Jane Austen Songs of Praise


Jane Austen

It's the 200th anniversary of the death of Jane Austen, and Connie Fisher visits the Hampshire house where the celebrated romantic novelist lived.


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Transcript


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Here in rural Hampshire,

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some of the greatest literary works of our time were written.

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This week, we celebrate Jane Austen, a writer who,

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despite living a quiet, unassuming life here,

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went on to become one of the most recognised novelists in the world.

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200 years after her death, I'll be finding out more about her

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personal faith, visiting Jane's final resting place,

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Winchester Cathedral, and discovering why

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this vicar's daughter didn't always portray the clergy

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in a flattering light.

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Would you do me the great honour of walking with me into town?

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I'll be meeting the high-society girl who gave up

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a life of luxury to become a nun.

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And Josie's in Bristol to find out how this choir is helping to

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beat the effects of addiction through song.

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We have some great music for you,

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including a hymn from this magnificent cathedral in Winchester.

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And we begin with a joyous worship song written and led

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by Keith and Kristin Getty.

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In 1809, at the age of 33, Jane Austen moved here to the picturesque

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village of Chawton in Hampshire with her sister and their mother.

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It's exciting to think that it was here Jane Austen created some of

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her most dashing heroes, dastardly rogues, and memorable clergymen.

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And where she first became a published author.

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She wrote six novels, of which Pride And Prejudice is perhaps her

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most famous, and has inspired many film and television dramas.

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Mr Darcy?

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Miss Bennett?

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The house is now a museum, and I'm here to meet Austen expert

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Helena Kelly and curator Mary Guyatt.

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We're standing in the drawing room.

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This is the room where Jane would have spent many hours with

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-her sister and her mother.

-And writing?

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And writing, yes.

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-In fact, we have her writing table.

-Wow, that's tiny, isn't it?

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It's very small.

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It seems quite a grand house.

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What level of society were the Austens?

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Well, Jane was born into a middle-class family.

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This was the gentry, the emerging middle classes.

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Her father was a clergyman, and two of her brothers.

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So, she was surrounded in the family by clergymen.

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And, in front of us here, we've got a few Bibles.

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Are these family Bibles?

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This larger Bible belonged to the church,

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St Nicolas's Church in Steventon, where her father was a clergyman.

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-And what about this teeny-tiny one here?

-Well, this is a family Bible.

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This was published in 1628.

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It's in Greek, it's the New Testament.

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And you can see that it has the Austen name, 1711.

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-So, passed down through the generations.

-Precisely.

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What sort of Christian do you think she was?

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We know from her letters that she was an active person,

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that she visited the sick, and that she gave alms.

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So I think she took her responsibilities seriously

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and with a practical mind.

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Despite religion being an integral part of Jane's upbringing,

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she didn't always portray the clergy in the best light.

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I believe I possess the happy knack, much to be desired in a clergyman,

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of adapting myself to every kind of society, whether high or low.

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The Reverend Mr Collins in Pride And Prejudice is really

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just bumbling, obsequious, and absurd.

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They don't all of them seem to spend very much time, sort of,

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looking after their parishioners, writing their sermons.

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So, there's a strange disconnect, I think, between the depiction

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in the books and perhaps how she felt about religion herself.

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In Emma, the clergyman, Mr Elton, is, at times, a flirty gossip.

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I hope that you, like myself,

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have been urging Miss Woodhouse not to go within half a mile

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of Goddard's when there is the chance of catching an infection.

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But he does have redeeming characteristics.

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Even he is shown being very active in parish work.

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All her characters are very nuanced, so they all have faults,

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and they all have journeys of learning that they need to make.

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Did you think, because she was surrounded by clergymen,

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she was able to be candid about what she really thought?

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I think that's exactly it.

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She had the license of knowing a religious family,

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and that gave her the permission to write critically.

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Our next hymn comes from somewhere that Jane may well have

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visited here in Hampshire, Romsey Abbey.

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It was written by a female hymn writer, Caroline Noel,

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and I'm certain Jane Austen would have approved of that.

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As we know, Jane Austen had a gift for conjuring up some

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memorable fictional figures in her books.

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Now Claire McCollum introduces us to a real-life character,

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who has a remarkable story to tell.

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JAZZ MUSIC

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After the Second World War, high society was getting back into

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the swing of things, with debutants presented to the king.

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One of them was Shirley Leach, a young lady with a privileged life.

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We used to go around in what we'd call a gang.

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I was always getting ideas, "Let's go off to Switzerland,"

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which was quite dashing.

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I had a wonderful young life.

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A very glamorous life.

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And I loved dancing.

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Shirley was due to marry the love of her life, Jeremy.

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And even picked the names of ten children she planned.

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Until she chose another path.

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I wrote to Jeremy, "I'm going to be a nun."

