So This is Christmas - MSB's Christmas Concert - Plaza
(December 14, 2010)
SO THIS IS CHRISTMAS!
After weeks of planning and sourcing new music, poetry reader, compere and the cheapest crackers the internet could offer, it was with enormous satisfaction that this writer instructed the Front of House Manager to place the ‘House Full’ notice outside the Plaza Theatre in Romsey on 14th December before doors opened on “So This is Christmas” – MSB’s Christmas Concert 2010.
Some weeks earlier, whilst sharing a much-needed nightcap and reflecting on the equally successfully sold ‘Lest We Forget’ Concert of Remembrance performed that evening in the United Reformed Church, Romsey, there had been a quiet groan from the husband as I announced my brilliant idea of giving every member of the Christmas concert audience, and the band, a cracker for a mass arms-crossed cracker-pull during the concert. I have to admit that I had completely under-estimated the sheer volume of 300 Christmas crackers when my poor neighbour knocked the door to say she had taken delivery of ‘some parcels’ for me and her husband and children trooped in with 3 huge cardboard boxes that virtually filled our lounge! (A box of 100 crackers makes a pretty good coffee table I have found)
Another bright idea had been the ordering of Julien Roh’s new composition ‘The Night Before Christmas’for band and reader of Clement C. Moore’s classic poem of the same name. With a very capable volunteer in the form of Annie Reilly, to provide an authentic American voice it should present no problem to rehearse up band and reader in 2 or 3 weeks – or so we thought. The stunning cinematic musical interpretation duly arrived – fine for the band to rehearse – but without any indication on the score, or anywhere, of how to fit words to music. With the only recording I could find (good old tinternet again!) being of the music only, it fell to me to spend an entire Sunday morning reading, re-reading and reading again until I was satisfied with the timings to cue in our reader. All came close to falling apart as MSB’s initial playing tempo made a nonsense of my non-musical timings, but an adjustment here and there, and infinite patience and skill from Annie, averted disaster and we were concert ready.
Our title, ‘So This Is Christmas’ was taken from John Lennon’s Happy Christmas (War is Over) – co-incidentally very timely as the 30th anniversary of his death fell in the week before the concert – so a hasty order for the band arrangement was made and the piece rehearsed to groans of ‘cheesey’ and ‘boring’ from players. With a bit of polishing up of old favourites and carols, and rehearsal of a couple more new pieces, the programme was sorted.
The chaos that is front of house on a sell-out concert night as tickets are checked, programmes and raffle tickets sold and audience members scramble for the best seats, finally abated and at last the curtains opened as the band struck up with Stephen Bulla’s Proclamation of Christmas to open the show. Guest compere Mark Ponsford welcomed the audience, introduced the Lennon piece that our title was taken from and in a moment of pure concert magic, the ‘boring, cheesey’ piece came alive and completely won over band and audience alike. With plenty of audience participation in carol singing, Schnee-waltzing and Christmas Swingalong-ing, the first half rattled past with alarming speed and, in a little over 30 minutes, Sam Fonteyn’s Pop Looks Bach (The Ski Sunday Theme) brought us to the interval.
After hasty interval discussions on how to ‘pad-out’ the second half with an extra piece (or two) and the offer of some filling from compere Mark, Chairman Adam Smith and yours truly grabbed the limelight to complete the secret Santa raffle. With Adam displaying a hitherto un-tapped talent for extremely corny jokes and having the audience eating out of his hand, the draw passed off without confusion or controversy – little short of a Christmas miracle! In true Eric Morecombe fashion, Adam fought his way back through the stage curtain to re-take his seat on the horn bench.
Rodney Newton’s ‘Acid Brass’ arrangement of the traditional carol Gaudete heralded the opening of the second half, before the haunting Parafrase (for Euphonium and Brass Band), a beautiful arrangement of Away in a Manger featuring Richard Boler on euphonium, quietened things down in readiness for our poetry feature. I have to confess to having my fingers crossed as Mark introduced Annie Reilly and the band struck up with The Night Before Christmas – how wrong I was to worry! The band played beautifully and sympathetically around Annie’s enchanting reading of the words known to children the world over and to an enthralled audience. Several members of the audience confessed to shedding a tear as they remembered their own, their children’s, and their grandchildren’s love of Clement C. Moore’s poem – the very essence of Christmas to so many.
So after the night before Christmas comes Christmas Day and Christmas lunch complete with – CRACKERS! In an operation that made up with enthusiasm what it lacked in finesse, band members distributed crackers to the entire audience as Mark Ponsford manfully recited a poem to ‘cover’ the activity before trying to organise and orchestrate the mass cracker-pull. Intending to count down from ten to build up the anticipation before the big pull, and with a shout of ‘Are you ready?’ Mark’s voice was drowned completely by the bangs of over 250 crackers being prematurely pulled and the subsequent laughter and chaos as paper hats were donned.
With the party atmosphere in full swing by now, the stage was set for the arrival of Frosty the Snowman in the shape of bass trombone player Alex Newman, resplendent in Snowman costume, and earning cheers and applause for a hilarious rendition of the old favourite. Irving Berlin’s White Christmas had the audience singing along, and the next item, Rocking Around the Christmas Tree, had them dancing in the aisles, joined by band members and conductor Roland Wright. The inevitable visit of the man in the red suit to distribute sweets around the auditorium during the playing of Jingle Bells brought us around to the finale. It was at this point that Mark Ponsford, under instruction to ‘fill’ to give the band a breather, played his trump card with a recitation entitled ‘Twas Christmas Day in the Workhouse’. Well if as they say, ‘to the pure all things are pure’, we certainly had an impure audience that night. Mark quite literally hand everyone crying with laughter as they anticipated the ‘impure’ rhyming words to his completely ‘innocent’ innuendo-filled recitation, leaving the band to dry their eyes and compose themselves before Roland could raise the baton to start Paul Lovatt-Cooper’s A Christmas Finale.
With an audience wanting the evening to go on and on, two encore items were performed with the Jonah Louie hit A Fairytale of New York finally bringing the curtain down on a truly amazing evening of festive fun, laughter and wonderful music. The weeks of worry about ticket sales, music, poetry, programme production, raffle, lighting, sound, help on the night and yes, those blooming crackers! – had all been worth it – again, thanks to the amazing bunch of people that are Michelmersh Silver Band.