Tradition Decks the Hall at Christmas Concert.

On a night when storms raged and temperatures tumbled, where more lovely to venture than Dalriada School for its annual Christmas Concert with its plethora of traditions and memories? This year saw one break with tradition, though; due to the huge popularity of the concert,  the Music Department was persuaded to run it over two evenings, 17th and 18th December 2013.  Nonetheless, the hall filled to capacity with family, friends and pupils past and present, so with garlands hung, tree in place and with the warm orange glow of the stage lighting, the scene was set for another memorable evening in the Dalriada calendar as Mrs Heather Montgomery and Mr Philip McGavock, lifted their batons.

What an inspired decision by Mr Philip McGavock to allow the Windband to begin  the evening with ‘O Holy Night’, setting the scene perfectly with this firm Christmas Concert favourite, then reminding us old enough to reminded of  Wham’s ‘Last Christmas’. Hearty singing from the audience of ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen’ added to the festive mood and then we settled back to allow the wonderful  senior choir, conducted by Mrs Heather Montgomery and accompanied by Annie Cassells, to carry us back through time to the stable in Bethlehem with the thoughtful, mellow harmonies of Holst’s ‘In the Bleak Midwinter’. It was moving to hear the poignant words of Christina Rossetti’s poem sung with such purity and sincerity. Just as impressive was  the rich, smooth singing of ‘Candlelight Carol’ by Rutter, with Alison Montgomery accompanying. 

Just as the orchestra’s rousing performance of Bach’s ‘Brandenburg Sinfonia’ added its note of Baroque celebration to echo through the hall, we were  reminded why  we were celebrate Christmas at all as Deputy Head Boy, Jamie Forsythe and Head Boy, Jordan Bamford, read John 1: 1-14 on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings respectively.

The soft sweetness of the junior choir’s ‘Mary’s Cradle Song’, accompanied by Sarah Loughridge,  contrasted wonderfully as the tempo increased for their ‘Jingle Bell Swing’ with the sopranos and altos blending tunefully to the audience swinging along, and Christmas spirit seeped from every corner of the hall as the orchestra led us through ‘A Christmas Festival’ of oh so familiar Christmas music. The strength of ‘Deck the Halls’ faded to the low echoes of ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen’ led by the string section, the tempo then increasing to an upbeat ‘Good King Wenceslas followed by a full, stately ‘Hark the Herald’ and a slow, wistful ‘Away in a Manger’ with Claire Cooper on keyboard. ‘Jingle Bells’, with its percussion leading the way, cut through the nostalgic mood to leave the audience foot-tapping and smiling as the orchestra rounded off the ‘Festival’ with a rousing  reprise, brought to a climax by the timpani section as this item drew to its joyful close!

The contribution of the Chamber Choir is always very special and this year was no exception. With Heather Loughridge on piano and David Wolsey and Kelsey McKenna  on percussion, the first piece, Gardiner’s ‘Tomorrow Shall be My Dancing Day’ with its joyful, driving rhythm is an exhortation to join together with Christ as the bridegroom calling his people to join him in rapture. The second piece, ‘Sure on this Shining Night’, originally a poem by James Agee, gave us primarily a darker, full sound, with its evocative harmonies and resonant chords. The choir achieved perfectly the mysterious, awe-inspiring effect required to do justice to the complex, meaningful text and the happiness on the faces of the choir members was matched by the joy felt by the audience as they listened to one of the highlights of the evening, augmented even further with an evocative, heart-felt rendition of the traditional carol, ‘The Yorkshire Wassail’, bringing good wishes to all who listened . . . and we did feel blessed.

As is tradition, it falls to the Head Prefects to sing the solo sections of ‘Good King Wenceslas’ and this year Manon Eymere, Head Girl, and Jamie Forsythe, Deputy Head Boy, gave very competent performances as the Page and King respectively. While the audience settled back into our seats, the String Group were preparing to treat us to Movements 1,2,3 and 5 of Corelli’s ‘Concerto Grosso No. 8’, the ‘Christmas Concerto.’   Our imaginations were arrested first by the vivace -grave opening, then uplifted by the allegro section and moved by the beautiful melodies of the adagio. The violin solos of Annie Cassells and David Tang and the cello solo of Constantin Arnscheidt were striking, showing just how skilled these young musicians are.

The warm, round swell of the orchestra began again, this time with the big band sound of ‘The Christmas Song’, otherwise known as ‘Chestnuts Roasting on an open Fire’ arranged by Lauden and what could be more evocative of the festive season  than this beautifully performed Christmas tradition? Just as we were drifting off  into our own little Christmas worlds, however, we were awakened by another if not so festive favourite, ‘Pirates of the Caribbean,’ with its swashbuckling pace and sheer sense of energetic fun on the high seas helped along by the very competent drum kit skills of David Wolsey.

The medieval song of praise, ‘Gaudete’,  ‘Rejoice’ in Latin, was exactly that: a powerful song in which all choirs joining together could rejoice, the power of which was accentuated by Ethan Kearney and David Wolsey on percussion. And what better to follow such a traditional carol of praise than the majestic  ‘O Holy Night’ with its traditional harmony and feeling captured so wonderfully, again by the combined choirs? Megan Brown’s animated reading of an extract from Charles Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’ continued to surround us in Christmases past, a mood beautifully sustained by the Intermediate Choir’s singing of ‘Silent Night’ arranged by Geehld. This choir, conducted by Mrs Diana Culbertson and accompanied by Sara Beattie, did full justice to the beauty of the melody and words of  this gorgeous arrangement of the old German carol. How the choir then surprised us  – and how the members love it – when they began their fun-filled rendition of  Beal and Boothe’s ‘Jingle Bell Rock’, complete with David Wolsey and Ethan Kearney’s clip-clopping percussion and sleigh bells.

No Dalriada Christmas Concert is complete without ‘The Messiah’ and how wonderful it was to hear ‘And the Glory of the Lord’, No. 4, being sung by all the choirs in a strong, powerful and thrilling performance. Little wonder, then, that the audience felt the need to contribute so passionately to the singing of ‘O Come All Ye Faithful’ in all its exuberance and joy!

Regular Christmas Concert goers knew not to leave until the now expected last word by the ever-expanding Traditional Group and weren’t we glad we waited! The Christmas selection, arranged by Heather Montgomery, was performed with flair and passion by the group and it was delightful to see Darcy Winchborne perform a Uilleann Pipes solo in such a competent manner achieving such a wistful, yearning tone at such a young age.  Ethan Kearney and Jack Nevin added to the drama of the performance with their expert playing of the bodhran and bongo drums.  It was altogether a most satisfying conclusion to a delightful concert and yet another hugely successful event for Mrs Montgomery and Mr McGavock.