July 25th – The Orchestra of the Fields Festival

Not all Chastise Church festivals are based around saints and their exploits, some of them are more esoteric, tied to other aspects of religious life. The Church is an old thing, and old things inevitably become mixed up, confused at some point along the way. What was written down in one century might take on different meaning when viewed through new eyes in the next. Such is the way in which the annual Orchestra of the Fields came to be.

There is a line in the Sanctotemporal Index, thought to have been written by Hierarch Kirim at some point in the fifth century (though authorship is always a difficult and contested thing with the Index), which states that ‘Yff thee haff a glyutt aff peryshabble fodder ynn the sunniyer dayes aff the yere, thee muste notte let ytt gow to wayste, thee muste haff harmoneyuss festyvale.’ For about two hundred years this was interpreted as an exportation to eat unreservedly of the summer bounty, at least of those vegetables which are easily wasted if not eaten quickly, like courgettes and beans, and to do so in such a way that you included your neighbours, a ‘harmonious’ feasting that left nobody hungry. The passage was even used by the more egalitarian Buentoillitant Chastise Church-goers to argue for a more inclusive Church that donated more liberally to the poor.

Then, for a while, roughly another two hundred years, the line fell out of fashion. There were many new saints, with new declarations, and new ways of thinking of the world. And then, in 1037, a monastery near Buentoille (now inhaled, consumed by the City), under the leadership of Nerma Deen, interpreted the edict rather differently. The monastery was based around values of musical Attunement attainment, and when, after many hours reading the Index, Deen came across the line, the naturally took the words ‘harmonious festival’ to mean that there should be some kind of musical element to this festival of summer gluttony.

And so it was that the Orchestra of the Fields was created. It hasn’t happened every year since; there were plenty of years when the harvest was lessened so that there was no ‘glut’ of summer vegetables, when the monastery’s gardens couldn’t keep up with the number of new arrivals, and later, when the monastery was swallowed up by the roaming streets of Buentoille, the Great Grain Crisis kept the festival away for several years. But for the last 70 or so years the Orchestra has developed and grown past a religious observance, a liturgy born from the twists and turns of textual interpretation. As is the case with these things, the Orchestra became associated with a particular day; today. Nowadays hundreds of musicians, amateurs and professionals, children and adults, religious and irreligious, will submit themselves and their new instruments to the direction of Pastor Brundwytch upon the cavernous stage in the Church of Acoustic Refinement.

The most popular, and probably most traditional instrument is the courgette. Hollowed out and cut just right it can make a sweet, earthy tune. Carrots are higher pitched, more defined, sometimes played like a flute, sometimes like a recorder or even a clarinet, with a thin flap acting as a ‘reed’. Radishes and parsnips are common additions, sometimes cut in such a way that they can be hit together to make a note. Aubergines are cut down the centre and used like clappers. In recent years, less seasonal instruments have been included in the ensemble, mostly percussion instruments such as pumpkin ‘drums,’ or dry gourds full of dried beans or rice which are shaken. Sometimes bell peppers are used as bell amplifiers on the end of the wind instruments. Very occasionally someone manages to make a working guitar with a microphone, a halved squash and a stick of celery.

In 2007 there was a small coup by a group of self described ‘acoustic technicians’ who sought to create electrical music through notes created by the relative electrical conductivity of different vegetables, but it didn’t last long. They performed sublimely, movingly, with their alien noise far surpassing the disorganised clattering of the regular Orchestra, but despite this people seemed to care less. They could be making that noise with anything, it doesn’t have to be vegetables, they said. And besides, it simply wasn’t as inclusive, you couldn’t have the messy parades of folks on their way perform, snaking through the streets, proudly brandishing their home-made instruments. Frankly it went against the spirit of the thing.

Practice takes place for about five days beforehand; they usually play The Imperious Leader and The Saga of Hom as a finale, but the other songs are mostly new, devised by group leaders as the festival day looms ever closer. No matter how much practise is done, the results will never be perfect, or even seem practised. It takes a long time to get used to the particular resonances of vegetable musical instruments, and they change and break with extreme ease. No matter though; what the Orchestra lack in skill and accuracy, they make up for sevenfold in enthusiasm and sheer joyousness. There is a reason that today’s festival is one of the most popular events of the musical calendar. Thousands will fill up the church pews today.

It used to be that the vegetable instruments were made into an enormous pot of soup, but for many years this has been considered extremely unsanitary and instead they are turned to compost, just after the children have a bit of fun with them: they are all spread out on a large tarp outside, and everyone is invited to jump up and down, pulping them all whilst singing percussive songs.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Oracle of Saiem Festival
  • The Ungodly League’s Festival of the Visceral Scream
  • The Festival of Milk and Bread