First thing

The way they start their day 11. Stephen Cleobury organist and director of music, King's College, Cambridge
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Indy Lifestyle Online
On Christmas morning I'm naturally still very much in a work mode, and wake up at around 6.30am. I'm an early waker anyway: during term- time there's always a rehearsal of the choristers at 8.15am, and if you've got to meet a group of bright-eyed and bushy-tailed children at that time, you've got to be on the ball.

The bedroom is very quiet, and I like to come to for 10 or 15 minutes, wondering if I've got everything organised for the morning chapel service. Because the service at King's on Christmas Eve is the focus of so much public attention, it represents a climax of the term for the choir, and so I have to ensure there isn't a sense of anticlimax the next day. Little boys are quite excited on Christmas morning, of course, and my job is to get them to sing well without spoiling their fun.

My wife gets up at the same time as me, but our younger daughter, who is at university but will be with us on Christmas morning, gets up rather later. My other daughter, who is married now, may be staying with us this year; her husband used to be an alto in the choir, and he is interested in hearing it.

After showering, I dress for the service - reasonably formally, with collar and tie - and then sit down to have breakfast with my wife. On Christmas morning we might have rolls or croissants instead of toast, or porridge if it's particularly cold.

As I don't have to leave the house until 8.45am on Christmas morning, I quite like just talking at this time - catching up on what we've been doing.

The walk to chapel takes about 15 minutes, and when I get there I check that I have the music ready and have a vague timetable in my head for the rehearsal. The choir start arriving at about 9.25am. Before the rehearsal, the men of the choir usually have a cooked breakfast, cooked by the first-year students, so there tends to be a whiff of bacon and eggs in the air.

At this point the choristers give me their traditional silly present. One year they gave me a baton with Christmas decorations on it - a sort of glorified sparkler. I did conduct them in the rehearsal with it - and I've never seen such attention to the beat as I did then - but they were very disappointed that I didn't use it in the service itself.

At 9.30am, the rehearsal begins. On Christmas morning we may have a little orchestra, so we will perform a setting of a Mozart mass. That will already have been rehearsed, so we'll just give it a final polishing. There are also some carols - we generally repeat those sung on the radio the day before - and some Christmas hymns, like "Once in royal David's city" or "While shepherds watched". The rehearsal goes on till 10.30am, when the choir will go into the vestry for coffee and biscuits, and sometimes people may exchange presents in there.

Members of the college and the public start to come in at about this time, and so many people attend that it takes a good half-hour to get everyone seated. While people are sitting down there's usually brass or organ music. There's a very special atmosphere: most people are on holiday, and are about to have an enjoyable day, so there's a much larger number of smiles and happy greetings than usual.

This service goes on until about 12.30pm, and afterwards I give out presents to the choristers - usually chocolates, or maybe puzzles or games - which my wife will have brought to the chapel. We then go home for lunch, but it may only be a light lunch. We often go to visit my family in Canterbury on Christmas Day, so will have a proper Christmas dinner there in the early eveningn

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