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And, in saying that, it was as if...

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..that had been in the mind of God for all eternity.

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And he said, "If it's between me and God,

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"it's obvious who's going to win."

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After taking her vows in 1952, Shirley became Sister Agatha,

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and, for over 40 years,

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has been an ever-present figure at Bar Convent in York.

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And there's now a book about her experiences, A Nun's Story.

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When Jeremy left you off,

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you were saying goodbye to that great love you had for him.

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Was the love that you had for God stronger, would you say?

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No, it grew, I suppose, is the answer.

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It was a gradual losing of one life...

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and...

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learning another way of loving.

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-'Having once lived the life of luxury...'

-This is my bedroom.

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'..I was curious to see Sister Agatha's quarters at the convent.'

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This is what I always say, it's my office, too.

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I'm guessing it wasn't like this

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when you first became a nun, your room.

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Oh, Lord, no.

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It was called a cell in those days.

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I had a bed.

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Quite hard bed.

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And then there was a screen,

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and there was a person on the other side of the screen.

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And then you went out, and you filled your jug,

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and when it was very cold,

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the water in one's basin was frozen in the morning.

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It was a totally, totally different way of life.

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The sisters no longer wear a habit, and the convent,

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originally a girls' school dating back to 1686,

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has adapted to changing times, with an interactive exhibition.

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THEY SING QUE SERA

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Despite being in her 80s, Sister Agatha takes on the responsibility

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of looking after the elderly nuns, with the help of 30 volunteers.

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Together, we all care for the sisters

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who need day and night nursing.

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I think I'm the only one who doesn't need day or all might nursing.

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You provide all that.

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THEY SAY THE LORD'S PRAYER

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Knowing what you have experienced throughout life,

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you're now 85, do you have any regrets about making that decision?

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Oh, no. No time for regrets. No!

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For me, there was never any doubt.

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We love to bring you a variety of music on Songs Of Praise.

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And our next performance comes from a man with an incredible voice,

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opera singer Noah Stewart.

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And it's a song to lift the spirits.

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# Great day

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# Great day, the righteous marching

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# Great day

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# God's going to build up Zion's walls

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# Oh, great day

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# Great day, the righteous marching

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# Great day

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# God's going to build up Zion's walls

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# Chariot rode on the mountain top

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# God's going to build up Zion's walls

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# God, he spoke, and the chariot stop

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# God's going to build up Zion's walls

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# This is the day of jubilee

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# God's going to build up Zion's walls

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# God has set His people free

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# God's going to build up Zion's walls

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# Great day

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# Great day, the righteous marching

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# Great day

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# God's going to build up Zion's walls

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# Take my breast-plate, sword and head

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# March out boldly through the land

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# Want no cowards in our band

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# Each must be a good, brave man

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# Great day

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# Great day, the righteous marching

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# Great day

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# God's going to build up Zion's walls

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# Great day

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# Great day, the righteous marching

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# Great day

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# God's going to build up

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# Zion's

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# Walls! #

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Well, not everyone's blessed with a voice like Noah Stewart,

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but that doesn't stop people of all faiths - and none - of experiencing

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the power of music.

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Josie d'Arby went to meet one choir

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who think singing has completely changed their lives.

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People join choirs for all sorts of reasons,

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maybe to learn new music or perhaps to meet new people,

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but for this group of singers, it's an opportunity

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to support each other in an even more profound way.

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The members of Rising Voices are either recovering addicts

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or closely connected to someone who is.

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And they rehearse every week in a local church.

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I set it up because I'd been working in drug treatment

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for five, six years,

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doing group work therapy -

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so talking to people about addiction, recovery -

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and I just really wanted to do something different.

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On your roller-coaster...

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ALL WHOOP

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You don't need to be musically experienced to join the choir.

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It's really about people coming together.

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So many people have the story of, like, "I was told I couldn't sing."

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It's almost like saying, "I can't walk."

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# Whoa, whoa, whoa-whoa-whoa

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-ALL:

-# Whoa, whoa, whoa-whoa-whoa

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But if you start to walk again, metaphorically, with your voice,

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I think, again, it really instils a lot of hope

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that anything's possible.

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# Woo-ooh-oooh

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-ALL:

-# Woo-ooh-oooh

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While the choir isn't faith-based,

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several members are Christians -

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like Tony, who, as a young man, fell away from church-going

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and into drug addiction.

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It was such a terrible thing, such a one-way street,

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that I thought I would never get out.

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And, um, I went into prison

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and it was there that I found faith in God

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by going to the church chaplain

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and talking about it and trying to find my way back into life.

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And Chris has been in the choir since it began.

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The rebellious attitude of the '80s,

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I went on the road and then ended up messed up on drink and drugs.

