During December 2020 The Bridge Singers, of which I am the Musical Director, has attempted a musical advent calendar. This has involved some sort of music-making each day: Zoom rehearsals and singalongs, recordings, playlists, singalongs, small-group singing in a variety of places, learning tracks, new videos etc etc. Here are the results of our efforts. In November I had asked the choir to send me some of their favourite Christmas songs – ones we had performed before and new ones they’d like to try. My intention was to select as many of their choices as possible.
1st December. Magical Glass. I was very happy and gratified to receive quite a few votes for this one amongst our repertoire suggestions, especially as I have managed to find this recording of the choir singing it in Felton Park Glass House at our end of choir year party in 2016. I made a video of that recording for them to sing along to and sent a score and learning tracks to help with this.
The new video uses photos of the places mentioned in the song, but also some photos of us “gathering round” both in 2016 at our glass house party and also during 2020 in the varied ways we’ve managed that. I’ve kept the intro, applause and laughter as that seemed important this year.
2nd December. There Is No Rose – it’s a recording from December 2019 in St. Michael’s presented here in a video using rose pictures sent to me by members of the choir. It was a listen and singalong day.
3rd December. We Three Kings. A recording day. We’d been asked by the local vicar to record a couple of carols for his Christmas services (online and with a few actual churchgoers, who were not allowed to sing. The first of these was We Three Kings. The deadline for receipt of individual recordings was today, and a few teensy groups met up in the churchyard to record as well. Earlier, I’d been into the church to take pictures of the windows. The results of our efforts were edited together into this video.
December 4th. In The Bleak Midwinter (Holst) I invited them to sing some or all of this song somewhere interesting, or listen to one of these ten recordings.
- In The Bleak Midwinter, Gustav Holst: Chanticleer – In the Bleak Mid-Winter – YouTube
- In The Bleak Midwinter, Harold Darke: In The Bleak Midwinter (Harold Darke) – Ex Cathedra – YouTube
- In The Bleak Midwinter, Gustav Holst: Bert Jansch – In The Bleak Midwinter (1974) – YouTube
- In The Bleak Midwinter, Christina Rossetti: “In the Bleak Midwinter” by Christina Rossetti, recited by The Wordman – YouTube
- In The Bleak Midwinter, Gustav Holst: The Jacks – In The Bleak Midwinter – YouTube
- In The Bleak Midwinter, Harold Darke: In the Bleak midwinter (Darke) – Christmas with Septura – YouTube
- In The Bleak Midwinter, Gustav Holst: Ward Thomas – In The Bleak Midwinter – YouTube
- In The Bleak Midwinter, Harold Darke: Harold Darke : In The Bleak Midwinter. Joseph Farquharson : Paintings. – YouTube
- In The Bleak Midwinter, Gustav Holst Jamie Cullum – In The Bleak Midwinter (Amazon Original) – YouTube
- In The Bleak Midwinter, Cheryl Camm: In The Bleak Midwinter (TBB), Cheryl Camm – YouTube
Jamie and I made this video to inspire them into having a go!
They did have a go and everyone’s efforts in singing, photos and stories were compiled into this video:
5th December. Apple Tree Wassail. This one is from our fruity Christmas concerts in 2017. Jamie and I made a recording and I sent a score and learning tracks.
6th December. Jesus Christ The Apple Tree by Elizabeth Poston. We sang this one in our fruity concerts too, so I sent learning tracks, a score and a link to a recording. Six of us from Rock Festival Choir went off to sing this in Acklington too. You can hear it here. This carol starts at 11’58”.
