Arriving early in the hope of a space in the car park at the back of the church, I was intrigued to see that there appeared to be an exercise class going on in the rear hall, but strangely, it seemed that everyone was in evening wear. Closer inspection revealed the truth: musical director Ivy Tan is clearly not content with simply a few pre-concert vocal gymnastics for her performers but has them bending and stretching too – and very energetically at that.
It certainly paid off in the way everyone marched smartly to their seats, standing and sitting as one at the appropriate moments in this highly enjoyable concert, but a concert that was, for me, tinged with sadness. I had opened my programme and immediately read that RMDS Chairman and choir founder-member, Denise Beardsworth, has very recently died. In my journalistic dealings with the society over the years I have had a lot of contact with Denise and found her to be a lovely, genuine person, as well as an extremely efficient one, so I am incredibly saddened by her untimely death. She will be very much missed, of that there is no doubt, but if she was looking down on this concert, I’m sure she would have been smiling and feeling proud of her fellow-singers.
With the magnificent Ivy Tan conducting, accompaniment by Kumi Preston (keyboard) and Graeme Thew (percussion), and with the indefatigable Richard Bennett compering in his very individual and humorous style – of which more later – the scene was set for a delightful evening containing a mix of traditional and lesser-known carols and seasonal songs.
Since we so often read of a dearth of men in mixed choirs, it is cheering to realise that although the male-female ratio in this choir is not quite 50/50, it certainly seems higher than the average, and the thirteen men and nineteen women taking part created a well-balanced vocal sound in which harmonies came over loud and clear.
A super arrangement (by Kirby Shaw) of ‘Frosty the snowman’ goes down a treat, as does ‘A Cuban carol’, ‘Let there be peace on Earth’ and Howard Goodall’s ‘Love Divine’. ‘The carol of the inn’ is rather gorgeous too, as is ‘On that Hallelujah night’. We were warned by Richard that since the last of these sounds so much like ‘She’ll be coming round the mountain’, we should try very hard not to shout out ‘Yee-hah!’ at any point, which immediately made me want to do just that. I resisted, but it was hard, believe me.
Not wishing to simply list everything in the programme, I’ll leave it at that – but rest assured that there is something for everyone, including a couple of chances to have a good old sing, so if you’re looking for something to put you in the Christmas mood why not go along to one of the remaining concerts? They are at Ellingham Church on 19 December and Ringwood Parish Church on 20 December, both at 7.30, but the Ellingham performance is currently sold out.