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And now I'm living in Bristol,

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found a higher power, which ended up as Christianity,

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and I joined the choir and am living in a Christian community.

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Chris and Tony are telling me how the choir has helped them.

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THEY DO VOCAL EXERCISES

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When you've been in addiction a long time,

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you are very isolated, you know?

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You haven't got any true friends left, really.

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And then, so, it's good to build...

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I wouldn't say I'm a good singer, either, but I'm accepted.

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Oh, I'll be the judge of that.

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# Never, never, never, never, never

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# Oh, never... #

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I feel secure in that environment, I'm comfortable with the people.

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We're just one family when we're together and that's so special.

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# Never give up... #

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I get a lot of feeling of recovery from the songs,

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even though they might not be written that way.

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It's a healing, when we get that. We get to let that out through song.

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# I'm gonna find heaven in my...

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-TONY:

-The recovery choir is one of those good parts of my life which

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keeps my recovery going.

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This year is the 200th anniversary of the death of Jane Austen.

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At the age of 41, she'd published four novels

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and had written two more,

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but she had a debilitating illness and her health was failing,

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so, in 1817, her sister Cassandra brought Jane here, to Winchester,

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for medical help.

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They took lodgings in College Street.

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At the time, her books were growing in popularity,

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she was just beginning to be recognised as a great writer.

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Her sister desperately hoped for Jane's recovery, but, sadly,

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it wasn't to be.

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Her final words were, "God grant me patience,

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"pray for me, oh, pray for me."

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Three days later, she was laid to rest here in Winchester Cathedral.

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Louise, wow, what an incredible place to be buried.

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-I know, it is amazing, isn't it?

-Certainly is.

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How was Jane given permission to be buried here?

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Well, we think it was probably because of the clergy connection in the family.

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Her father was a clergyman, her eldest brother was, and we think,

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you know, probably a favour was pulled in, really, for that.

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-And her funeral, was that a grand affair?

-No, not at all. No.

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No, when you think about what a famous person she is,

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it was a very modest affair.

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She was attended by three of her brothers and one of her nephews.

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And her sister?

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No, Cassandra didn't attend the funeral because women weren't

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allowed to attend funerals in those days, so she said she just

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watched the sad, mournful procession as it entered the close.

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-Oh, no, that's terrible.

-It is, it is, it's very touching, actually.

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Yeah, and she's actually buried just over here.

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-And this is her grave.

-Wow, it's big.

-Yes, it is, yeah.

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So how well known was Jane Austen when she passed away?

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She was... She was beginning to be known,

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she was certainly known among the literati.

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She had actually dedicated Emma to the Prince Regent,

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on his request, so she was known among certain people, definitely.

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On her epitaph, there's no mention, really, of her being a writer.

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I know, but it does mention the extraordinary endowments of

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her mind but it's mainly talking about what a good Christian

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woman she was and how well loved she was by her family.

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But I think that Henry, her brother, who wrote this epitaph,

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he wanted to thank the cathedral for allowing her to be buried here

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and by saying what a very good Christian woman she was,

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it's almost saying she deserved to be here.

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In the early 1870s, her nephew commissioned

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a plaque commemorating Jane and acknowledging her as a writer.

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Then in the early 1900s, this impressive stained glass window

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was installed, paid for by her many admirers.

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To this day, people still revere her.

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They have a great affection for her as a person,

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as well as the writer of these extraordinary books,

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which live to this day.

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# In paradisum

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# Deducant te angeli

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# In tuo adventu

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# Suscipiant te martyres

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# Et perducant te

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# In civitatem sanctam

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# Jerusalem

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# Jerusalem

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# Jerusalem

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# Jerusalem

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# Chorus angelorum

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# Te suscipiat

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# Et cum Lazaro quondam paupere

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# Et cum Lazaro quondam paupere

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# Aeternam habeas

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# Requiem

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# Aeternam

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# Habeas

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# Requiem. #

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BIRDSONG

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Well, that's almost it for today.

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Next week, Aled is in Wales,

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following the footsteps of pilgrims both ancient and modern.

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We end today with a hymn from this beautiful cathedral,

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a place so admired by Jane Austen.

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Thanks for watching.

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It's the 200th anniversary of the death of Jane Austen, and Connie Fisher visits the Hampshire house where the celebrated romantic novelist lived to examine her - not always flattering - portrayal of clergymen.

Music

Lift High the Name of Jesus performed by Keith and Kristyn Getty from Orangefield Presbyterian Church, Belfast At the Name of Jesus from Romsey Abbey Magnificat from Holy Trinity Catholic Church, Sutton Coldfield Great Day performed by Noah Stewart I Love You Lord Today from St Germain's Church, Birmingham In Paradisum performed by Huddersfield Choral Society with the BBC Philharmonic To God Be the Glory from Winchester Cathedral.


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