7th December. Deck The Hall…or is it Halls?! One we sang last year so I sent scores and learning tracks and a selection to sing along with. This was a Monday, so we also had our usual Zoom rehearsal for an hour in the evening:
- Deck The Halls: [OFFICIAL VIDEO] Deck The Halls – Pentatonix – YouTube
- Deck The Halls: Deck the Halls – YouTube, Kate Rusby
- Deck The Hall And Swing It: Deck the Hall and Swing It (SATB), arr. Jay Althouse – Score & Sound – YouTube
- Deck The Halls: Deck the Halls – Nat King Cole – YouTube
- Deck The Halls: Deck the Halls – Mormon Tabernacle Choir – YouTube
- Deck The Halls: Brian May and Arielle: Seasonal Silliness [Deck The Halls] – YouTube
- Deck The Hall: Deck the Hall in 7/8 – YouTube
- Deck The Halls: Bank of Harmony – Deck the Halls – YouTube
- Deck The Hall Of The Mountain King: Deck the Hall of the Mountain King, arr. Richard Meyer – Score & Sound – YouTube
- Deck The Halls: Carlson School of Management Flash Mob, Deck the Halls – YouTube
December 8th. Sweet Bells. As part of the village’s Nativity Trail, our choir window was to be decorated with a representation of shepherds, angels and sheep, with a QR code for people to scan and send them off to a link of something suitable. We sang Sweet Bells at Brinkburn Priory last Christmas, so I used the recording of that with some photos of the window and how to make the things in it!
December 9th . O Little Town Of Bethlehem. Another “recording in the churchyard” day with a few different groups of six gathering there. As the day wore on, I received lots more recordings from people recording at home. This was the second of the songs requested by Rev. James Harvey for his Christmas services. I had been out in the village one night when it was full moon, and one early morning to take some night-time pictures in and around the village to illustrate this one.
I also sent the choir a listening list of different tunes for this carol.
- Here’s the tune we’ve been learning. I do like a bit of brass band! Traditional: O Little Town Of Bethlehem – YouTube
- This is the tune we used to sing in Australia – I used to do it in a reggae style O Little Town of Bethlehem – New York Polyphony | Sing thee Nowell – YouTube. Fab tune.
- Cliff’s version. Wheeeeeh. I love this. Cliff Richard Little Town (High Quality) – YouTube
- Yet another tune (it gets going at about 1’15” O Little Town of Bethlehem (Tune: Wengen / Christmas Carol) — Choir of King’s College, Cambridge – YouTube
- And a further tune – it’s like A Farmer’s Boy to my ear O Little Town of Bethlehem – YouTube
December 10th. The Lamb. A singalong day to one of our favourites. We’ve performed it a few times and one year made it into this video with some of Dawn’s watercolours. Dawn is a soprano in the choir.
Five of us went to Hauxley and sang In The Bleak Midwinter in the very cold wind too as an added extra!
December 11th. John Rutter Day. We had a few requests for carols by John Rutter, so I sent this list of my 10 favourites and suggested they sing along. It elicited a cheery response from a member of the choir I hadn’t heard from since April, so good old Rutter for that and for all these splendid tunes.
And so…my top 10 John Rutters!
- Of A Rose – my favourite of his that I know and one we will definitely sing one day. It’s not in the book of carols we have [100 Carols For Choirs] so we need to buy the music. Of a Rose, a lovely Rose – John Rutter, The Cambridge Singers, City of London Sinfonia – YouTube
- Mary’s Lullaby – the other one we were going to sing this year. It’s in the books so sing along! This video has the score anyway! Mary’s lullaby ( John Rutter ) – YouTube
- Jesus Child – The one we sang last year and very jolly it is too. It’s in the white books. Jesus Child – John Rutter, The Cambridge Singers, City of London Sinfonia – YouTube
- The Lord Bless You And Keep You. Not a Christmas song, but another that we’ve sung and enjoyed. John Rutter | The Lord bless you and keep you (with score) – YouTube
- Star Carol – also a jolly one. I sang this at school as I’m sure many of you did. Also in the white books. Star Carol – John Rutter, The Cambridge Singers, City of London Sinfonia – YouTube
- Wexford Carol – the other one I was considering for this year’s Christmas concert. It’s in the books. Wexford Carol – John Rutter, The Cambridge Singers, Stephen Varcoe – YouTube
- A Gaelic Blessing – not a Christmas one either, but another that we’ve sung before at weddings etc and rather beautiful. A good one to keep in our repertoire. A Gaelic Blessing – The Tabernacle Choir – YouTube
- Shepherd’s Pipe Carol – another jolly one. I also sang this one at school. Also in the white books, but the score’s on this video. John Rutter | Shepherd’s Pipe Carol (with score) – YouTube
- There Is A Flower – another rather beautiful one and this recording is rather special too. I’m rather fond of the Gesualdo Six. It’s in the books. There is a flower (John Rutter) – The Gesualdo Six – YouTube
- Sans Day Carol – not an original, but a great arrangement by him of one of my favourite carols. It’s in the books – have a go! Sans Day Carol [King’s – 2011, № 5] – YouTube
December 12th. Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas. We’ve never sung this one so Jamie and I made a mock-up for everyone to sing along with. A small group of us gathered on Zoom in the evening between the end of the football and the beginning of the Strictly Come Dancing semi-final to sing though with me at the piano and Jamie on lead vocals. It was hilarious and ridiculous. I forgot to take a screen shot of that hilarity, so busy was I on the piano. Here’s mine and Jamie’s mock-up!
