Feeling festive? Not feeling quite so merry and bright yet? Either way, there’s one thing that’s guaranteed to create some Christmas spirit and that’s yuletide carols being sung by a choir… Nat King Cole told us that in The Christmas Song, so it’s definitely true :)
Anyway, this Saturday there’s a perfect opportunity to experience some beautiful Somerset voices singing Christmas carols, as the Sing For Somerset annual carol service takes place in the magical surroundings of Wells Cathedral. Wow.
Somerset Community Foundation holds this carol service every year. The foundation helps hundreds of local charities across Somerset - working together with them to tackle some of the biggest social problems in our county. The event itself is free, non-ticketed and as well as being open to the public, it celebrates all the hard work carried out by the voluntary sector over the past year. There’s a mix of traditional and contemporary music and carol sheets are provided, so we can all join in :)
This week we caught up with Laurence Blyth, Musical Director for the event. Laurence has been a Conductor and Director for many years and it’s his second year directing Sing for Somerset. He’s responsible for bringing all the volunteer ‘Somerset Voices’ and The Mid Somerset Orchestra together and making everything sound perfect on the night… so no pressure there then! :)
Here’s what Laurence had to say about what makes the service so special, the challenge of bringing it all together and what he’ll be up to on Christmas Day (well, you know how nosey we are, so we had to ask).
What's so special about the Sing for Somerset Carol Service for you personally?
I love his time of year. There are so many great Christmas arrangements and it's a rare treat to perform them with an orchestra in a cathedral service, rather than in a concert.
How much preparation goes in to making sure everything sounds beautifully festive?
I actually started preparing for this year's service the day after the 2015 Sing for Somerset! It's really important to make sure the readings and music fit perfectly together and suit the occasion, the charity and the cathedral - as well as the performers.
For many people, Sing for Somerset is one of the highlights of the year so I know just how important it is that everything goes smoothly and everyone has a fantastic evening.
How challenging is it bringing together all the volunteer musicians for the carol service? Can you give us an insight in to what's involved?
Once all the music is chosen and agreed by the Somerset Community Foundation, the first thing I do is consult with Martin who organises the orchestra. We confirm the carol programme and work out what music needs to be hired or bought.
The members of Somerset Voices all sing with other choirs, so there's a bit of diary management to make sure we avoid other concerts and rehearsals, but mainly to fit in enough practices to learn the music. This year we’ve only had four rehearsals in the run up to the event, so every second counts - and, of course, it’s important we have a venue, pianist and plenty of cake for each time for we meet! I work with a lovely lady called Liz, who helps keep all the non-musical side of things under control. That makes my job a lot easier.
The final challenge is on the day itself, when the choir and the orchestra meet each other for the very first time. We’ve a couple of hours to pull everything together and make sure it's up to the highest possible standard for the carol service.
How wonderful is it to hold the event in Wells cathedral?
Cathedrals occupy this wonderful position in our history, but also within our communities. To continue the centuries-old tradition of creating music in a stunning location like Wells Cathedral is a great privilege.
What’s your favourite carol that’ll be featured on the night?
My favourite piece is an arrangement of We Three Kings by the British composer Philip Stopford. It's a new piece for the choir and I've really enjoyed introducing it to them. I’m hoping it’ll be a firm favourite at this year's service.
How will you spend your own Christmas & what are you looking forward to most?
I love cooking, so I hope I'll get to spend some time in the kitchen on Christmas Day - after Skype-ing the family! We live in Culmstock (just into Devon) and we're lucky to have an excellent village pub, so I'm most looking forward to escaping for a country walk on Boxing Day with my wife, before sneaking into the Culm Valley Inn for a quick pint.
Like Laurence, I think we’ll be doing something similar on Boxing Day ourselves in our local - nothing quite like a Boxing Day walk and pint!
Anyway, if you’re in and around Wells this Saturday (10th December) and fancy being part of this beautiful carol service, you know where to go! Wells cathedral - doors open at 6.15pm and the Carols begin at 7pm.
We can’t stop humming We Three Kings now (although I always tend to sing the playground version ‘one on a scooter bibbing his hooter’ in my head :).
Happy Cool Christmas Carolling!