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2007-12 A Choirmaster's Christmas

December was an active time for Mr Reynolds  for any church musician  but in particular, one who also happened to be an accomplished accompanist. Mr Reynolds found himself in constant demand as a continuo player on the oratorio circuit, above all for the numerous "Messiah" performances taking place around the city in the run up to Christmas.

As he sat in front of his harpsichord, he wondered why conductors never thought of giving Berlioz' "Childhood of Christ" or Britten's "St.Nicolas" or the "Christmas Oratorios" by Bach or Saint-SaŽns an airing in the festive season. But he knew that it was more than likely for box-office reasons, and that there were some people who simply couldn't have Christmas without their annual "Messiah" fix. Mr Reynolds nonetheless greatly respected Handel's grand oratorio, and relished playing such an integral role in each performance. Making music for a career can't be bad in any form, he thought.

But all the while his mind kept drifting back to his post as organist and choirmaster at St.Peter's, as this was also the busiest time for him, and his dedicated choir, in the Church music calendar. His perfectly planned and prepared Advent Carol service had been once again praised throughout the parish ; his deep love of music and devout faith apparent to all present. Now the focus was on Mr Reynolds' highlight of the Church year  the `Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols'. Having lost his dear wife after only ten years of wedded bliss, Mr Reynolds had been a widower for 28 years. The Reynolds never had a family, but now, during the months leading up to Christmas, each year he felt he had inherited a family, a family of singers, if only to borrow for a short space of time. Each singer became his priority, his loving concern. Each one was treated professionally, but when called upon  personally.

The choir certainly had it's characters  a sweet and motherly alto who supplied Mr Reynolds on a weekly basis with home-baked flapjacks, while sadly supplying herself with a few generous tumblers of pale sherry just before each weekly choir practice ; a one-man tenor brass section who led the tenor line without negotiation ; the glamorous and gifted rector's wife with whom the choirmaster enjoyed a playful mock-flirtation ; and a soprano who kept her index finger permanently lodged in her earhole in order to block out the other sopranos, who were `under the note' as she put it. Mr Reynolds was naturally far too polite to ever suggest that the inaccurate tuning lay closer to her own soft palate, and that she may have been better advised to employ her remaining nine digits as earplugs for her long-suffering choral colleagues.

As Mr Reynolds note-bashed hymns, carols, responses and anthems, he would often call for more sound, and it never ceased to amaze him how it was always the less-musically aware who responded with full-throated enthusiasm to his pleas for crescendi. Luckily, the choir had a leader in each section, and so, after several weeks of disciplined rehearsal, Mr Reynolds' singers produced a perfectly balanced and shaped 4-part blend.

Mr Reynolds knew each scripture reading by heart ; each carol had been chosen with care months before. The choir's spoken responses were regularly diligently rehearsed. The atmosphere of respect and adoration in St.Peter's at the Carol Service broadcast to all the true message of Christmas - from the medieval magic of the a capella "Coventry Carol", to the perfect union of music and text in Holst's "In the Bleak mid-Winter", to the final verse of "Adeste Fideles" complete with modulation, trumpet descant and every single organ stop.

The Christmas story was alive in music and spoken word at St Peters every December. The packed and appreciative congregation erupted into spontaneous applause, as the choir cheered Mr Reynolds in acknowledgement of his months of tireless preparation. The elderly organist bowed his head with respectful gratitude.
Those who knew Mr Reynolds well were fully aware that the gratitude was being directed primarily to his Creator.

After Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, Mr Reynolds was last to leave the church. It was these times alone in St.Peters which always stimulated his pensive side  when the church appeared to him like a spiritual time machine, awash with ghosts from over a century of christenings, weddings, funerals, harvests, carol services and concerts. At 1 in the morning, he arrived back at his cottage, to be greeted enthusiastically as always by his loyal old Black Labrador Ludwig.

On Christmas morning, the choir were once again out in full force. The Rector's wife performed an uplifting rendition of "Rejoice greatly" from the "Messiah". After the service, Mr Reynolds returned home again. Alone. Apart from Ludwig. The elderly organist grilled himself a tasty Turkey portion, with a microwave-baked potato topped with a generous knob of butter, followed by 2 mince pies and a glass of port.

Then, it was time to go down to the homeless shelter, as he had done on Christmas Day every year since losing his precious wife, to help dole out Christmas dinner to those he considered less fortunate than himself. Afterwards, he passed a couple of hours, sitting, chatting to the grateful guests, before eventually conducting a Yuletide sing-song around an old electronic keyboard.

Mr Reynolds was back home by tea-time, his feet up, in front of a glowing log fire, a glass of hot Port cupped in his hands, Schumann's "Dichterliebe" playing softly on the stereo, and Ludwig snuggled in beside him on the sofa. As the CD finished, the old mantel-clock chimed 7, then ticked a steady hypnotic four-in-a-bar rhythm. Ludwig's contented snores and irregular foot jerks broke the clock's monotonous ticking. Mr Reynolds glanced across at the upright piano and smiled
soulfully at Marjorie's photo, who, after almost three decades, he missed now more than ever.

After a month or more of non-stop activity, surrounded by those most important to him, Mr Reynolds was ironically alone, at a time when loneliness was perhaps at it's most trying. As he got up to choose another CD, from outside the cottage door, he heard a beautifully performed version of "The Holly and the Ivy". "Christmas Day at 7 in the evening  carol singers? Surely not?", he thought to himself. He went to the door, followed inquisitively by Ludwig, who, rather like his musical namesake had become a little hard of hearing. There, laden down with food, drink and festive goodies, stood his parish choir in perfect formation, carolling flawlessly. His singers, who had appeared to forget him once the busy season was over, and could hardly be blamed for allowing themselves to get absorbed into their own separate festivities, had not forgotten their beloved Mr Reynolds. One by one the choir members filed into the cosy drawing room, rubbing their hands together to get warm, and arranged themselves on the sofa, and on the carpet near the fire. "Peter!", they all cried in a perfect unison, "Happy Christmas!".