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Christmas Gifts December 2018

Lovers of Christmas music enjoyed many festive treats at Valentine Singers’ annual Christmas Concert, held a week before the feast day, in the beautiful church of St Andrew’s in llford. The concert burst straight into action with the lively Sussex Carol, joyously exhorting us to celebrate the birth of the Saviour. No time for programme-shuffling here – as we rose to our feet to join the choir in the gently lulling melody of Vaughan Williams’ “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” As we sang we could relish the way the great height, and resonance, of the church nave swelled with the glorious full-bodied organ accompaniments of Duncan Paterson, and supported the choir in building up a real atmosphere of reverence and celebration. As the evening progressed, so too did the enthusiasm of the audience’s full-throated singing! By the time they finished with “It Came Upon the Midnight Clear”, many were overheard still humming as they went off down the road!

Together with the audience carols, the choir pieces formed the backbone of the programme.  Led by Christine Gwynn’s crisp and expressive conducting, and Tim Smith’s masterly accompaniment they ranged confidently over a broad canvas of material, from the moving depiction of the hardship and nobility of working life, in Caradog Roberts’  “Poverty”, to full-on “Santa Claus is coming to Town,” and “Past Three-a -clock”. Among the many highlights to be savoured, Paul Sheehan’s “O Holy Night” stood out.  His rich solo baritone, across a full range, carried the soft reflective message of the song to the four corners of the church.

However, the main item was yet to come, and what a Christmas present! In came Paul, now in Victorian mode – frock coat, top hat and a distinguished beard.  What better choice for a Christmas Concert than a visit, through the musical imagination, to “Mr Fezziwig’s Christmas Party” (Rathbone and Whitnall)! You will recall Mr Fezziwig in Dickens’ Christmas Carol. He was previouslyEbenezer Scrooge’s much-admired and generous employer, but now the ghost of Scrooge’s past transports the old skinflint to see Mr Fezziwig setting up the Christmas party – all bustle and fun, jolly and welcoming, outgoing and cheery, all borne along by Mr Fezziwig’s “rich, fat and jovial voice”. He embodied all the values Scrooge had rejected   – a painful lesson for the old miser.

The audience is transported musically to the party via seven linked pieces for choir and solo voices. “Hilli ho!”  sing the choir –  and the fun and excitement of working together to set up the party makes everything look so easy. Even work can be cut a bit short.  Enter Mrs Fezziwig, round and comfortable, adding to the jollity of the occasion as guests arrive. Then, naturally, there is a sumptuous feast – no-one counts the cost, for this is Christmas. And the guests dance – we were only mildly surprised – (though delightedly so!) – when Mr Fezziwig took the hand of a willing lady from the choir to dance a chirpy measure along the aisle!  Then a beautiful baritone solo from our hero, reminding us that, as the party showed, generosity, kindness, friendship and fun are not difficult. Indeed, it was all “A Very Very Small Matter”. And finally, the ball, and a quiet departure while the music and the Christmas message echo in our ears.

Warmed by good music, good cheer, and mince pies, we wished each other well and left. It had even stopped raining!

Martyn Richards

My First Year In The Choir

When I joined the choir in September 2016, I had long been on the hunt for a group which suited me as a singer and suited my work/life balance to allow me to escape from the daily grind that is teaching in a modern-day, state-run school. I’d had a couple of false starts already – I’d found a singing group who rehearsed in the evenings but who didn’t have a great or varied repertoire and I’d found another choir who had the challenging repertoire but then held their concerts during lunch on weekdays. Not really ideal for a teacher. I’d pretty much given up hope when my piano tuner recommended that I give Valentine Singers a chance.

I am so glad that I did. It was clear from the moment that I walked into the open rehearsal that I had finally found the place for me. Immediately welcomed, I was handed quite a variety of music for the evening’s rehearsal and I was hooked immediately. The repertoire throughout the year has proved to be both varied and challenging and has allowed me to develop as a singer and increase my vocal range and confidence. I don’t think that there are many singing groups or choirs where you get to make the switch from singing a classical oratorio in one concert to a mix of spirituals and folk songs in five different languages in the next. (I’m adding the fact that I can sing in Macedonian to my CV right now, actually.)

Now, admittedly, the escape from teaching has not really materialised because it would seem that every other member of Valentine Singers appears to either be currently teaching or retired from teaching. However, as an NQT with a challenging Year 1 class full of “characters”, this has actually been a bit of a Godsend. I don’t think any other NQT can say that they’ve got so many mentors ready to dish out advice or techniques to try in the classroom.

Sadly, due to the fact that I’m due to pop out a small human being in November 2017, I won’t be returning to Valentine Singers until 2018. I shall miss everyone though and, tiny overlord allowing, I plan to be at every one of the concerts between now and my return to the choir. Thank you for the fantastic year everyone. It’s been an absolute blast.

Samantha Walter