I dithered for a few minutes about joining the choir on Monday night. It was raining and cold. I can't really sing. What if no-one I knew turned up? What if I was asked to sing something by myself and they could tell how rubbish I am? But in the end I went. I had said I would and in a little place like this you don't want a reputation for unreliability.
I arrived a bit early. I almost always do. As I opened the door I could tell the church had its heating on so maybe I didn't need my many layers. There were two older men there already, pleasant but slightly wary. I wondered how the older members of the male voice choir felt about allowing women to sing with them at Christmas. Perhaps they thought it was wrong, spoilt the traditional sound.
There has been a church here since the 13th Century. Much of this one, embellished and added to, dates from then. It is a lovely building of pale stone and polished wood and smells of warmth and flowers and use. Not for the first time I wished I had more religious faith than I do. I used to have it, lost it, can't get it back, but I am grateful for my upbringing which has left me with a love of hymns and churches and a head full of resonances from the King James Bible.
The area to one side of the nave which was filled with chairs for the choir practice began to fill up. Someone came in from WI, then the friend who had encouraged me to come. My Welsh tutor was there and someone from my Welsh class, lovely men both. One is a retired fireman and for ages I thought his surname was Tarn, only to discover that tan (pronounced tarn) is the Welsh word for fire. Another man from my Welsh class, a retired carpenter comes over to say hello. I feel comfortable, welcome and even excited. This will be fine.
The conductor of the choir is a woman. She welcomes the ladies for the Christmas choir . The men are already sitting in their places as tenors, baritones and basses. I have an indeterminate voice which fails on both high and low notes but I say I am a soprano so that I can sing the tune. There are perhaps thirty men and ten women.
"Let's just have a go at the first verse of We Three Kings to get ourselves warmed up a bit," she says. She is small and greyhaired with a gentle and encouraging manner combined with a quiet authority. As the carol rises to the rafters it sounds good. To my left I hear the warm low tones of the vicar's wife, singing a clear, true alto. To my right I hear my friend's soprano, strong and pure. This will be ok. As long as I am lost in the middle of this sound, surrounded by real singers, I can make a noise which won't spoil it.
We sing We Three Kings and The Holly and the Ivy, painstakingly taking apart the harmonies. I have never sung in a proper choir before. The closest I have ever got was at school, a girls' school so only alto and soprano voices. This is lovely, the complexity and the depth of the men's voices and the simplicity of the sopranos. I am amazed at how much I am enjoying it.
We finish with a Welsh carol, Hwiangerdd Mair, Mary's Lullaby. Both the words and the tune are utterly new to me. Some phrases emerge that my fledgling Welsh understands: Mary has a bed of straw, the child is being sung to sleep. Much of it I just sing without understanding, relying on the famous phonetic pronunciation of Welsh. Once you know a letter combination in Welsh it will always make the same sound. The sound is simple and pure. If I were listening to it rather than singing it would catch at the heart. This is just a snatch if you would like to hear it. http://www.tradebit.com/filedetail.php/1422116
After an hour the ladies leave and the men remain. I hear their voices rich and true as I walk through the dark churchyard to my car on the other side of the lych gate. At home I try and fail to make a proper translation of the carol but I can now tell you that "bugeiliaid" are shepherds and "doethion" are wise men.
On Tuesday I go to London, back into the familiar world of work and striving. Is it Wordsworth: "Getting and spending we lay waste our powers"? Work is good this week but the gentle phrase of the Welsh carol plays quietly in my head, "cwsg, cwsg, cwsg" - sleep, sleep, sleep.