Every year I run my eyes down the list of big Christmas concerts and swear a mighty oath that this year, for once, I will get to one. Some years I think I ought to take in The Messiah. At other times I think, hey time for Christmas oratorios and Bach and stuff in Bath Abbey, and so I make copious notes in programmes and transcribe them all faithfully to the diary and the same thing happens every year. Nothing.
This year I thought I had a better chance. The big local orchestra and singers in Bath were putting on a Messiah, which they were then taking on a tour of the provinces and when I say provinces, I really mean provinces, because they are taking The Messiah to little village churches south of Bath where normally Mr Handel doesn't get to shine his lantern, places like Edington and Mere, and I thought it might be kinda nice to see and hear the big music in a small place.
And guess what has happened so far? Nothing.
But the other day my wife and I noticed an announcement that there would be a carol concert in a local church at 11 am on a Friday morning, which was such a crazy time to hold any concert that we conceived a wild desire to go and listen.
There would be an organist. And a small group of singers. Some poems being read. Christmas songs by some good people, like Holst, Warlock, Britten and those chaps. We were due to go to lunch that day to meet a friend called Morag, but what the hell, you can fit in a carol concert before lunch, if it's at 11 am, and Morag said she wouldn't mind coming either, so off we went.
I still can't quite make up my mind why I enjoyed it so much. It might have been the butterfly, to begin with. As the music started, some hibernating church butterfly was roused and started fluttering over the choir, until its flashes of bright colour and its startled darting flight made it look almost supernatural, especially when it vanished again. (Come to think of it, a butterfly is one of the very few creatures which can use stained glass windows as natural camouflage, which is where it probably ended up ...)
St Peter's, Freshford, is a small, very cosy church, and though there cannot have been more than 30 or 40 of us there in the pews, it seemed warmly full. The singers were not over-rehearsed, and the organist's shoe leather sometimes wavered on the pedal, but that did not matter; there was a good sound and some damned good voices, and the full intention came through every time, spot on. You really felt what, for instance, Vaughan Williams wanted in his Christmas Carol Fantasia, even if at one point I had the uncanny feeling that the words owed something to McGonagall. (I think it was the stray word "posterity" hanging over from the end of one line; I half expected "the silvery Dee" to come up next.)
Morag is a trained singer and very much liked the way the poems were chosen and read (i.e. Betjeman's "Advent 1955" , Fanthorpe's "BC/AD", and a Latin translation by James Michie). My wife is a trained theatre person and enjoyed the singing more. Lucky me I am not trained at anything, so I got to enjoy it all, and precisely, I suppose, because it was not a big occasion. No abbey, no massed choirs, no fireworks. Just a small, unrepeatable moment.
(Is it not always thus? It reminded me of the time at the Edinburgh Fringe years ago when, weary of comedy and novelty, I went to a lunchtime concert given in Greyfriars Kirk by the Edinburgh Silver Band. Just a brass band playing undulating suites by Gustav Holst and Edward Elgar at lunchtime, in a slightly echoing church, for a crowd of about 30 people, largely relations of the band. It remains one of the most magical memories of all my Edinburgh experiences.)
And then the three of us went off to the New Inn at Westwood, where you get no better food in any West Country pub (advt), and over a roaring lunch agreed that we had started Christmas so enjoyably that we would all be very lucky if it didn't slide grimly downhill from then on.Reuse content