Last night, my choir’s winter concert began with a performance of excerpts from Bach’s Christmas Oratorio. It started so well. As the last notes of ‘Christians Be Joyful’ faded away, the tenor took his place on the platform and launched into the recitative: ‘Now it came to pass in those days.’
But something was amiss. When the piece came to an end, the organist lifted his hands from the keys, but the sound kept going. Something was clearly stuck somewhere, because the church was filled with a dismal groan – and not from the audience. Like the drone of bagpipes, one valve or tube or some such was resolutely open and its mournful A-flat would not be silenced. The decision was made to switch off the organ and go with piano accompaniment instead. As the air wheezed out of the mighty instrument, the tenacious note finally breathed its last.
Down on the floor of the church, there was a brief commotion while the piano was wheeled into place and the stool adjusted to the correct height – at which point it was discovered that the piano lid was locked. Clearly, someone had to be summoned. As luck would have it, the Keeper of the Keys was in the audience. He produced a huge bundle from his pocket, but none was the right one. Further investigation in the vestry was needed. He disappeared.
Meanwhile, our valiant Musical Director chatted amiably with the audience, congratulating our accompanist on his versatility.
The keyholder returned and this time was able to unlock the piano. The concert resumed, but never has a choir been so glad to reach the interval. Punch and mince pies were dispensed to all and the mood was jovial.
The second half went surprisingly well. It included a couple of world premieres of pieces composed specially for us: a lyrical setting of the Magnificat and an intricate Benedictus. Both composers were in the church – well, one of them was in our tenor section, actually – which was lovely. The new music went down well. Then we rounded off proceedings with Haydn’s Nelson Mass, which has a Latin title that is generally translated as ‘music for troubled times’, appropriately enough.
As the audience left at the end of the concert, I heard one woman say, ‘They did well, considering how challenging the programme was.’ Damning with faint praise.