Thursday, 15 December 2011

From Both Sides of the Fence

Despite all the largely media driven doom and gloom (when hasn't it seemed as if the world is falling apart?), I've enjoyed the musical run up to this Christmas more so than in recent years. As a shopkeeper I see Christmas from both sides of the commercial fence and believe me, it is not a pretty site from behind a counter. The season brings out the best and the worst in people, who, by and large, simply want to survive the pre-rush and then, with a bit of luck, enjoy Christmas itself.  Needless to say the peace, calm and tranquility that lies at the heart of the Christmas message becomes buried - but sometimes glimpsed. For me, it's music that keeps me in touch with that still centre.

I see the music from both sides of the fence, too, as a musician and as a concert goer. Newent is particularly blessed with its orchestra and the choral society and I particularly enjoyed the latter's recent performance of "The Messiah". This was professionally presented and had all the attributes that such spiritual music requires, a religious setting (in St Mary's church) and performance by and for the community.  As an aside, I was amused by one particular line, which went, "We like sheep", and was repeated by the choir several times.  I thought that they must have really liked sheep in Handel's day, and quite rightly so, too.  The next line gave it away though, something like, "... shall follow Him". This major work was given a special intimacy in that performance which I really appreciated.

A couple of weeks later and I found myself crossing the fence and performing at our orchestra's Christmas offering. There are certain rituals which I go through each year, from putting out the advertising signs on the road into Newent (thanks, Ken, great job!) to organising a few mince pies to take along on the night. These little rituals contribute to creating the feeling that no time at all, literally, has passed since the previous year's concert, a strange, slightly alarming feeling. The concert itself was, as those who were there know, a tremendous evening. The orchestra, with the support of one or two key new members, is playing confidently and making headway in terms of its ability to put on a performance to be appreciated. My own musical ability has also progressed well over the last year - I'm pleased to discover that even at a relatively late musical stage in life, I am still improving my technique.

Finally, a couple of discoveries that you may be interested in.  The first is relevant to Christmas music and was the pleasant surprise for me when I heard for the first time Rachmaninov's "All Night Vigil". This is wonderful Eastern Orthodox choral music of the highest calibre.  Seek it out if you don't already know about it. Secondly - and more of personal relevance - I've invested in some wireless headphones, knowing  that a CD quality is now possible, without interference, buzzes and clicks. It may be a little antisocial but I'm delighted that I can now listen to my music without disturbing anyone else and be in the same room as others, even if the tele is on.  Lovely!  Let me know if you would like a recommendation. Happy Christmas.

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