Artane School of Music Hall, Thursday 15th December 2011
Monday 12th December – Dress Rehearsal:
The omens aren’t good. After a term when we got better and better each week, suddenly it’s all going wrong. The Dress Rehearsal was just not good enough. The exasperated look on Deirdre’s face speaks volumes. A lot of work is needed to polish up our performance to bring it up to a standard that she, and we, could be happy with. In three days’ time our loyal supporters – family, friends and God-knows-who will be sitting in front of us, with smiling faces, expecting this standard.
Okay. Lots of work over the next few days then, getting word-perfect and note-perfect, so that we can just follow Deirdre’s directions on the night and – hey-presto! – the audience get what they’re entitled to: a ‘Magical Musical Christmas Concert’, as advertised. That’s the reality of magic, folks: some talent, and lots and lots and lots of practice. Ten percent inspiration and ninety percent perspiration.
Thursday 15th December – D-Day:
The Hall needs to be prepared for the concert. It’s a fine hall, with great acoustics, but a bit short on decor. A squad of choristers arrive at three o’clock with car-fulls of greenery and assorted decorative paraphernalia, inspired by Gabrielle’s calm, clear leadership. The transformation is extraordinary. Two hours later a beautifully festive venue is ready for all and sundry. A huge Thank You to all involved.
And so to the concert. A thirty-minute warm-up before the audience arrives irons out some of the glitches and gets our voices tuned up. The audience starts arriving and the hall fills quickly: it’s a sell-out. We wait nervously, practising bits of this and bits of that, mindful of the mistakes in the rehearsals. Then we are on, processing up the centre aisle and onto the stage, singing Adeste Fideles and carrying little lights. Umm… That entrance needed more rehearsal. We’ll remember that.
Then it’s Carol Him Sweetly, sung oh so gently. Now that was just lovely. One of our best. The audience loves it. On we go: O Little Town of Bethlehem and Midnight Noel, Lesley’s first solo. So far so sweet. This is going well. Leroy Anderson’s Sleigh Ride is great: the audience loves the change of tempo and mood. So do we. John Rutter’s Christmas Lullaby brings us all back down ever so gently before the exhilarating For Unto Us a Child is Born from Handel’s Messiah lifts us again. It is such a joy to sing such wonderful music, and to get it RIGHT!! (This did not always happen in rehearsal…). Three quieter pieces follow: Softly so Gently, so beautifully melodic; J S Bach’s Uns ist Ein Kind Geboren, sung solo by Eileen; and Suantraí ár Slánaitheora with its rich harmonies, with Lesley taking the solo part. We end the first half of the concert strongly with Benjamin Britten’s Deo Gracias, full of medieval vigour, finishing on a powerful crescendo.
A good first half, delivered confidently, and up to standard. The audience thinks so too, judging by the applause. Doing fine so far.
The second half of our concert brings the extra challenge of singing without our folders. This is where we had a lot of grief in the rehearsals. Can we do it right tonight?
The Negro Spiritual Mary had a Baby tests us straightaway, with its frequent changes of key. No problem. Off to a flying start. We continue with Away in a Manger and Deck the Hall (great audience participation in the fa-la-las…). Easy Peasy. Next is the ebullient Nova Nova with its wonderful final clash of chords. YES!! Miriam and Brian’s duet – Robat Arwyn’s Benedictus – brings us on to All through the Night in a beautiful arrangement by our own Deirdre. We dedicate this song to the memory of Joe Lynch, the remarkable recently deceased former Musical Director of the Artane Boys’ Band, in whose band-hall we are performing.
We follow with What Child is This?, the plaintive carol set to the air of Greensleeves, and then, in a rapid descent from the sublime to the ridiculous, Paula knocks ‘em dead with ‘I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas’, to rapturous applause. We have the audience where we want them now. Our next offering is Sammy Cahn’s Let it Snow, with its rich close harmonies and tricky little rhythmic subtleties. Nailed.
Next up is This little Babe, a medieval carol in a challenging setting by Benjamin Britten. It’s some babe all right, with a tongue-twisting text sung at breakneck speed, and a complex ’double-echo’ effect which is intriguing on the ear, but very tricky to sing. Yes, Deirdre, you know how to pick them. The setting is for female voices only (does this suggest that Britten had a view on gender differences in the capacity to handle complexity??), it gave the sopranos and altos, and Deirdre, heartaches galore in rehearsal. But in performance, on the night? A triumph!! All that extra practice paid off.
On the final lap now. Hark the Herald Angels Sing offers the audience another bit of participation, and then we come to the Grande Finale: the majestic Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah. Celine, our Very Special accompanist, leads us in to the first triumphant Hallelujah, and we’re away. What a glorious feeling, making such exultant music. The sheer exhilaration of it. Did our audience like it? You bet. A standing ovation, no less. Okay, many of them are family and friends, but how often do we get standing ovations from them? We had billed it as a ‘Magical Musical Christmas Concert’ and yes, there was magic in the hall that night.
We repaired to ‘The Goblet’ nearby for a well-earned wind-down drink afterwards. A job well done. You know something? A bad Dress Rehearsal may not be such a bad thing after all.