December 13th. The Angel Gabriel. We’ve sung this one before so I sent scores and learning tracks. This being a Sunday, Jamie and I went for a walk along the beach near Bamburgh Castle. A few more came to join us in the wind for a sing song round the concrete blocks! The wind kept blowing over the camera but managed one verse in between all the buffeting. Alison cleverly brought a flask of something hot to keep her warm!
December 14th. O Holy Night. One we’ve performed before so a singalong activity day as well as our usual Zoom rehearsal for a Monday Night. Jamie and I made a recording to help with the revising.
December 15th. Tiny, Flickering Flame. I extracted another song from last year’s Christmas recording, and made a new video. We sang this one in the semi-darkness and some of the choir lit candles and placed them on the window ledges of the church – rather atmospheric. Actually, I think this was from a rehearsal because there is no applause and no clattering about of candle lighters and no audience wintry spluttering!
December 16th. Coventry Carol. We’ve performed this before including in our inaugural concert in December 2015. I sent them the recording of this and organised a couple of opportunities during the day to sing – at lunchtime in the A1 underpass at the top of our road and on the bridge in the middle of the bridge at 8pm when things usually have calmed down traffic-wise. The weather did not play ball so these sessions proved unpopular. Never mind. New people did join in and then we sang it later in the month and four of us sang it on Christmas Day. This compilation features bits from four different recordings.
I also sent a selection of Coventry Carols for those who prefered to listen only!
- 51a from the white books (page 211) King’s College Cambridge 2011 #11 Coventry Carol – YouTube
- 51b from the white books (page 212) Coventry Carol (Arr. Martin Shaw) – YouTube
- Drums and bass give it a poppy feel. Alison Moyet Coventry Carol – YouTube
- For brass band The Coventry Carol – YouTube
- An Assyrian version which is rather splendid. Coventry Carol (Acapella) – Christmas Carol (Assyrian-Aramaic) – YouTube
- By our Hallelujah pals [Yule Log Audio] Coventry Carol – Pentatonix – YouTube
- A completely different tune by Philip Stopford – you might have heard Rock Festival Choir sing this in previous years. Voces8 – Stopford: Lully, Lulla, Lullay – YouTube
- One with closed eyes and expressive hands. Lullay, Thou Little Tiny Child (The Coventry Carol) – YouTube
- A speedy one with lots of lovely instruments. Sufjan Stevens – Coventry Carol [OFFICIAL AUDIO] – YouTube
- In a barbershop style. Coventry Carol / Lully Lullay – One Man Barbershop Quartet – Julien Neel – YouTube
December 17th. Miss Fogerty’s Christmas Cake. Another from our fruity Christmas repertoire. I sent our old learning tracks and as this was the day of the choir “Zoom party with items”, Jamie and I sang/played it live. It was a riotous and horrible noise because we did our party “unmuted”, but as ever there was laughter!
December 18th. Silent Night. A version we’ve sung a few times including this recording from our inaugural concert. I wanted them to re-learn this one for a plot I was hatching for the following week, so sent as much learning material as I could muster.
December 19th. Gaudete. Another sing-at-home day with a selection of my favourites for variety. I had just recently performed this with RFC singing and playing the tambourine at the same time, so encouraged some percussion work!
