Handwashers’ Newsletter 29th November 2020
Christmas is coming;
We can’t go out to sing,
So, send us your favourite carol
And we’ll fix the next best thing.
We mean it. Do please send the title of your favourite carol to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll look for a link so all your CCS friends can enjoy it at Christmas. Don’t be an old Scrooge and keep it to yourself; send it to Tiny Tim and we’ll share it!
As today is the beginning of Advent and there is talk about carols in this newsletter, I thought I would set the ball rolling with one of my favourite carols, and one which is suitable for both Advent and Christmas. It also happens to be written by one of my favourite English composers and sons of Gloucestershire – a name which has featured in this column several times over the past few months.
At this point, I should tell you that I used to own a long CD rack in the shape of a dog (true). I called him Herbert. ‘Why is he called Herbert?’ people would ask. My reply was always, ‘because Herbert Howls!’ At this point, I grab my coat…(!)
This beautiful setting was written in 1919. Rather unglamorously, Howells claimed to have been inspired to write this carol whilst watching the trains shunting along the Bristol to Gloucester line from his cottage window! Be that as it may, the arching lines and flowing melody are a perfect match for the imagery of the text. In the middle section a baritone soloist takes over the melody with the choir providing a chorale-like accompaniment. The glorious final cadence was described by one musical commentator as, ‘sheer, unadulterated bliss!’
MEMORIES STIRRED for Andy by Carleton’s Column last week:
Having grown up near the Suffolk coast, I can empathise with quite a lot of Britten’s music, though not without its challenges. Carleton’s piece on Hymn to Saint Cecilia on 22nd November sent me to search our collection of musical scores and I found two copies of it. Pencilled dates of 1985 and markings in the second soprano and bass parts confirmed my suspicion that Diana and I had indeed sung it at the Leith Hill Music Festival with Leatherhead Choral Society. I have to confess, though, that I only vaguely remember snatches of my own part and hearing the whole work didn’t ring as many bells as perhaps it should have done!
Another Britten work that we sang in the early nineties before moving to this part of the world was Rejoice in the Lamb.
Christopher Smart (1722-1771)
This has stuck longer in the memory, especially for the quirkiness of the libretto. It is based on the poem Jubilate Agno by poet Christopher Smart, written while he was confined in an asylum in Bethnal Green for supposed religious mania. Reminiscent, perhaps, of the psalmists, Smart imagines how different elements of creation praise God in their own ways, with such memorable opening texts as “Consider my cat, Jeoffrey . . . “ and “For the mouse is a creature of great personal valour . . .”! Movements of the cantata are devoted to other diverse creations, including flowers, the letters of the alphabet and musical instruments, each having its own peculiar way of worshipping. If you’re not familiar with the piece the Wiki page is a good starting place: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rejoice_in_the_Lamb.
There are numerous Youtube recordings; this one by a youth choir gives a particularly clear rendering: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FHge7vHuzcM
and for Tim:
I remember CCS singing Rejoice in the Lamb with Joyce Lang in 1987 including Britten’s tripping, mouse-like accompaniment for the valiant rodent. At one point the chorus sing ‘Let Ithamar minister with a chamois’ which prompted Joyce to enquire who Ithamar was? ‘A window cleaner’ came the response which caused a lengthy adjournment as conductor and choir recovered their composure! (‘Aaron’s son’ was the correct answer.)
MESSIAH AT MINCH
Warwick Cole will put on two shortened performances of Messiah Highlights at Minchinhampton Church on Monday 21st December at 4.30 and 6.30 with Hannah Davey (soprano), Catherine Perfect (alto), James Gilchrist (tenor) and Nicholas Perfect (bass) to sing both solos and choruses. Laurence Kempton will lead a small ensemble, all socially distanced or in family bubbles, of course. The performances will last about an hour and ten minutes. Further details and (free) ticket reservations here: https://www.tickettailor.com/events/musicatminch/
(We advise you to book early as places are limited and there is parking close by.)
OUR MUSICAL HERITAGE Andy suggests how to help maintain it:
Recent months have seen a blossoming of high-quality online subscription concerts organised to keep musicians active, earning money and entertaining their erstwhile audiences. The first such venture was a series of choral concerts ‘Live from London’ organised by Voces8 from August to October. This included concerts by Voces8 themselves, The Sixteen, The Swingles, and Stile Antico among others. Gramophone magazine reviewed the first concert and looked forward to others here:
The success of this venture has led to an imminent second series of Christmas concerts, details of which are given here: https://voces8.foundation/livefromlondon-christmas.
You can subscribe to individual events or the series and watch any event as often as you like up to 15 January. There are other similar online opportunities coming up, including Christmas concerts from St Martin-in-the-Fields: https://www.stmartin-in-the-fields.org/christmas/
And for something a bit different, what about this to raise money for the Cathedral Choirs’ Emergency Fund: 54 organists from 54 of the country’s cathedrals, college chapels and major churches each contributing to a composite performance of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor: https://cathedralmusictrust.org.uk/. A nice visual tour of the buildings as well, so surely worth a donation!
NEIL SHEPHERD Some of you may remember Neil from when he was Director of Music at the Parish Church. Sadly we understand that he recently suffered a fatal heart attack.
AND FINALLY . . .
Conductors do have to put up with a lot, but this reaction is surely OTT: https://youtu.be/cG86aQn_VS0?t=366
Watch out for next week’s Special Birthday Edition on Saturday.