We wish you a merry Advent

Three pointers to Advent: Friday – Dickensian Evening, Carol Service in the Square. Ridiculously early to be singing Christmas Carols, but the town shops like to get off to an early start. Singing items such as ‘Ding Dong Merrily on High’ and ‘We wish you a merry Christmas’ on stage accompanied by the town band, with twinkly lights scattering all over us like flakes of snow, quite a surreal experience.

Saturday – Advent Carol Service at Buckfast Abbey, with combined church choirs from all over Devon. Singing the O Antiphons, interspersed with Advent Hymns and Anthems (including the rather pleasant ‘One cold dark night’ – Peter White), plus readings and prayers.

Sunday – the usual morning Eucharist, with Thorne’s ‘Kyrie’ and Bach’s ‘Wachet Auf’. A short rest for lunch, then back for an early rehearsal and the popular Advent Carol Service, held within the Christmas Tree festival (60 decorated and lit trees) – ‘This is the truth sent from above’, Vaughan Williams; ‘The world’s fair rose’, Praetorius; ‘The Angel Gabriel’, Basque setting; ‘People look East’, arr. Bramma. Many positive comments over mulled wine and mince pies from those attending. And a feel-good atmosphere in the choir vestry.

O Thou who Camest from Above

Wonderful matching chasubles for ‘Christ the King’, providing a sense of occasion. The service was led by a visiting priest from a neighbouring parish, who does things so beautifully almost like our own and yet in significant ways quite differently, keeping us all on our toes. ‘O thou who camest from above’ (Stopford) was a relevant, rarely-performed (by us at least) anthem – it is lovely to hear the men singing on their own at the beginning. The sorry result of ‘NO’ to women bishops was mentioned twice in prayers, but otherwise not referred to – a good and wise balance I think.

Evensong was ably led by two of our female readers, but it was hard work for the choir as we have had little time recently to rehearse for a Festival Evensong. Still, Wood in D, the Smith responses and ‘Lift up your heads’ (Mathias) must have gone well enough, as we had another enquiry from a prospective choir member (Tenor) at the end of the service. Which is wonderful, but we could also do with a line of prospective sopranos beating a path to the door….

O God our help

A busy Sunday for Remembrance Day, with three choir services. Firstly, the Eucharist with its understated sombreness, created by those connected with the armed forces doing the readings and prayers, the singing of ‘Be still my soul’ (Sibelius) and ‘St. Anne Fugue’ (Bach) as the voluntary.

A quick draw of breath, then out into the Square for the town Remembrance parade and service, with almost total silence, interspersed with ‘O God our help in ages past’ and the Last Post. It always intrigues me how meticulously the youngest brownies and cubs adopt the solemnity of the occasion modelled by the older townspeople. I just wish the band wouldn’t start ‘God save the Queen’ in such a high register, as hardly anyone can join in!

Not surprisingly, the numbers at Evensong were rather low, given the high turnout at both morning services. The overall feel was rather less sombre, although our inclusion of the Kyrie, from Faure’s Requiem, and the voluntary (Elegy by Thalben-Ball) continued to remind us of the overall theme of the day.

For your ears only

‘For all the Saints’ theme today, rather scarily via James Bond and Roger Moore, the Saint. It gave our organist the perfect excuse to subtly weave the Bond tune into the the communion music, though, which kept him and the Basses happy. ‘Give us the wings of faith’ (Bullock) sounded much better in the vestry, with piano, rather than the much slower, and less well-defined organ accompaniment.

‘Lighten our Darkness’ is a lovely, quiet evening service for the community to remember their own ‘saints’ who have now passed on, having the opportunity to light a candle (collectively in the shape of a cross) in their memory. While they did this, we sang ‘God so loved the world’ (Stainer) quietly, a capella; earlier in the service, we did the same with Stainer’s ‘Hail Gladdening Light’. It was a true Stainer evening as we also sang his tune to ‘Love Divine all loves excelling’ – not sure if there was a particular reason to feature one composer so much. The cake tonight was a rather delicious home-made fruit cake – I managed to resist a second piece, although I did notice one of the other altos eating all the remaining cake crumbs, so there was not a single sultana left.

