by Carl Halling
Chapter two of "Tales from the Halling Valley"
|In the late 1940s, Patrick Clancy Halling married my mother, the Canadian singer Ann Watt…born Angela Jean Watt to British-born parents in the city of Brandon, Manitoba. Her father an Irish builder had been born into an Ulster Presbyterian family in the village of Castlederg, County Tyrone, while her mother came from the great industrial city of Glasgow, her own father having been a Mr Hazeldine possibly from Liverpool or Manchester. This means that AJ Watt is of mixed Scottish, Scots-Irish and English ancestry, not that there’s any real difference between these three ethnicities. My mother is an ethnic Briton, full stop.
My paternal grandfather was probably a descendant of the planters sent by the English to Ulster, many of them originally inhabitants of the Anglo-Scottish border country and the Lowland region of Scotland. According to some sources, Lowlanders are distinct from their Highland counterparts, being of Anglo-Saxon rather than Gaelic ancestry, although how true this is I’m not qualified to say. Whatever the truth, the sensible view is surely that their bloodline contains a variety of kindred strains including as well as Anglo-Saxon, Gaelic, Pictish, Norman and so on, depending on the precise region.
Thousands of these Ulster Scots emigrated to the United States in the 1600s, and their descendants are to be found all throughout the US, but most famously perhaps in the South, where the greatest proportion of those identifying as just American are believed to be the descendants of the original Colonials and therefore mainly of British (English and Scots-Irish) ancestry.
Angela Watt was the youngest of six children – with only five surviving - born to James and Elizabeth Watt and the only one not to be born in either Scotland or Ireland. While Angela was still an infant, the family moved to the Grandview area of East Vancouver where James found work as a carpenter. By this time, James had abandoned the extreme Presbyterian Calvinism of his Ulster boyhood and youth for the sake of the Wesleyan theology of the Salvation Army, and my mother was raised in the Army at a time when their approach to Scripture was what would be described as fundamental today. His swing from the extreme (Calvinist) Protestantism of his youth in Ulster to the Wesleyan Arminianism of the Salvation Army could not have been more radical, leastwise as I see it.
To explain, Calvinists are those Christians who've traditionally subscribed to what is known as the Doctrines of Grace - or Five Points of Calvinism - which stem from the Protestant Reformation. According to these doctrines, God predestined a limited Elect of men and women to be saved and that this election is unconditional, given Man's total inability to respond to the Gospel without Grace, which is irresistible, and that salvation is irrevocable.
Calvin was himself powerfully influenced by Augustine of Hippo (345-430), the great North African Church Father who was an early proponent of a type of Christian determinism known as Predestination. This is based on the belief that God has foreordained every minute detail of history from the foundation of the world, including who would come to salvation in Christ, and who would be passed over. Double predestination, which was emphasized by John Calvin involves God's active reprobation - or rejection - of the non-Elect. Up until Augustine, the majority of Church Fathers were advocates of the doctrine of Free Will, later revived by Jacobus Arminius and John Wesley.
Some Calvinists are what is known as supralapsarian, from the Latin lapsus meaning fall. They believe that God's Elective Decree occurred prior to the Creation and Fall, and that it was accompanied by the reprobation of the non-elect. Calvin himself was a supralapsarian. Others, known as infralapsarian, maintain that Election followed the Fall. Most have been supporters of double predestination, thereby allegedly forming part of the largest group within Reformed theology.
Calvinist Churches became known as Reformed in Germany, France, Switzerland, and the Netherlands, and Presbyterian In Britain and the nations colonised by British Presbyterians such as the United States, Canada, Australia and so on. Their faith was expressed in written confessions, or creeds, such as the Heidelberg Catechism, the Belgic Confession of Faith, and the Canons of Dordt, as well as the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Westminster Catechisms. All are in essential agreement, together with the Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689, which has been upheld by Calvinist Baptist churches to this day.
After having been employed to defend Predestination from the attacks of fellow Dutchman Dirck Volckertszoon Coornhert, The Reformed theologian Jacobus Arminius began to have doubts about the validity of Predestination himself and so the seeds of what ultimately became known as Arminianism were sown. However, no doctrine was formulated in Arminius' lifetime, and Arminius never saw himself as anything other than Reformed.
After Arminius' death, his followers became known as the Remonstrants. They maintained Election doesn't involve reprobation, and is in accordance to God's foreknowledge of who will and who won't come to saving faith under the influence of God's universal or Prevenient Grace, rather than as a result of Predestination. They also maintained that salvation is for everyone who responds according to their own God-given power of choice, and that far from being eternal as the Calvinists believe, it can be shipwrecked and finally lost. The only one of the Five Points of Calvinism which they upheld was Total Depravity, although for them, this didn't involve a total inability to respond to the Gospel.
They expressed their beliefs through the Five Articles of Remonstrance. However, the Synod of Dordrecht of 1618-'19, which had been organised for the express purpose of condemning Arminius' theology, declared both it and its followers anathemas, before drawing up the Five Points of Calvinism, and expelling all Arminian pastors from the Netherlands.
As I see it, few if any men have done more for the cause of classical Arminianism than the great John Wesley. It should be emphasized at this stage that Arminius himself was far from latitudinarian in theology, and the same is true of the great English cleric. Both upheld the doctrine of Total Depravity, while Wesley laid great emphasis on the importance of personal sanctification or holiness. Sadly though, during the early 16th Century, the epithet Arminian was applied to those Anglican divines who sought to return the Church of England to the ritualism of pre-Reformation times, but their theology was a serious deviation from the classical Arminian model, while that of Wesley was wholly in tune with it even while he added certain distinctions of his own.
