Music and protest

The churches of Tavira at night, one: the surviving Gothic door of Santa Maria do Castelo

The churches of Tavira at night, one: the surviving Gothic doorway of Santa Maria do Castelo

The churches of Tavira at night, two: the church of Santiago, stacked up on a slope

The churches of Tavira at night, two: Santiago, stacked up on a slope (with Santa Maria do Castelo behind)

The church of Santa Catarina, in the sunlight

The church of Santa Catarina da Fonte do Bispo, in the sunlight

Two concerts this week: an organ concert in the beautiful, Baroque-tiled-interior of the Misericórdia church of Tavira (more of that in a moment), and a Christmas concert by the Banda Musical de Tavira in the church of Santa Catarina da Fonte do Bispo, our local village. Heaven-sent rain ruled out the walk we thought of doing on Sunday, and that’s how we got to go to the Christmas concert. It was billed to start at 3 p.m.

We arrived in the village at about ten to three. The church doors were firmly closed. A lonely musician stood outside a side entrance. We went to the café instead. At two minutes to three, several battered vans rolled up in the village, full of musicians. Now we understood that three o’clock had been the meeting time for the band, not the start of the concert. Something new to learn every day.

The band arrived

The band arrived

We finished our bicas and went to see what was happening. It was clearly still too early but with the wooden church doors now wide open we went in. Like many Portuguese churches it is over-decorated and under-used, full of musty air, marble-effect flourishes and gilt scallops and swags. Pews were being moved back, chairs scraped and instruments tentatively parped as the concert band got themselves ready. At around three dozen members, they were going to outnumber the audience. Most of the musicians were young.

At about 3.40 p.m., the final music stand was tightened and the last of the instruments tested. The dapper but teacher-like conductor stepped up and the first piece began. A lump came instantly to my throat; tears pricked my eyes. I knew without turning my head that it was the same with Husband. I couldn’t look at him or we’d make a spectacle of ourselves. More people were being drawn into the church by the sound. The band were good, very good. It was unexpectedly moving. At intervals the conductor and a woman who was in some way responsible for the band gave impassioned, anti-consumerist speeches about the joy of music and the inner peace that is the essential message of Christmas. This country has soul.

Sound check

Sound check

The band played

The band played beautifully

The organ for Friday’s concert in Tavira’s Misericórdia church was a tiny, eighteenth-century one. The visiting Hungarian organist had wanted to play the music of Bach, Händel and Scarlatti, all born exactly 330 years ago, but a last-minute transfer from the nearby church of Santiago, whose eighteenth-century organ had a malfunction, meant a change of programme. To keep Händel in, the only possible piece for this organ was music he wrote for a musical clock. Nevertheless, it was all enchanting. Somehow the thumping in and out of organ stops only added to the exquisite atmosphere.

The organist, Gyula Szilágyi, making his introduction

The organist, Gyula Szilágyi, making his introduction



Husband and I made a fleeting appearance on Portuguese television this week. This is quite exciting – though you would have to be very determined to spot us in the crowd – but, much more importantly, it means that the campaign against oil exploration in the Algarve is gaining in exposure.

'An Algarve free of oil industry'

‘An Algarve free of oil industry’

We were in Faro outside the offices of the association of Algarve mayors (AMAL), waving banners in a gesture of both protest and solidarity while a meeting went on inside. It is quite difficult to show solidarity and make a protest at the same time, but since our gathering was conducted in a love-and-peace way it worked out all right. We were there to support the goodies, the mayors of the Algarve, who have just found out that they’ve been sold down the river, their beautiful land handed over by central government to a bunch of oil and gas companies for exploration and exploitation, and simultaneously to register our protest against the baddies, the Entidade Nacional para o Mercado de Combustiveis, a sort of quango of dinosaur-like, fossil-fuel crazies. The baddies’ leader, Paulo Carmona, came out of the meeting saying: ‘But if we find lots of oil and gas we’ll be rich!’, showing himself to have been blind and deaf for the last few decades to anything but the sight and sound of money, and even there he’s missed the mark: which is that there’s a glut of oil on the markets right now and it’s never been cheaper nor – surely to God, in the light of the recent Paris agreement – less desirable. Perhaps he wants to turn Portugal into a pale imitation of its former colony Angola, whose capital Luanda is currently the most expensive city in the world to live in thanks to oil; whose country is despoiled and whose people, the vast vast majority of them, are ever further removed from a decent future. But, remember, Portugal has soul, and soul will win the day . . .

Bom Natal

Bom Natal


  1. Hazel

    I do hope the protest will have the right effect and that the oilers will be kicked into the long grass. Was it the tune or brass instruments that had The Effect on you and HB? Brass bands jerk tears from and insert lump throat in me whenever I encounter them. Bom Natal to you too! xx

  2. L.

    You have excelled yourself this week – superb photos, prose as good as usual, and expressing such passion and conviction!

    Dare one hope you are right, not just in this little out-of-the-way corner of this little out-of-the-way country, and not just over oil rigs and fracking?

    Feliz Ano Novo, Paz e Prosperidade, com Alma of course; but perhaps just Menos Austeridade will do?

  3. fatma

    A little late in the day but Bom Natal to you! Now the dapper little conductor, that brought tears to your eyes, does my memory serve me well to suggest he made an appearance in an earlier musical blog? But why the tears Ms Rabbit? You have excelled yourself in the photographic medium. This blog will be vying with itself in written and visual competition! Let’s hope your faith in the Portuguese soul wins the day…..


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