Went to a very enjoyable concert last night – one of our choristers was singing in a specially-gathered choir of friends to raise money for Cancer Care. It was mostly choral church music, with a few madrigals and solo items thrown in, making a wonderfully varied concert – some sung from the front of the church, others from the rear gallery. Favourite items included ‘Magnificat’ (Vivaldi), ‘Dear Lord and Saviour’ (Parry), ‘Blessed be the God and Father’ (Wesley), ‘Locus Iste’ (Bruckner), ‘Be thou my Vision’ (Chilcott) and ‘I know a Youth’ (Gilbert and Sullivan). I had not heard the harmonised version of ‘Dear Lord and Saviour’ before, and thought it a pleasant change, although it would have been better without the only lack of clarity of diction in an otherwise faultless performance – ‘The beauty of thy pee’.
Have just returned from the choir and ringers’ dinner, several stones heavier. Delicious three course meal, good company and a manic high-speed entertainment (this year by the choir) made the evening go with a bang. We taught the ringers, and clergy, how to ding and dong in a rather different way than they are used to (using our voices as bells), sang the Chorister’s Prayer to Anglican chant and sent everyone on their way with Stanford’s Nunc Dimittis in C and Rutter’s Clare Benediction. After several glasses of wine, the words and music seemed to be a lot more difficult to follow than usual, although one of the ringers, whose wedding we will be singing at later in the year, still seemed happy to hire us – so we couldn’t have been too awful. Either that, or he’d had just as much wine as us and therefore didn’t notice.
I had hoped that, by staying home on Sunday morning and watching the tennis, Andy Murray might win the Australian Open final. No such luck, but it was a very exciting game and the choir were only singing ‘Litany to the Holy Spirit’ (Hurford), which is in unison, so they didn’t need me too much.
The Vestry Group changed water into wine this morning, accompanied by ‘Oooh’s’ and ‘Ahhh’s’ from the congregation. We must hire them for the choir dinner next week. Meanwhile we concentrated on the bread, singing the Iona anthem, ‘Bread is blessed and broken’ – the best verse being ATB hum with a single soprano voice soaring over the top. The preacher urged us to make the world a better place by smiling at everyone – a task made very easy by the organist playing us out to ‘Radetsky March’ (Strauss) – it’s very hard to keep a straight face to that!
No major ‘Jesus was baptised by Jordan in the John’ mistakes this morning, and the choir numbers were back up to healthy level. We sang ‘Listen sweet dove’ (Ives) unusually quietly, which became quite unnerving when I couldn’t hear the other parts from where I was standing.
I had a horrid premonition that something would go wrong at Evensong when the choirmaster, during the pre-service practice, said ‘Oh you know the Wood in D Magnificat, we don’t need to practise that!’ Come the appropriate time in the service he – together with half the choir – started off at one speed, the rest of the choir at quite another. Fortunately, after the first phrase, we managed to reach a compromise and the rest of the canticle sounded fine. But it was a close call. The perils of singing without a conductor are quite severe at times…. We took extra care with the Nunc Dimittis, the Sweeney responses and the anthem (‘O for a closer walk’ – Stanford) to make sure there were no other glaring mistakes.
Low numbers at Epiphany Services today: post-Christmas breaks and illnesses, obviously taking their toll. As usual, the sopranos were especially badly hit, we need to beef them up a bit. 2 1/2 sopranos (one with a recovering ‘lost’ voice) bravely sang Mozart’s ‘Ave Verum’ with the rest of us singing quietly in order not to overwhelm them. It actually sounded rather good like that. The three kings were placed in the stable to worship the non-existent baby Jesus, they obviously had to use their imagination.
During the pre-service rehearsal, John Rutter’s ‘Gaelic Blessing’ sounded decidedly dodgy – fortunately one of the basses decided to conduct us in the absence of our choir master, meaning that in the end it really did sound like Deep Peace and not a raging tornado. Phew!
A former youth group member returned to church today to have her baby Christened, bringing many guests to swell the ranks on what is traditionally a quiet Sunday. Sadly, we heard the news that the baby Jesus figure had been taken from the crib, but we fared better than a nearby church which had their manger scene completely desecrated, as well as several items stolen.
One of the hymns was ‘Away in a Manger’ to the traditional (Kirkpatrick, arr. Willcocks) tune, the same as the one set for the anthem. So a quick decision was made in the pre-service practice to switch the anthem to the Normandy tune (arr. Jacques). Late arrivals were caught out!
As usual, Midnight Mass is a very special service in the Church’s year. Well-fortified by sweets and tray-bakes, supplied by various choir members, we managed to stay awake long enough to sing the Sweeney version of ‘Silent Night’ (albeit with a dearth of first altos). Even the vicar managed to finish the administration of the Eucharist in time to join in, which is no mean feat at the crowded midnight service.
Christmas morning saw a well-attended church with mixed-age congregation, but some of the choir (mostly sopranos) didn’t quite have the stamina to come back for an early morning start. Fortunately, two of our occasional visiting choristers were home for Christmas and swelled the soprano ranks to five. ‘Ding Dong Merrily on High’ was therefore sung in more subdued fashion than in the previous week, but was effective nonetheless. It was rather lovely to receive grateful applause at the end of the service for all our efforts this busy season. We directed the applause towards our organist and choir master who has had to oversee the music at many more services than the ones in which we were involved.
Advent 4 is where Christmas really kicks off, whether it is supposed to or not. The morning service was fairly quiet, although we helped out the Vestry group with their Christmas play by singing ‘There’s no place like home’ in the appropriate place, as well as singing the Communion Anthem, ‘The Angel Gabriel’ (Basque Carol).
But the ‘biggie’ was the ‘Lessons and Carols’ service in the evening – the usual carols plus choir items: ‘Ding Dong merrily on High’ (arr. Wilberg), ‘A Maiden most gentle’ (arr. Carter), ‘In the bleak midwinter’ (Darke), ‘Silent Night’ (arr. Sweeney), ‘And the glory of the Lord’ (Handel), ‘I saw three Ships’ (Rutter). We had great fun trying to get our syncopated dongs in the right place during ‘Ding Dong’ and whistling (as instructed by Rutter) in ‘Three Ships’. The choir were well lit by our new candle stands, which fortunately stayed upright despite fears by the more nervous choir members.
We had just about enough voice left to sing Christmas Eve carols up at the hospital, well washed down by a very tasty Fruit Punch.
Sadly, I missed the service last week when the Advent wreath spectacularly caught fire – whereupon the soprano and alto section of the choir were liberally sprayed by extract of fire extinguisher, as well as the wreath itself. There were no such pyrotechnics this week, as advent candle no. 3 was very gingerly lit. Being Gaudete Sunday, we were totally in keeping with the sentiment of the service, singing ‘Rejoice in the Lord Alway’ (Redford, or Anon. if you prefer). After processing out, we then returned to the church for coffee, only to see one of the smallest boys dressed in a Fireman Outfit, complete with hat and mini fire extinguisher. What a pity he turned up a week late!