A Christmas Collaboration

by Alexandra Brooke
inspired by friends from CCS and a myriad of librettists

Each September shorts are put away, new school shoes are bought – and a certain group of Cheltonians lovingly dust off their copy of Messiah for the next concert. We gather in the church hall, swapping stories of the summer and hopes for the term ahead. We’re back – Rejoice Greatly!

Yet Autumn 2020 offers us a different return: We’re online, we’re on our own, we’re on tenterhooks perhaps, but… we’re still on board. With such a modern set up, we thought maybe it was time to change our tune as well and let Handel’s ancient splendour rest awhile. Fortunately, seeds of a plan were being sown in Cardiff.

When not working his magic on us, Alex Thacker, our Musical Director devotes his time to two other choirs, one of which is Llandaff Cathedral Choral Society (LCCS) and in addition to Mr Thacker himself, this august institution is home to two other composers, Ben Heneghan and Ian Lawson. A project was proposed: each of these three wise men would offer several of his own compositions for all the choirs to learn in our weekly Zoom rehearsals (We would be joined in this venture by Alex’s other choir, the Cavatina Singers from Penarth.) For ‘homework’ we would record our voices in isolation and then, through the wizardry of technology, our recordings would be layered together to form a virtual choir.  We would end up with a ‘digital concert’ to be live-streamed at the beginning of December on the Youtube Channel: Winter Legends, Christmas Bells.

Well, we’re about two thirds of the way through now and it’s going rather well. While some members have decided that recording is not for them, many of us have found our peace with the process, although I think we are very pleased that we can submit our efforts under a pseudonym – Florence Foster Jenkins, for example(!). Moreover, what we’ve heard so far is greatly encouraging, and rather exciting!

It’s fun to learn something new for Christmas (and I’m sure John Rutter is enjoying a year off). The music covers a lovely range from sacred to secular and medieval to modern. Red and White takes us from the frozen North to the warmth of our fireside and ends with a hope to heal the world – what could be more sought-after in this difficult year? The colour scheme also presents us with a refreshing change from the black and yellow of Covid tape… Christmas Bells reminds us of the eternal hope for peace against a backdrop of the American Civil War, while Cantemus in Choro conjures up a vision of choristers in a candlelit midnight mass – and possibly your old Latin classroom. There are several more pieces to offer delight and contemplation.

Then there is the video to accompany the music! What a talented bunch they have in LCCS – with a videographer (Caroline Lynch-Blosse) in their midst as well. I am absolutely sure that no hair was cut, extra make-up applied, nor back drops tidied for our few seconds in the spotlight when our rehearsal was recorded to form part of the visual offering. Should the production team have trouble synching our separate audio and video recordings that will be an unfortunate coincidence. It is in no way due to lighting levels being set to ‘flattering-to less-than-youthful-complexions’ rather than ‘bright-enough-to-read-your-music-so-you’re-not-spouting-gibberish’. Definitely coincidence…. As well as showing us singing, there will be scenes to illustrate the theme of the songs, so we have been hunting for photos and videos that can be stitched into this winter tapestry.

There will be few ‘normal’ concerts or carol services this year, but as one of our members sagely put it recently, ‘’Singing is what we do” – we have to find some way of making it happen. There’s something lovely about collaborating with other choirs at a time when we can’t be together physically but can connect through the digital ether. It’s also good  to know that the composers are drafting in loved ones to help –  I’ve much enjoyed being guided on the rehearsal tracks by the dulcet tones of Trixi Field, Fiona Lawson and Sally & Ben Heneghan.This  has helped make up for not being able to sing in the same room as other people. On ‘Concert Day’ we shall be joined in our endeavours by guest soprano soloist Ellie Martin and cellist Kirsten Miller. How wonderful (and crucial) that by doing this, we can  support  our music makers – they’ve been hit so hard in 2020 and yet (to quote one of my favourite carols) still their heavenly music floats o’er all the weary world…..

The Joys of Christmas may be harder to come by this year, but hopefully we can reach those moments of wonder through our songs. We might not be choirs of angels, but we can still sing in exultation. And maybe, for a while at least, this will bring us all a little taste of sorely needed Comfort and Joy.

“Lift your voice to touch my voice now, let our song bring joy to Earth”

Tracy K Smith, “All Together, A Global Ode to Joy”, Beethoven, Symphony No. 9

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