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Radio review: The Power of Three and Faith in Music

18 December 2020

KT Bruce

In The Power of Three (Radio 4, Friday), Cole Moreton recalls the challenge of being a father to triplets

In The Power of Three (Radio 4, Friday), Cole Moreton recalls the challenge of being a father to triplets

IN THE presence of the miracle that is multiple births, it seems that we take leave of our senses. As the father of boy-girl twins, I can vouch for the testimony provided by Josh and Grace in The Power of Three (Radio 4, Friday): that people ask you the most ill-conceived questions. Can they read each other’s minds? Are they identical? (Only in Shakespeare do boy-girl twins get to be identical.) But the Moretons get it much worse; for they are a threesome. When, in multiple-birth antenatal classes, the parents of triplets enter, the room falls into awestruck silence.

The stats speak for themselves: 12,500 nappies, 10,980 bottles of milk, and 0.03 per cent of live births. Twins are a breeze by comparison — nature, after all, provided us with two arms. The father in this documentary — the ever-loving, emotionally aware Cole Moreton, through whose account we learn all this — admits to one occasion when he felt like crashing his car into a tree. The family psychologist can do no more than reassure him and his wife that it is reasonable to feel overwhelmed and exhausted by an outcome that, had they been offered it when undergoing stressful IVF, would have delighted them.

While the practical difficulties ease for the parents, other challenges become more acute; and, in last week’s episode, we heard how the three are coping with the A-level results — one disappointed, another elated but trying to hide it for fear of upset, another fleeing to Amsterdam — the bind of wanting to be different and yet the same playing out in this, as in so many rites of passage.

As for the mind-reading question, the Moretons devised a neat trick, in which they astonish their friends by always agreeing that the colour and number that they are thinking of are blue and seven.

His music might get generous airplay, but, as one of the country’s most celebrated composers and an articulate spokesman for sometimes unfashionable views, Sir James MacMillan is not as public a cultural figure as one might wish (although perhaps quite as much as he might). He would, for instance, make a fine Reith Lecturer, and no doubt do a great deal better than Daniel Barenboim, the last classical musician to be so honoured. In the mean time, we have Faith in Music (Radio 4, Mondays): a survey of four composers and their expression of the numinous in music.

The series began last week with Thomas Tallis, whose output spanned the many religious upheavals of the mid-Tudor period. As portrayed here by the experts, Tallis was somebody who managed to keep his head down and adapt, quite brilliantly, to the demands and restrictions of his ecclesiastical patrons — a feat unmatched by his peers.

But it was Sir James’s own sign-off that was of particular interest here: the response not of a specialist musical historian, but of a Roman Catholic composer working in the modern, secular world. Tallis, he said, makes the contemporary composer aware of the responsibility to “look beyond the here-are-now into something much deeper”. Few would argue with the “much deeper”; but how many see it as a “responsibility”?

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