I had a very enthusiastic conversation with my mum back in May last year. “You know what, Mum? The church choir should do a Christmas concert”. “That’s a good idea” she cooed. “When?”
Fast forward five months and as I trudged up the path to Cann Hall Church I intone under my breath, me and my big mouth. The concert was on and guess who was to lead the choir? Muggins.
The original choir mistress had left to look after her poorly mother leaving this group of elderly singers, rudderless. Though small in number the choir’s collective age probably exceeded 700. I agreed to help out even though musically, my qualifications were thin on the ground. The last time I’d sung in a choir was at school. There I’d either squawked through performances or mimed because I hadn’t bothered to learn the melody.
I clapped my hands together. “OK everyone. How about a vocal warm up?!”. They stared at me blankly. No one actually said anything but if they had it would have been “scales, shmales”.
It wasn’t the strong start I’d hoped for. Even mum was starting to look concerned. This was her manor and I didn’t want to embarrass her in front of her sistren, innit (I assume that’s how older ladies speak when no one’s listening).
“Okay.... Let’s warm up with a hymn. How about At The Cross?”. “But it’s not Easter” came Mona’s curt response. Her eyes narrowed as if to say “Heretic”. “How about Talk With Us, Lord?” said Rae. “We should do a carol” said Hildy. “It’s just for a WARM UP!!!” I screamed, luckily only inside my head for I was quickly learning, with this group, all decisions, no matter how small, had to be discussed... at length and from every angle. The government were missing a trick. Instead of bombing the Taliban, they should just get a group of pension-aged ladies to infiltrate their ranks taking over key decision-making. They’d be on their knees within weeks. How about “Give Me Strength, Oh Lord” I thought.
“OK, OK”. I flicked through the hymn book, “What about 102 – Amazing Grace?” A pause. This could go either way. They opened their books and sang. Katherine, who has a deep, rich voice added some harmonies. Up high, Rose added more while the rest of the group held the melody. I started to conduct, bringing in some crescendos and such. They sounded good.
I looked up to see a little smile flicker across mum’s face. It was a mixture of pride and relief.
As the weeks went by and we got to know each other, something rather lovely happened. We started to have, what you might call, “fun”.
For some reason I’d always believed true benevolence involved suffering but that’s not giving, that’s sacrifice. Leading the group became a real highlight in my week and has shown me that charity isn’t always about money. In this hectic world, time is often the greatest gift we can give. The choir helped me remember to be generous with mine this Christmas.