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Radio review: The Essay: Are you paying attention?, America’s Child Brides, and Choral Evensong

12 July 2019


PREACHERS and teachers who are having trouble holding the attention of their congregants and students may soon have an exciting new gadget to help them. The Transcranial Simulator is designed to zap the brain in such a way that it silences any distracting internal monologue and directs focus on to external perception.

In the interests of trading standards, I should reveal that the Transcranial Simulator is currently being tested on military personnel, the better to clear their heads before the fight. And, as Madeleine Bunting explained in The Essay: Are you paying attention? (Radio 3, Thursday of last week, repeat), the Church tends to prefer traditional liturgies and ritual in its mission to direct minds heavenwards. I imagine, however, that there will be a few ministers out there who would prefer administering mild electric shocks to the cerebellum than administering a Prayer Book communion.

One of the easiest laughs to be had on this side of the Atlantic is to quote from the encyclopedia of dumb laws to be found in particular states of the United States: in Georgia, for instance, you are not allowed to eat chicken with a knife and fork. So it is difficult at first to know whether to laugh or cry when it is reported that, in 17 states, there is no minimum age for marriage. In America’s Child Brides (Radio 4, Monday of last week, repeat), Jane O’Brien reported on a campaign to establish that minimum age as 18 across the US.

All of this would seem sensible and reasonable to us liberal-minded Brits. And the account given to the programme by Tammy was disturbing: married in Boston, Massachusetts, at the age of 15, to a Bible-wielding control freak, she emerged from the relationship 17 years and nine children later, having lost her youth. Yet, the reticence shown by the programme to specify what they meant by “child” (age 18, as it emerged), and the lack of discussion about the age of sexual consent (which is now between 16 and 18, depending on which state you are in), left the listener confused about the extent of the abuse that this situation enabled.

Certainly, the Republican from New Hampshire and the rabbi from New Jersey interviewed here as witnesses for the defence of the status quo were not the cartoon conservatives beloved of the British comedy circuit.

This summer, Sir Stephen Cleobury, the long-serving Director of Music at King’s College, Cambridge, retires. Last week’s schedules included a feature on Sunday (Radio 4) and a special concert (Radio 3, Friday). But the most appropriate tribute came in the form of Choral Evensong (Radio 3, Wednesday of last week), which featured two works commissioned by Sir Stephen, and one world première. The legacy of his outstanding service will, above all, be the model of engagement with contemporary composers, and encouragement constantly to refresh the historic tradition.

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