Have you heard the latest `Knock! Knock!' joke?

Tinselly sounds and festive fun with the Bournemouth SO.
Click to follow
The Independent Culture
Christmas came to the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra suddenly, without warning, as it always does. We'd long forgotten about those dreadful motorised nodding gnomes in the shopping precinct opposite the Poole Arts Centre - they seemed to have been there since September. There we were, having groaned our way through yet another Brahms symphony with Herbert Von Mogadon in the morning, and were taking our places after lunch expecting much of the same, when suddenly we heard a familiar voice (we hadn't bothered to look up at the conductor's rostrum), "Good afternoon, everyone." "Good afternoon, Ron," came back the feeble response from a band fazed by Mogadon's endless soliloquies about the meaning of an F sharp. In true panto fashion, the conductor tried again. "Good afternoon, everyone." We suddenly found our party hats. "Good afternoon, Ron!" - this time fortissimo. Ron Goodwin was here. At a stroke, it was Christmas.

As further evidence of this there was a memo on my chair from the management. Was I going to present my pre-concert talk, "The use of sonata-rondo form in Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer and its implications on modern society", as advertised? This was from a new member of staff who had failed to appreciate her predecessor's sense of humour.

There is something reassuring about the Ron Goodwin Christmas Show. The music is the same year in year out, but coming face to face with Little Donkey after 11 months on the battlefield in hand-to-hand mortal combat with the great classics is as comforting as one's fireside arm chair. Anyway, the jokes are different from last year (they come from the year before) and there is always a novelty item.

This year it was a spectacular arrangement of O Little Town of Bethlehem. As the whole programme is decorated with tinselly, tinkly festive sounds, we have one of those fiendishly clever electronic keyboard things which at the press of a button reproduces - with uncanny accuracy - a vague, approximate impression of a harpsichord, a piano, or an ice- cream van (I'm told it's meant to be a celeste). It can also transpose into any key. If you can't be bothered with all those black notes, just stick to the white ones and the micro chip will do the rest. That is, if it's in a good mood - it has a habit of throwing an artistic wobbly for no apparent reason. Ever since the poor keyboard player once unwittingly detonated "Cosmic Explosion" during Silent Night, we've always waited with bated breath.

For O Little Town of Bethlehem, it was supposed to be a harpsichord (for the olde worlde touch), twanging away on top of a triangle (for the festive touch), a harp (for the angelic touch) and earth-shattering kit drums and thumping, pounding electric guitars (for the devotional touch). Having thus set the scene, the rest of the orchestra launched forth with the tune, all in a merry F major. Except for the harpsichord. Even though the wretched player was hammering away in state-of-the-art F major, the synthesiser had decided unilaterally to transpose up a semi- tone into F sharp - and there was nothing anyone could do about it. O Little Town of Bethlehem thus emerged in what sounded like a newly discovered arrangement by Stockhausen.

If our favourite Christmas event is the Ron Goodwin Show, coming a close second is the "Seasonal Concert with Carols" that we do in Quires and Places where they don't want the Ron Goodwin Show. Its success hinges on the Guest Presenter. This character is usually found by our management sticking a pin in the Radio Times and coming up with some nerd off Blue Peter or Saturday kids' TV. The best ones are those who have to narrate Peter and the Wolf or some such thing, can't read a note of music and don't know a double-bass from a dustbin lid.

This was a vintage year. To add to the fun, not only could the presenter not read a note of music, but the conductor was from East Europe and didn't understand a word of what the presenter was saying anyway.

Even though Santa was kind to me this year, the first rehearsal of Goldilocks and the Three Bears (special commission) remains the highlight of my Christmas. The presenter looked nervous. "Don't vorry," said the conductor. "Jus' say, ven I do zis," pointing a finger.

"Wonce upon a toim..." (our presenter was Irish) "Goldilocks was walkin' t'rough a wood on a foin sommer's day..." Skippy, whistly music on flute; the conductor pointed... "when she came to a little cott..."

"Stop! No! Zat wos fur ze first wioleence. Start again."

"Wonce upon a toim Goldilocks was walkin' t'rough a wood on a foin sommer's day..." Skippy, whistly music on flute, then a sexy, slinky tune on the first violins... "when she came to a little cottage. `Oi wonnder if anyone's in?'" In an inspirational burst of improvised method-acting that would have been the talk of any drama academy, the presenter here beat his fist upon the air, pretending to knock upon the door. This was followed by the sound of the vibraphone imitating a doorbell.

"Is there nobody in? Oi'll troy agin." (Didn't I tell you? The script is up for the TS Eliot Prize.) Failing to appreciate the composer's inspirational masterstroke with the vibraphone, the presenter pounded the air with his fist again.

"No!" interrupted our frustrated conductor. "You press ze finker in ze eer - two - and ve make ze dink-donk." Satisfied that he had thus clarified the situation, he then said, "Ve do again."

"Is there nobody in? Oi'll troy agin," and with touching obsequious obedience the presenter put a finger in each ear, as instructed, presumably expecting the vibraphone to activate some special detonating device. Just as well he misunderstood really. Had he really put two fingers in the air in what was supposed to be a "family show", it would have been a black day for orchestra-audience relations.