Review 2010: The Opinion Engine: 24/31: "Tidings of comfort and joy" (suggested by Kat Herzog)

Music One of the reasons Christmas is considered a children’s holiday is because so much of the build-up to the day, the markers, are only really part of the school calendar. There’s the nativity and Christmas sales and carol concerts and because I was part of the school choir, it’s the carol concerts which really put me in the festive mood. Thirty or forty of us scrummed together in the alter area of the school chapel entertaining parents by candle light, listening to see if, as our music teacher suggested, all of our efforts to create volume were really just being absorbed by the "women in big coats".

The selection of carols changed from year to year. There’d be the classics, O Come All Ye Faithful and Good Kings Wensleslas, O Little Town of Bethlehem and Silent Night and I still have the descant parts for them all ringing in my ears. As with our other efforts, such as singing at Liverpool Cathedral, we’d rehearse for weeks beforehand and though I couldn’t read music (still can’t), I just about managed parrot fashion, miming when necessary usually when as Eric Morecombe would say, I was in danger of giving all the right notes but not necessarily in the right order. I suspect my choir mates were very tolerant.

In my memory, the choir had a definite audio punch and were certainly loud enough that the big coats didn’t matter much. But subtle. These were classical arrangements and the music teacher was obviously keen to stretch us with his selection always drifting beyond the mainstream. Torches was a particular rarety, (“Torches, Run with Torches, All The Way To Bethlehem”) with its proto-polyphony in which the base parts create an aural landscape for the trebles to play in creating the illusion of a crowd truly running towards the nativity, a kind of upmarket Row Row Your Boat.

So used did I become to singing some of these arrangements, that I still find it impossible to let them go even if they don’t quite match the version everyone else knows and not just when I’m fighting against nature in an attempt to get to the high notes in the aforementioned descant parts. Thank goodness we didn’t ever try Allegri's Miserere with its haunting top C, presumably because it’s not really a Christmas tune and also because we lacked the rehearsal time or anyone in the choir capable of reaching that top C.

God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen is prime example of the variation between the average choir and what’s happening inside my brain, especially since in recent years even professional choirs have been replacing “Ye” with “You” which is just wrong, not least because it sounds wrong, ignoring the assonance of the “e” sound in the line. My memory of singing the final three key lines, “O Tidings of Comfort and Joy / Comfort and Joy / O Tidings of Comfort and Joy” is that we sang and I do sing, a kind of syncopated beat that stresses the “and”.

Needless to say these were magic evenings. If I’ve one regret it’s that I didn’t continue singing, at least not like this. I did flirt with joining a choir when I reached university, even attended a few performances, and though the person who was encouraging me knew I couldn’t read music, I wasn’t confident enough yet not to care about feeling like a bit of a fraud next to these smart people with their clean suits and good voices so I joined the college theatre instead. Anyone want to join me in murdering “O Come! O Come! O Come! All Ye Faithful!” (cough, cough, cough)? Perhaps not.

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