post, I pointed to hymns written by William Cowper and John Newton for use in Evangelical churches during the years when some Protestant denominations were still discriminated against by the Anglican mainstream.

It was impossible to become a government employee, for example, if the dictates of your conscience rendered you unable to subscribe to the articles of the Church of England. Those laws, which had been put in place in the years after Charles II returned to England in 1660 at the end of the republican Commonwealth, would eventually be repealed in the first decades of the 19th century. However what is more important to remark on here is that the enthusiasm that had animated the Evangelicals in Britain during the 17th and 18th centuries would eventually be leveraged for the purposes of improvement by reformers of the established church in the 19th century, which was also the era when Victoria pioneered the family-centred model of royalty that is still followed by the Windsors today.

After the ceremony, which both the young people negotiated without mishap, musician Sheku Kanneh-Mason, who has been on TV in the UK, played some tunes on a cello. There was ‘Sicilienne’ by Austrian composer Maria Theresia von Paradis (1759-1824), ‘Apres un reve’ (‘After a dream’) by French composer Gabriel Faure (1845-1924), and ‘Ave Maria’ by German composer Franz Schubert (1797-1828).

A nice moment occurred when Prince Charles, dressed in a plain grey suit, was on his way to the exit of the chapel. As he was walking, he held out his hand as an offering of companionship to Meghan’s mother, Doria Ragland, who had been standing waiting in front of her seat in the choir stalls near the altar. The two parents walked out of the place together. It was an impromptu gesture that showed a fitting level of solicitude for a king. Charles had also walked Meghan down the aisle before the ceremony started.

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