Saturday, 31 December 2011

Christmas Eve Carols in the Park

I suppose 'traditions' evolve over a long period of time, but I think we may have experienced the start of one this Christmas Eve in Loughborough's Queen's Park.

Some months ago Caroline came up with the crazy idea of adding a choir to the 'traditional' Christmas Eve Carillon Recital in Queen's Park! Not particularly crazy on the face of it, but when you start to think about it, all manner of questions and doubts arise. For example, how could we possibly coordinate between carillonneur and choir? Would the choir hear the carillon while standing under the bandstand? How would the combined carillon and choir actually sound in reality? Would we get an audience? Would we even have a choir at all, given peoples own christmas plans? Finally, would the beloved Charnwood Council even allow us to perform at all given the perils of 'Health and Safety' in the modern world?

So the first task for Caroline was to tackle the latter concern and approach the relevant council officials. I think they were supportive of the idea in principle, but a 'risk assessment' would need to be carried out. Now I am familiar with such essentials in my role with Balfour Beatty. 'ZERO HARM' is my daily mantra now of course and something I apply in all areas of my life, at all times! Hey Julia, stop sniggering! One can never be TOO safe, even when engaged in the apparently safe pursuit of singing a carol in a bandstand!

God help us! But one thing I have learnt over the last two and a half years is that there is no escape from corporate 'bollards'. Ignore it at your peril. So Caroline set about listing all the possible traumas that might befall a choir in a bandstand:-
  • Tripping and falling on the steps perhaps? (Ooh, nasty! Bandages, plasters, tin of germoline, team of paramedics?)
  • Sore throats from singing too loud or dodgy technique? Not possible for a Caroline Sharpe Singer obviously, but maybe others?
  • Paper cuts from the music sheets? No really, this WAS listed I believe!
  • How about hypothermia? Possibly the most likely scenario given the time of year?
One unforeseen risk was the possiblilty of strangulation by tinsel, and this was only narrowly averted, mentioning no names, Chris Hill!

Honestly, what a nonsense, but 'rules is rules' as they say. Risk Asessment was duly submitted and the 'all clear' was granted - eventually. We were green for go! Maestro and all round hero Chris Hill bought into the mad idea and was willing to attempt to pull together the choir and carillon. But how to raise a choir and audience? The invite went out to all Caroline Sharpe Singers, Enchanted, Loughborough Male Voice Choir and just about anybody else willing to pop along and who fancied a sing-song.

But how to raise an audience? This potentially ground breaking event definitely needed an audience however it was going to turn out, so publicity was therefore required. Well, in this respect Caroline Sharpe excelled herself. Our friends at Loughborough Echo produced a good piece to support it, but it was Radio Leicester that really came up trumps. An interview with Caroline, who is getting increasingly adept at handling the media, was played throughout the morning of Christmas Eve in several news bulletins and in a longer piece mid morning. Superb!

Right then, game on! I'm not sure Caroline was entirely convinced as a rather nervous phone call to Ruth expressed doubts as to whether we would even have a choir let alone an audience. When we arrived at the bandstand we did indeed have a choir. Well, there was me, Ruth and Julia joining Anna-Ruth, so that was a start. My first job was to ascend the memorial tower's steps right to the top to open the louvre doors - a task beyond the vertigo suffering Caroline.
When I rejoined the choir at the bandstand, the gathering of singers had swelled to a creditable number and we did indeed have an audience. Hoorah! As kick-off approached, yet more people joined audience and choir alike. LMVC members were conspicuous by their absence with the exception of Sue Ellerby who for a change had left her keyboard behind in favour of having a sing along with her husband Mike. Good on yer Sue! Plenty of partners and friends came along too, much to Caroline's delight.

So time for a warm up and a test of the 'walkie-talkies' that were to enable carillonneur and conductor to hopefully coordinate proceedings:-
Beep! "Are you ready, over?" says Caroline.
Chris replied with "that's a big 'ten-four', rubber duck", or something similar and we were ready for the off!

We hesitantly started with Away in a Manger. Click below to view the video!

Okay, so it started off a bit all over the shop, but Chris quickly realised that choir members in the middle of the bandstand could hear precious little of the Carillon, so moved outside to conduct where at least he could hear. Standing on the edge meant that I could hear the carillon and see Chris, so was okay, but it was a struggle for others. We even shuffled round to a better position, mid carol!

By now the audience had swelled to amazing numbers and seemed really 'into' the whole occasion. On we pressed with Once in Royal David's City, followed by Ding Dong Merrily on High (which can both be found now on Youtube - channel 'Enchantize' See the link in the right-hand column of this blog).
Then we sang Silent Night followed by Good King Wenceslas. This one was interesting as men sang some verses and the ladies others. We did drift out of synch with Caroline a couple of times, and had an aditional contribution from Charlie King the cameraman. Take a look:-

I don't know who the bearded gentleman was front right, but whoever you were Sir, may I formally invite you to join the Loughborough Male Voice Choir! We certainly need to boost our numbers and you were in fine voice.

There followed renditions of Coventry Carol, O Little Town of Bethlehem, White Christmas and Hark the Herald Angels Sing and you can view the latter here:-

Chris Hill was doing a great job in between carols chatting to the crowd and getting them involved with the singing. He did rather struggle to control his tinsel though which did make a break for freedom on several occasions.

To round off this memorable event we finished off with Christmas Song (chestnuts roasting on an open fire and all that) and finally O Come All Ye Faithful.

Chris Hill thanked the appreciative audience who slowly drifted away leaving us to reflect on a wonderfully successful event. Yes, there were a few times when choir struggled to keep in time with the carillon, but we gradually got a feel for it. The overwhelming feeling of many of those participating was that this should definitely be repeated. The lessons learnt from this first try will I'm sure stand us all in good stead for future such events.

I couldn't help but wonder just how big this could become with full support and backing from the council and local media. A big, rehearsed choir with a large crowd of Loughborough residents, could make this something very special every Christmas Eve for the town of Loughborough!
See you all next year. Same time, same place?
In the meantime,
Have a Very Happy New Year!

Cheers for now,

P.S. I've had a bit of trouble uploading one or two videos, so may attempt a few more in a day or two, so stay tuned.

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