“The Internet Passion”: Good Friday in an time of lockdown
A Church of Scotland minister from East Lothian has harnessed the power of the internet to make possible a world premiere which would otherwise have been cancelled.
Rev Dr Robin Hill’s “Internet Passion” started life as a project for his 20-piece gospel rhythm and blues outfit, the Heart & Soul Swing Band. The intention had been to mark Good Friday with a large-scale event combining Bible readings, dramatic narrations and an original set of 12-bar blues instrumentals. Originally entitled “The Blues Passion”, its purpose is to present St Mark’s account of Holy Week in a new light.
With the arrival of Covid-19 pandemic conditions in mid-March, Robin was ready to postpone the first outing of his project for a year. However, with the encouragement of the band’s sound engineer Willie Ewan, a high-tech means of bringing it all together was swiftly found.
First Robin, the minister of Gladsmuir linked with Longniddry, recorded all the Bible readings within a deserted Longniddry Church, e-mailing Willie links to the sound files. Next, church organist Charlie McGillivray-Davidson did the same for three hymns tunes in an equally empty Gladsmuir Church. These served as accompaniment for solo singing by Rev Alec Shuttleworth, sitting at his desk with headphones and a microphone in far distant Kincardine.
Lastly, scripts for dramatic narrations were e-mailed out to church members in Longniddry and beyond. These readers simply used their smartphones to record their contributions, channelling them via Robin to Willie who was happy to sacrifice studio quality sound in the interests of wide participation. The overall impression, he says, is one of volunteers doing their very best and arriving at a pretty impressive outcome given the taxing conditions of self-isolation.
So much for the words: a fairly simple process. When it came to music, the challenge was much greater. A computer-generated music file was created by Charlie as the template for each of Robin’s blues arrangements. Next, a spare bedroom in the Longniddry manse was repurposed as a makeshift recording studio in which multiple tracks were overlaid on to the computer files by the four members of the Hill family, covering woodwind, string and percussion parts. Charlie also recorded keyboard lines from his home in East Lothian to be added into the mix.
All the parts, plus the original score files, were then taken by Willie and painstakingly stitched together to arrive at a production somewhere between a church service and a big band performance.
While Robin would have loved to have involved the full Heart & Soul Swing Band in this project, he believes that co-ordination of 20 players in a tight time frame would have been a logistical nightmare. The combination of live recordings and computer sound files aims to convey something of what a live performance will eventually feel like when Covid-19 restrictions are finally raised.
And so by a process of hard work in enforced isolation, a team of more than a dozen volunteers have raced to create a unique Good Friday service for Gladsmuir, Longniddry and far beyond. Robin hopes that there will be a wide audience for this unique worship experience. Already, interest is being shown in the project by care homes keen to offer residents a Good Friday service at a time when chaplains are unable to provide one in person.
“It’s been quite a journey,” says Robin. “Everyone involved in creating ‘The Internet Passion’ hopes that listeners near and far will feel part of a wider congregation as together we walk the way of Jesus through the story of Holy Week.”
The Internet Passion was produced by Longniddry & Gladsmuir Parish Churches