Christmas carols with the male voice choir

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.

Comments

  1. Well done! I am full of admiration for you; singing and singing in Welsh. It must have been thrilling to be part of it.

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  2. Oh how lovely. I absolutely love choral singing, but can empathise with your hesitancy at the beginning; I would have been the same, but then I truly can't sing! So glad it went well. I'm a sucker for carols at the best of times, and for children singing, but there's one in particular that gets me every time the school sing it - Sleep Quietly, My Jesus, and Close Your Dear Eyes. Something about the words - it's like a lullaby, and so soothing.

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    Replies
    1. where can I get this carol from complete with music and words

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  3. How very lovely Eliabeth. I can't sing for toffee but do it anyway, much to the children's distress! The feeling of being with those wonderful voices must have been so uplifting. The ones that get me are Silent Night and Away in a Manger xx

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  4. I do wish I could sing. I think it depends on the key - occasionally I can Get Away With It, but more normally it's a case of dismal disappointment. Truly a "gift" if you are just able to do it. Good for you for going, and enjoying it, and I bet you can sing beautifully. How do you pronounce the word for sleep? Sounds impossible. We have an evening every year just before Christmas at friends where we all sing carols, it's been going on for years and can crash into riotousness, but some of our number have the most beautiful voices and several play guitars, and there's an accordion player who's superlative and E sometimes joins in on the piano. And this is sounding very hemp and homestead but it's such a fun evening it quite makes Christmas for me.

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  5. What a lovely carol that must be, wish we could hear it.

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  6. That is so nice for you. It must have been such a relief to see people you knew. I could almost hear you all singing, beautifully.

    Crystal xx

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  7. Clapping loudly here...more! I enjoyed that as much as you enjoyed the singing ...very evocative, lovely pictures painted in words!

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  8. I enjoy going to choir when I can make it. Ours is very small and I too don't have a voice as such, can't hit any high notes that's for sure, but do so enjoy it.

    Will really miss the two older boys singing their Welsh carols this year. I love hearing Away in a manger in Welsh but doubt they can remember it.

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  9. You braver than me i still havent braved our choir even pili who's in it can't make me! Though secretly i want to, scared of being rejected i think..xx
    see you sat

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  10. I feel very much the same as you do regarding church and faith... But cannot seem to keep my singing to one pitch - veering horribly, according to who is singing near me....I've even been known to grumble away with the baratones. But I do love singing hymns and carols so much... Mmmm, you've made me all desperate to go to church again now....
    btw, your comment on my blog made me howl with laughter! Thankfully I haven't had to do the stiff v floppy bit.......yet.

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  11. Your blog strikes a true note with me Elizabeth. I am also fascinated by hymns and churches, with fond memories of the King James Bible, but with no faith to speak of. I also love to sing and was judged as 'Almost a soprano', by a choir master. Not very encouraging.
    I did sing as an alto for a while, but it was a childrens' choir and I was only there to keep order. Sigh!

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  12. Milla, your evening of carol singing sounds fantastic, not at all homemade hemp!
    Elizabeth, I hope you can hear just a snatch via the link kindly found by jacko.
    I am definitely not a singer, just a keeper upper but it is a lovely thing to do.

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  13. I think singing in the choir is very adventurous of you. It reminds me that I rarely try anything new.

    I'm sure the Christmas Choir will be brilliant.

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  14. Another lovely one...

    I too am one of this who just wishes so much she could sing. I love traditional hymns and carols and belt them out in Church on the days when the choir is there, but I daren't sing too loudly without their presence, I might frighten the old ladies with my caterwauling. I love singing in the car and in the house when I'm alone, but S and H, true Yorkshiremen, are mortified if they hear me (especially if I'm dancing too!)

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  15. Very brave of you to sing for starters and to do it in Welsh. How can you bare to go to London?

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  16. Thanks for the link to the carol. Very unusual, but the more one listens the more one likes it!

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  17. Well done I can truely empathise with you.Singing in Llan in my own language and with people I knew at times was a scary experience. With time confidence grew and I became quite blase; so what did we do,we moved to France! I remember very well how nervous I felt joining the Villanelle choir in Oloron. I did find I smiled and nodded a lot. Two years later I can't imagine life without the choir and he lovely band of choiristers.
    Dal at i, keep going ..it will change your life and perhaps bring back some of those old feelings you had for the church

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  18. Well done I can truely empathise with you.Singing in Llan in my own language and with people I knew at times was a scary experience. With time confidence grew and I became quite blase; so what did we do,we moved to France! I remember very well how nervous I felt joining the Villanelle choir in Oloron. I did find I smiled and nodded a lot. Two years later I can't imagine life without the choir and he lovely band of choiristers.
    Dal at i, keep going ..it will change your life and perhaps bring back some of those old feelings you had for the church

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  19. I'm so glad you enjoyed it Elizabeth. It sounds quite magical and such a contrast to your working life.

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  20. Most envious - how I wish I could sing. I do so love music and long to be in amongst it.

    And how lovely to carry that Welsh evening into London's rush and bustle.

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  21. how did i miss this post? it's beautiful. what a wonderful thing to do.

    and so beautifully described!

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  22. It sounds wonderful ... and so calm.

    What a lovely post:-)

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  23. Well done you, very brave. I love you mistaking the Fireman for mr Fire!
    Pigx

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