Behind the Advent windows: the glamour of carolling

It was one of those lean Christmases where you grab any gig that comes your way…

https://www.musicaladvent.com/post/behind-the-doors-suzy-robinson-recalls-glamorous-advents-carols-in-a-fishing-tackle-shop

It was one of those lean Christmases where you grab any gig that comes your way. And when I was booked to put a quartet together to sing Christmas carols for the launch of a fishing tackle shop, I seized the chance. It was in a super posh part of town, and inside the cream stuccoed building there weren’t too many people wandering around wearing waders, rustling greaseproof paper, or slurping from thermoses. None, in fact. Instead, lots of people dressed up to the nines and looking as if most of the time they were more comfortable wearing plus-fours and shouting at Labradors.

Lully Lula started well, then someone forgot a repeat and there was a bit of shuffling and an unintended element of Hindemith about the whole thing.

I had not left quite enough time for us to rehearse, let me state this boldly up front. I’d dug out au gratin copies of Carols for Choirs containing all the old favourites. Shoe-horned into a stock room, the four of us planned what we were going to sing and the whole thing got off to a cracking start with God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen. Lully Lula started well, then someone forgot a repeat and there was a bit of shuffling and an unintended element of Hindemith about the whole thing. We redeemed ourselves with Silent Night as the store filled up with a forest of quilted jackets and red trousers.

Personent Hodie is always a winner, I find, and it’s got lots of verses so you can just carry on going, and it uses up a good lot of time when you are running out of inspiration. The only problem is that in the edition we had, the extra verses were not written out under the notes. They were over the page. So you do the first Personent Hodie, all good, every syllable written neatly under the notes; then you get the second verse In mundo nascitur, yup fine; and then you’re on your own and you think, “Oh, how hard can this be?” On to Magi tres venerunt, flapping the page over from tune to words and back again, yeah, on a roll here, approaching the home strait.

I get to about the seventh verse and I realise I’ve miscalculated; I’ve used too many of the allotted notes for too few words, and I can see this precipice looming ahead like in The Italian Job, in this case the precipice being the end of the notes. I’m running out of notes but I still having almost an entire sentence of Latin syllables to sing. And as you’re hurtling towards this, you become aware that the other singers beside you – the alto, who’s been mucking about all the way through, the tenor who isn’t really concentrating because he’s been trying to grab canapés as waiters sway past, and the bass who wasn’t feeling well due to last night’s prawn bhoona – all have suddenly spotted this precipice themselves. And there’s this collective rising sense of panic that you know is going to erupt in the sort of inappropriate laughter one gets at a funeral when you really, really shouldn’t be giggling. And the tightening in one’s chest of dread and hysteria knowing you are one to a part and there is no-one else to save you. And you’re going to end up having to sing an entire sentence on one note and you know, just know, you are all going to laugh.

It didn’t help that there was a distracting television screen downstairs in the shop that was displaying adverts for products to do with fishing tackle. At one point on the massive screen, there was a maggot wiggling on the end of a fishing hook, huge and monstrous in close up. And it was one of those moments where you think you’re going to have to stage a heart attack to get out of the fact that you have too many words to too few notes, and there’s a giant maggot taunting you from below, and you are laughing and cannot sing, and your musical life flashes before your eyes. You want to rewind to the time where you thought you could get away with a quick half hour run-through beforehand, and replace that decision with one that factors in more time, less music, and a paper bag to put over one’s shamed head.

Christmas was redeemed with a gig a week later outside a North London butcher’s shop

Christmas was redeemed, however, with a gig a week later outside a North London butcher’s shop where we got free packets of sausages, and no-one noticed that I went wrong in Hark the Herald at the moment when I spotted Charles Dance queuing up to collect his turkey. It’s the small things that make it all worthwhile.

Gratuitous picture of Charles Dance’s chest

They didn’t ask us back at the fishing tackle place the following year, but that’s ok because the butcher’s shop seem quite keen on repeated bookings, and there’s always the chance of a knockdown broiler and a celebrity sighting. The jobbing singer’s life is one of glamour, all the way.

Every day reveals something new and exclusive to A Musical Advent. We have been so excited to put together these videos for you, and we really hope you enjoy them.

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A Musical Advent Calendar

A Musical Advent Calendar

I am so pleased to be involved in this fabulous initiative. The loss of live music and, consequently, livelihoods has hit freelancers as hard as any who work in the arts. It has been an overwhelming emotional loss, quite apart from the devastating financial implications, because as performers it is as if we have lost access to an intrinsic part of ourselves. All of us, whether solo musicians or not, have spent our studies and our careers with people, with other musicians, technicians, back stage people, and of course with audiences. It is a source of huge sadness to be isolated from all these people who are so integral to our ability to produce music. Music feeds us and nourishes us, and enriches us whether we are listeners or practitioners. We are all the poorer without it.

Without all the carol services and cheering Christmas music to look forward to, a group of freelance musician mothers decided to create an online musical advent calendar showcasing their talents. It is a joyous thing.

Freelance Musician Mums launch Musical Advent Calendar

“After losing most of the year’s performing work to Covid, a collective of UK-based freelance musicians have decided to take their talents online. The Musician Mums have created an online celebratory gift of Christmas music. Devastated at the thought of not being able to connect with audiences at the most joyful time of year for music-making, they hope the Musical Advent Calendar will spread some much needed seasonal joy, and an opportunity to share the beauty and happiness of Christmas music with friends and family.

This socially-distanced, lockdown alternative to Advent carol services and Christmas concerts features a mix of styles and instruments including an award-winning concert pianist, a West End star, a Royal Opera House soprano, instrumentalists, new and established ensembles and a few fun surprises. The Musician Mums collective began as an online community helping one another with the challenges of being a musician and mother, such as practising loud instruments with babies in the house, and organising childcare for tours. Through the challenges 2020 has brought, this
strong community has come together to support each others’ artistic work through this toughest of times. Sales of the Musical Advent Calendar will provide financial support to all the freelance musicians involved, many of whom have lost all their work for the foreseeable future.

For more information, contact Joanna Sleight at contact@musicaladvent.com or preview the December 1st Advent window for free at www.musicaladvent.com.”

Please do take a look at the website and meet some of the musicians who are taking part. Check us out on Twitter and on Facebook too.

Never work with…

…children or animals.

It was a beautiful christening at the Temple Church. Jimmy the corgi was pretty restrained on the whole. He only barked at the vicar once, growled but momentarily at the sleeping Knights, and while he did bite at his backside vigorously as I sang a bit of Mozart, he didn’t invade the performance space like little M. Nor did he try and join in, or do a little comedy routine, or dance a jig. Valiant efforts from others to encourage the mini-performer to vacate the stage were met with tenacity and evasion. She saw the spotlight and liked it. Like mother, like daughter. Oh well.

Philomel in Richmond and Rotherhithe

In rehearsal, RotherhitheThe virtuosic vocal fireworks of the six sopranos of Philomel were displayed once again in a programme celebrating music from Hildegard of Bingen and Barbara Strozzi, all the way through to the present day and four specially-commissioned works on Friday 16 and Saturday 17 March 2018.

The sopranos

Charlotte Bröker

Felicity Hayward

Olivia Moss

Janet Oates

Emily Peace

Suzy Robinson

With Michael Keen (harpsichord) and James Bramley (theorbo)

http://www.philomel.co.uk

“More a work of art than a concert”

Musica Antica
Musica Antica Rotherhithe