In the darkened church, two children, Ben and Emily, stood on the chancel steps singing ‘Once in Royal David’s City’ to start the Music and Merriment Concert at St Mary’s. As their confident and clear young voices sang out, they were joined by the other members of the Junior Concert Choir, who had processed up the centre-aisle carrying multi-coloured glowsticks. It’s a traditional start, but it always works its magic, as the children’s singing is picked up first by the adult choir, then by the whole audience, and topped in the last verse by the exuberant Willcocks descant.
One performer wrote afterwards: "… it was a most successful evening that lived up to its title 'Music and Merriment'". The ‘merriment’ part was epitomised by two hilarious readings, first, the Motorists Psalm, intoned by John Edwards, and later he and Marian Stevens explored the consequences of ‘There’s a hole in my bucket’. Sue Bish’s reading took a more serious line - a moving narrative: Joseph, bewildered by the strange events that had taken over the life of Mary, her baby son and himself, realises that all this is part of God’s plan for humanity’s salvation.
Later, John and Caroline Kimbell brought new hilarity in their rendition of Chris Sugden’s ‘The Ivy and the Holly’ (remember the Kippers?), which points out that these two plant species are hardly up to their Christmas acclaim!
Great instrumental talent was shown by the 5Ts Brass Quintet, playing Len Tyler’s ‘Pentatonics’: a first performance played with enthusiasm and liveliness by five skilled brass-players; it had five short movements with varying moods, show-casing each brass instrument. Later on, the St Mary’s handbell ringers gave a skilful, convincing and enjoyable performance of Christmas music, rounded off by Tallis Canon; John and Caroline Kimbell marshalled the audience into singing the Canon’s well-known words as a round.
The programme featured three young instrumentalists, all of whom gave fine performances, expressive and virtuosic. Abi Kent showed off the alto saxophone’s singing qualities as well as its jazzy heritage. Abbey Hardy introduced, for many, a new voice – the lyrical and plaintive tone of the oboe, finishing up with a lively movement from a baroque concerto by Marcello.
In the second half, 10-year-old violinist Sarah Aizawa brilliantly brought out the mood changes of Monti’s well-known gypsy piece Czardas, switching from romantic to virtuosic, and her amazing technique, played entirely from memory, allowed the fast notes to fly from her violin at break-neck speed. Her brilliant piano accompanist Su Mei Kong said afterwards “She wanted to play those bits really fast, and she could do it, so that’s how it went”. Su Mei had a accompanied the other solo instrumentalists with her usual skill and sensitivity.