Monday, December 16, 2013


Writtle Singers at All Saints' Church

Under the real candles in the real chandelier, this enterprising chamber choir brought us seasonal delights from all over the world, as well as an opportunity to join their voices in perennial favourites like Holst's Rossetti setting, In The Bleak Midwinter.
Christine Gwynn conducted a bright, positive Adam Lay Ybounden to set the mood, then gentler sounds from Norway [an exquisite setting by Ola Gjeilo of A Spotless Rose], from the Basque Country [Javier Busto's Night Songs] and from Venezuela [the lovely Nino Lindo, beautifully sung].
My favourite pairing: The Huron Carol from Canada, and the Argentine For A World Without Faith, with its clever rhythmic effects. Both using the choral forces with inspired inventiveness.
The accompanist, Edward Wellman, played Blatchly's three charming Versets on Away In A Manger, after two brave youngsters joined the Singers for the Willcocks arrangement of the familiar carol.
And Martyn Richards' readings this year included Peter Howard's poem in which an ancient shepherd reminisces …

They say I'm old, that I should give up my flock,
stay back with the women in the warm.
They say the cold is bad for me, and hiking
over hills to find a lost sheep, sitting up
all night to nurse a lamb are young men's jobs.
When I tell my story, I see glances and disbelief.
Yet none would dare deny my flock's
the best-kept in the region, my memory
still sharp as winter wind. It was a night
much like this. We huddled round the fire,
and passed a cup for warmth. I was youngest.
Now the rest are gone, so when I die
there'll be no one to remember.
Each of us heard a voice that gave commands.
(Afterwards, we couldn't recall
what words were said, but all agreed
we had been instructed to go somewhere,
for a reason we didn't understand.)
While it spoke, Winter seemed
to withdraw, and it was Spring
(though still cold, dark, and wind blowing bitterly)
When the voice stopped, we didn't like to catch
our neighbour's eye: each thought
perhaps he should keep this to himself.
But there was a burst of light, that blinded us
as sunlight does when you
come out of a dark cave into the morning.
We had no doubt then, packed up our things,
and went, without much talking,
to where we had been directed.
At length, we stood, and saw. Just for a moment
it occurred to me that it was me that had been chosen
out of the whole world. Me, to stand here
and be a witness. Not kings, or lords or the village mayor,
but me. A warmth crept up like an August breeze,
or a woollen coat, or more like long thin fingers
trying to curl round me and drag me away.
Then it was gone, and I knew my thought
had been wrong, despicable. That is why
I'll tend my sheep, welcome the bitterest nights,
tell my story to anyone with half an ear,
and one day I will have atoned.

Writtle Singers are a friendly, ambitious group of musicians who care about what they do, and are ready for any challenge. In my experience, their concerts are invariably interesting, professionally performed and great fun.
In 2014 they will be looking to expand their ranks. If you are a musician [not necessarily a singer] who might enjoy working with them, doing something a little bit different, why not give them a try. You can contact them on or look at their Facebook page

Remember, choral singing brings physical, psychological and social benefits hard to achieve by most other routes.
And it keeps dementia at bay …

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