- Steeleye Span. This is the first version I ever heard of this. Still love it. Gaudete – YouTube
- The Kings’ Singers The King’s Singers – Gaudete – YouTube
- Erasure with some drumming and other beats you might like to play along with. Erasure – Gaudete (Official Video) – YouTube
- Medieval Baebes Skyline Sessions: Mediaeval Baebes – “Gaudete” – YouTube
- The Master Chorale of Tampa Bay (male voice choir in lockdown) Gaudete by The Master Chorale of Tampa Bay – YouTube
- Singing in the stairwell – reminds me of all our current efforts to find places to sing! Gaudete. | ChoirOnTheStairs – YouTube
- A very dramatic version with lots of percussion to inspire you. Gaudete! (TTBB) arr. Michael Engelhardt, performed by Millikin University Men – YouTube
- With brass and percussion as well as choir. 2. Tradidtional (arr. Brian Kay)- Gaudete (Chorus, Brass, Percussion) – YouTube
- A spoof (the singing starts at about 1’35” Fairport Convention – “Crudités” (Parody of Gaudete) Cropredy 2016 – YouTube
- A spoof on the Kings’ Singers version. I find it exceedingly hilarious, but feel that the real version should be listened to too as that is stunningly brilliant! Gaudete Shreds – YouTube
December 20th. 12 Days Of Christmas. I encouraged them to invent new things for each day. Some sent in their ideas. We may collate a version for after Christmas and sing it at one of our Zooms!
December 21st. Ring Out, Solstice Bells! We’d been learning this in bits over the last three weeks in readiness for today. Jamie and I put together a sing-along track for everyone as we definitely found Jethro Tull a little too fast to get all our harmonies in. We sang it at our Zoom rehearsal this evening, and there followed several requests for us to do this one at the Summer Solstice if we’re singing together again by then!
22nd December. Ding Dong Merrily On High. A jolly one and a few more of this song to listen to.
- Anuna: ANÚNA : Ding Dong Merrily on High – YouTube
- Blackmore’s Night: Ding Dong Merrily on High – YouTube
- Libera: Libera – Ding Dong Merrily On High – YouTube
- Roger Whittaker: Roger Whittaker – “Ding Dong! Merrily On High” – YouTube
- King’s College: Ding! Dong! Merrily on High (Wood) [King’s – 2006, № 2] – YouTube
- With an African flavour: Ding Dong Merrily on High | Equity Bank | #MusicalChristmas – YouTube
- On brass instruments: Christmas Card 2014: Ding Dong Merrily on High (Brass Quintet) – YouTube
- With an Irish flavour: Ding Dong Merrily On High – YouTube
- Arranged by John Rutter: Anonymous: Ding Dong! Merrily on High – YouTube
- With The Wiggles: The Wiggles: Ding Dong Merrily On High | Kids Songs – YouTube
- In a sort-of barbershop style: Ding Dong Merrily On High (A Cappella Barbershop Quartet Multitrack) – YouTube
- At a frantic tempo: Rend Collective – Ding Dong Merrily On High (The Celebration’s Starting) – YouTube
- Maddy Prior: Ding Dong Merrily on High – YouTube
- With a Latin feel: Ding! Dong! Merrily On High – YouTube
- The version we’ve done, but without the band! https://youtu.be/dPliiBfaW5I
Those of us who sang at Bamburgh Beach earlier in the month did have a go at this one, in fact. What you see here is Sue being very jolly on the last verse, you can also hear Morar the collie joining in and Shirley fetching something from her blue backpack, with the mighty castle in the background. A windy day, if you recall!
Our main event on December 22nd was that 25 of us met together in small groups of 3,4 and 5 on the bridge to sing five carols. Each group was a good many metres away from each other and each singer within a group was at least 2 metres away from the other members, as per the regulations. We sang The Coventry Carol, O Little Town Of Bethlehem, In The Bleak Midwinter, We Three Kings, Apple Tree Wassail and Silent Night. We dd not publicize this as we did not want to attract a crowd. It was a magical 15 minutes. Here’s the last verse of that last carol – a combination of video from Shirley in the sopranos, recording from me positioned near some altos, with photos from Shirley again, and Val who was not singing but roaming free!
December 23rd. Chantry Chapel Carol. We actually recorded this one in November, but I waited until today to put the video together so that we could include images from all of our Advent Calendar activities.
24th December. Hush My Dear. We recorded this one in the previous week underneath a chestnut tree in Felton Park, and also individually at home, but we waited to put out the video until our newest choir grandchild was born!