Out of this mix, the Wesleyan branch of Methodism ultimately emerged, there having also been a Calvinist one, which was the basis for Welsh Presbyterianism. Significantly thanks to Wesley, the one true Arminianism was handed down to succeedent generations of Arminians up to and including the Pentecostals and most Charismatics. At the same time, John Wesley never left the Church of England, and considered himself to be both Anglican and Reformed, which today would automatically mean Calvinist. Wesley was a fervent Free-Willist who yet upheld God's fierce hatred of sin...bequeathing this fiery brand of Arminianism to subsequent adherents within the Holiness churches and beyond...and it's still in existence today, among those devoted to a return to Biblical Pentecostalism and fundamental Wesleyanism, such as the Alliance of Biblical Pentecostals, and the Fundamental Wesleyan Society.
The Salvation Army was arguably once a haven of fundamental Wesleyanism, and one of its zealots was my paternal grandfather James Watt, who was opposed to worldly pleasures such as dancing and the theatre, and in his day, even the drinking of tea or coffee was frowned upon. This was the spiritual climate in which my mother came to maturity.
At the age of 14, Angela joined her friend Marie and Marie’s mother on a car trip just beyond the US-Canadian border into the state of Washington, where she saw her very first movie, a romantic civil war picture entitled “Only the Brave” starring Gary Cooper and Mary Brian. Its effect on her was little short of seismic, as by her own admission it introduced worldly ideas into her psyche for the very first time.
After leaving school, Angela worked for a time as an office worker in a laundrette managed by her sister Cathy until such a time as she was able to make her living exclusively as a singer. Many of her greatest triumphs took place at the Theatre Under the Stars, one of Vancouver’s most famous musical theatres, which officially opened on August the 6th 1940. At the TUTS, Miss Ann Watt as she became known played the lead in such classic operettas – which were the musical comedies of their day – as Oscar Straus’ “The Chocolate Soldier” (1908 ), based on the George Bernard Shaw classic “Arms and the Man”, “Naughty Marietta” (1910) by Victor Herbert, with libretto by Rida Johnson Young, and “The Student Prince” (1924 ) by Sigmund Romberg, with libretto by Dorothy Donnelly.
For the CBC with full orchestra, she broadcast many popular classics. Among those she performed to the accompaniment of Percy Harvey and the Golden Strings were “I’ll See You Again” from Noel Coward's “Bittersweet” (1929), and with baritone Greg Miller, “A Kiss in the Dark” from Victor Herbert's “Orange Blossoms” (1922), and “Sweethearts” from the musical play also by Herbert. Among her loveliest interpretations were - in addition to those already mentioned - Herbert's "Neath the Southern Moon” from “Naughty Marietta”, “Strange Music” from “The Song of Norway” (1942), adapted by Wright and Forrest from Grieg’s “Wedding in Troldhaugen” and “Can’t Help Singing” (1944) by Kern and Yarburg from the eponymous movie featuring Deanna Durbin. She also broadcast Classical songs such as Delibes' “Les Filles de Cadiz” (1874) and Charpentier's “Depuis le Jour” from "Louise" (1900), and German liede sung – due to wartime restrictions on the German language - in English to the piano accompaniment of Phyllis Dylworth.
After the war, she hoped to expand her career either in the US or the UK, but despite a successful audition for the San Francisco Light Opera Company, she ultimately opted for England, once a ticket to sail had become available to her.
She set sail for Britain laden with letters of recommendation from her singing teacher Avis Phillips, as well as numerous press cuttings from her brilliant Canadian career. She'd been led to believe that once in London, she'd effectively take the singing world by storm, at Drury Lane and elsewhere. Sadly though, soon after arriving, she failed an audition for the internationally famous Glyndebourne Opera House, home of the annual festival of the same name.
However, she did land a small role in the Ivor Novello musical, “King’s Rhapsody” which opened at the Palace Theatre on the 15th of September 1949, with its author one-time matinee idol Novello in the title role. It ran for 841 performances, surviving Novello who died in 1951. She also broadcast for the BBC, and among the performances that were captured on record were her versions of “De Fleurs...” from Debussy's "Proses Lyriques" (1892-'93), the only songs for which he wrote his own - heavily Symbolist - lyrics, and the popular Harry Ralton standard “I Remember the Cornfields” (1951?) with lyrics by Martin Mayne...and appeared in an early television show called “Picture Post”. Sadly though, it wasn’t long after her arrival in London that she realized her voice was deteriorating, and her top notes most of all...possibly as a result of sleeping difficulties; although her former lifestyle in Vancouver, where in the city’s night clubs she was often to be found carousing into the wee small hours must also have played its part.
She went from one singing teacher after the other in the hope that her once near-perfect voice might be restored to her but little came of her efforts, although one of her tutors, who just happened to be the great German soprano Elisabeth Schumann did offer some hope. Schumann suggested to my mother that once her time in England was over – she recorded her last liede 78s in London with the British pianist Gerald Moore - she accompany her back to New York City where she’d been resident since 1918.
My mother, however, turned the great Schumann down, feeling she’d already spent enough money on lessons, and besides she was seriously involved with a London-based musician my father Patrick Halling, whom she married in June 1949, and so uprooting would not have been easy, and they were far from rich. They spent the next seven years living the vie de bohème in a peaceful post-war London and on the continent, travelling by car or motorcycle, just happy being young and in love in that relatively innocent period between the end of the Second World War and the birth of the Youth-Rock culture, after which things would never be quite the same again…