If I were to live abroad for some of the year, the months I’d chose would be February and March. It’s the time when I’m bored of the long winter so would rather be somewhere milder. But I’d never go away in December. I love the party season and the atmosphere especially in central London – the lights, the busy pubs and restaurants full of people in good spirits. Any change of season is a celebration – from the contents of your fruit bowl to the concerts you go out to see.
Choral music is an art form I ignore for most of the year but in December it takes on a festive meaning. So I make sure I get out and see some concerts. This year I saw three.
Oh the joys of an amateur choir. When I’m gigging I’m often surprised by who turns up. It could be someone I vaguely knew ten years ago, an old school friend, a family member or a former colleague. It’s what makes being in a band such fun. You never know who you’re going to meet. It’s a bit like that old television program This Is Your Life except it’s spread over the years. As I keep telling people, music brings people together.
There was no better way to evince this maxim than seeing the Chiswick Choir at St Michael’s Church. The church opened in 1880 and is part of the Bedford Park development. Like the houses around, there is a lot of wood it it’s structure. The place was rammed with friends and family of the choir.
It was the 1stDecember – a little too early for a Christmas programme. So they started with Haydn’s Nelson Mass complete with professional orchestra featuring period trumpets which are basically over-sized bugles. But they sounded great.
Now dear reader, can you think of the very first melody you ever heard and liked? If you are of a certain age, you may, in the deep recesses of your mind, remember this tune. It really is worth listening to the end. It has that warm, comfortable, pre-school atmosphere which makes the listener yearn to return.
Yes, Gabriel Faure was working his magic in our lives from the very beginning. The second half of the Chiswick Choir concert comprised the choral society stalwart, Faure’s Requiem. This is a piece which has one of my favourite melodies and chord progressions, Libera Me:
The next concert I saw was A Ceremony of Carols by the Choristers of Westminster Cathedral. This took place at The Holy Trinity Church, Brook Green and was part of an outreach programme to publicise the choir, its music and the cathedral’s services as well as to recruit new members. Though augmented by some Bach, Mendelssohn and others, Benjamin Britten’s A Ceremony of Carols formed the centrepiece of the evening.
The Conductor Martin Baker spoke about the music and this was helpful. I learnt about the choir’s history, its association with Benjamin Britten and how the composer wrote A Ceremony of Carols on a liner coming back from New York. It includes this song which I’ve heard before but I can’t remember where:
The third and last concert was Tenebrae at King’s Place, King’s Cross. It’s an impressive building and was buzzing with that pre-Christmas vibe I mentioned earlier. For me this was fuelled by cans of Punk IPA. It was the first time I’d seen a concert in this new venue. There was evidently a good deal of thought put into the acoustics of the auditorium. It was that good. King’s Place is in York Way, a street which was once the preserve of junkies and prostitutes but now greatly improved (or not, depending on your priorities).
It’s an impressive choir too. I saved the best till the end. Tenebrae are fifteen seriously accomplished singers formed, assembled and conducted by Nigel Short. The programme was called A Very English Christmas. Many of the songs started off sounding monastic and Gregorian but then the modern harmony comes in on the second verse which lifts it up. It was music for our time and all time. Thank you Tenebrae and thank you to all choirs at this time of year. You really are doing something precious and important.