O Snafflers of the Cake

No choir practice tonight – instead the All Souls’ Eucharist. I note that every year the numbers in the pews seem to get smaller as the list of those to be remembered gets larger. Still, as one of the altos said, that means more cake for those who do turn up alive. Fortunately we remembered ‘O Saviour of the World’ (Goss) fairly well, although there was a scary pause after the first chord before we came in. Perhaps we needed to sing ‘O Saviour of the Choir’ instead? However, the duty Reader thanked us, saying it was ‘A wonderful anthem sounding like a wonderful thing’ (what did she mean by that?), so perhaps nobody but ourselves noticed the hesitant start….

Watch the words!

Had to be careful not to get my words in a muddle today – in the responsorial psalm refrain (‘Lead me, O Lord’) and the anthem by Attwood (‘Teach me, O Lord’). Apart from that, the rest of the service flowed beautifully, our borrowed curate now being well used to the way we do things. We were played out joyfully, with Lefebure-Wely’s ‘Sortie in Bb’ – not the one I was expecting (Eb), but very charming nonetheless.

Don’t worry, be happy

I was relieved to see that two of the alto holidaymakers had returned, together with a full complement of basses. So there was a strong presence in each part to sing Stanford’s ‘Beati Quorum Via’ a capella. Now all we need to do is watch the conductor like hawks and all sing with the beat and we’d be perfect. (Perhaps next time….)
We were exhorted to live the simple life by this morning’s preacher, not worrying about being over busy or focussed on ambition or materialism. So perhaps we should relax, lie back and let the music work its wonders without fretting too much over it. A good thought to have with the busyness and commercialism of Advent and Christmas just around the corner….

Piano and Pasties

Good to be back in my home church again after our holiday. It’s been a long time since we sang How’s ‘Day by Day’ so we valued a choir practice to refresh the memory. Only four sopranos turned up but a brave attempt was made to stay in time with a rather flowery piano accompaniment.

Instead of Evensong, it was the annual Civic Service. Fortunately this year the mayor is a member of our own congregation, so knows how such occasions should be conducted. Prayers and readings were provided by members of other churches in the town, so it was a truly ecumenical affair. A retired priest, a well-known figure in the town and also a former Olympic medallist, preached on ‘service’, after which we sang Rutter’s ‘Look at the World’ – this time fortunately with a clearer piano accompaniment and rather more sopranos. In the Town Hall afterwards was the best ever sandwich, pasty and cake spread – as I said our mayor knows how to do things properly.

Evennosh and Evensong

Exeter Cathedral’s Friends of Cathedral Music Day gave us the chance to visit our own local cathedral for a change. The choir (boys, girls and men) sounded confident and polished, despite not everyone being present for the complete rehearsal, singing Ayleward responses, Wood in Eb (ii), and Bairstow’s ‘Blessed City’. It was noticeable that they were singing from very tatty copies, perhaps hoping for more funding from the Friends? Exeter and Truro are always in competition with each other as to who can produce the best teas at such functions – this year Exeter put on a marvellous spread which Truro will surely find very hard to beat.

Cathedral Lincs

Had a delightful weekend at Grimsby Minster and Lincoln Cathedral, courtesy of the Friends of Cathedral Music. Grimsby Minster, the only parish church to have their own choir school, were very impressive, with only 8 boys on the top line (3 of whom were probationers) and 6 on the back row. Their unaccompanied singing was exquisite, though sometimes drowned when the organ was played – by one of the lay clerks. (Radcliffe Responses, Statham in E minor, Munday’s O Lord the maker of all things.)
Lincoln’s greater resources ensured confident singing (although not always with equal effort from all participants) – Saturday Evensong was sung by the combined girls’ and boys’ choirs, plus back row – unusually with a female alto (Byrd responses, Howells Gloucester Service, Brahms: Wie lieblich sind deine Wohnungen), Sunday’s Choral Mattins by the boys and men (Byrd responses, Howells Coll. Reg. Te Deum, Handel: Since by man came death), and Choral Evensong by the girls and men (Tomkins responses, Jackson in G, Elgar: Great is the Lord). Impressive resources both at the school, where we were treated to a concert, and at the cathedral (three organists, although the Director of Music was unfortunately ill), with a very competent informal men’s choir (Lincs Effect) who entertained us at dinner, ensured that we had an extremely full, and enjoyable weekend.