Ageing choristers Connie & Penny bring a note of genteel formality to St Aloysius parish concerts

Life As We Know It No.89: Want of pitch, poise and precision have never been a barrier to turning out for St A's

Dj Taylor
Sunday 03 January 2016 01:43
Illustration by Mark Long
Illustration by Mark Long

Connie and Penny – tall, imperious, white-haired elderly women – have been singing in the biannual concerts of the St Aloysius parish choir for nearly a third of a century now. Their voices (each is theoretically a soprano) took flight about 20 years ago, as did their timing – expert listeners are used to hearing them come in about half a bar early or three-quarters of a bar late – but want of pitch, poise and precision have never been a barrier to turning out for St A's, and the two old ladies enjoy themselves enormously.

They are very stately affairs, these concerts – one held on the Sunday before Easter, the other in the first week of Advent – to which Connie and Penny bring a note of genteel formality. To see them gravely instal themselves in front-row seats, which none of their fellow singers would ever dream of usurping, is to marvel at the faultless perfection of their dress. Their eyes follow the gestures of the newly installed conductor ("Quite a nice young man, but he will wear – do they call them trainers? – instead of proper black shoes") like a couple of hawks in sight of a newly fledged partridge.

There are a Mr Connie and a Mr Penny – mild-mannered and somewhat subdued elderly men who sit at the back and are sometimes overlooked in the interval when their wives are brought glasses of sparkling water and wave to their friends. Each will be deferentially on hand at the post-concert party, to attend to brisk discussions of the performance ("I must say I thought the tenors were a little thin… Why that Mr Sheepshanks advertises himself as a bass in the programme when he is clearly a baritone I really don't know"), and to contribute to the collection.

Naturally, the discovery that all might not be well in this glorious choral garden has hit Connie and Penny hard. But there it is – the nice young conductor has been heard to talk of "dead wood", there has been mention of "auditions", and on arriving at last week's rehearsal, the pair were outraged to discover that two impertinent girls had not only appropriated their chairs, but refused to surrender them! How odd, then, that the round-robin letter sent to the vicar protesting about the choir's alleged "lack of direction" should have attracted only two signatures, and that these should have been their own.

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