A Christmas Carol: the Christmas concert

It’s the end of term here today. Time for a Christmas sing-song.

To be honest, it’s the first time we’ve graduated to attending a concert, rather than a nativity. It feels appropriate to mark it somehow.

I keep writing about A Formal Feeling as one of my Christmas reads. One of the elements
I like about it is the description of rehearsals for the carol concert – some that work, some that don’t, where the sound is off and everyone is feeling chilly.

I found myself thinking back to Christmas concerts of my own, as well as today’s one
I attended. They hold the potential to move us forward into Christmas – if we want to.

It’s one thing to nudge elbows alongside shoppers on the streets or in the supermarkets.
Or to practise our best Christmas smiles as we count down the people we won’t see for a couple of weeks: school teachers, sports instructors.

I’ve written earlier about how Christmas can pull us in so many different directions – and take so many forms. But when we stand and sing the same words – or even share that hour where others sing them to us – we share an experience, side by side.


Christmas Past

It began with the class visit to the old people’s home. I was all of five or six. We lived in a small village at the time. My granny was still in her own home, but had friends in the old people’s home.

There were the lights, the tree. There was the intent focus on our singing, be it ever so thin and (probably not very) tuneful. There was the generous applause.

It was probably our first experience of volunteering in some way. I remember a certain puzzlement on my part: we had turned up and sang, just as we had at school, but the response was far greater.

Having seen things from the other side, visiting my other granny in a similar home in recent years, I recognise now the impact of children coming in to visit.

However the residents are feeling about themselves, their health, their neighbours across the lunch table – all of this is lifted by the spontaneity of children.

Children come and bring songs, but really they bring themselves, their vitality, their lack of pretence. No wonder there is applause, warm congratulation.

Later, there were concerts at secondary school. The year the choir was tasked with trying an oratorio for the first time.

We did our best to keep up with the rhythms of Vivaldi’s Gloria, and later we tackled Britten’s A Ceremony of Carols.

The thing that interests me about Christmas concerts is that they seem right, whatever note the music takes. It can be the sparseness of medieval sounds, the richness of regular carols.

It can be the intrigue of carols in other languages, or even be the fun and bounce of particularly upbeat songs.

We may be singing about the dark, the difficulties of the world – or the warmth when we come inside. The diversity of the world to which we wish peace; the gladness we can experience in feasting.

Any or (if possible) all of these are quick to speak to our hearts. We feel them, as performers. We understand them, as listeners.

And best of all, we join together in singing, choir and audience, all of us appreciating the contrasts and confusions of Christmas.


Christmas Present

Today we had a mini version of lessons and carols at school. Readings, carefully practised by each class, learned off by heart and carried off with confidence.

There were violins. A gentle reenactment of the Christmas story. Vocal solos. Songs that encompassed not just English, but also Spanish, French, Polish and even (for one verse) Latin.

There were also the anticipated elements of a school Christmas production. A key headdress that didn’t quite stay in place. The singing that was not always entirely in tune.

But with these came a genuine enjoyment from the performers – and a chance for the audience to join in, bit by bit.

I may not have retained all the actions for The Twelve Days of Christmas, but I am impressed by all the staff who did – and who performed them with no embarrassment.

I was reminded again of the straight-forwardness of children singing, the volume increases that show when they are enjoying it:

‘FOUR calling birds, three French hens…’ The wonderful downhill chase towards the partridge and its pear tree.

These moments of connection over Christmastime may be brief. They may require considerable effort to bring off.

But even an hour of goodwill among men (and women and children) is noticed. We shared a space today in the school hall: parents, teachers, children.

We gave our attention, and our feelings, wintry with the heavy snow of pre-Christmas responsibilities, began to thaw and warm again.