Well, maybe not 'a thing of shreds and patches' but our choir had the distinct sense of being a bunch of 'raggle taggle gipsies oh' at one of our Christmas performances on Sunday. The setting was a picturesque and historic 18th century watermill, now restored and transformed into an upmarket retail centre and restaurant. The place was heaving with customers and diners as this was the mill's festive themed weekend. Fantastic, we thought, a captive audience. The booking had been in our diaries - and the watermill's - for weeks. . .
There was just one problem, there was nowhere for us to sing, at least not all twenty-five of us; there was a small space by the blazing log fire where about four singers - one for each part? - could have squeezed themselves against the fireguard, at risk of singeing their special performance outfits. So we traipsed around the building and found a marquee housing a few market stalls but were promptly shooed away by the traders who were concerned that we would prevent customers from reaching their stalls. Sales could be lost. Heigh ho.
Eventually, we spread ourselves along a narrow and slightly precarious wooden gallery overlooking the mill stream, while our choir leader, Claire, set up her music stand outside the marquee on the other side of the stream in an attempt to conduct us. We were totally exposed to the elements and the rain was lashing down but at least a kind soul held an umbrella over Claire for the duration.
But we are nothing if not troupers and we sang out, despite the inclement weather. What else could we do? I think we had an audience inside the marquee as we could hear clapping from across the stream and we were told later that customers in the restaurant had heard us. This will, however, go down in our annals as one of our more challenging performances; just as well that glasses of hot mulled wine and slices of stollen were waiting for us when we finished.
Still, as my late ma used to say, there is nothing glamorous about being a performer, which is why you have to love what you do. And we do.
Next Saturday, we are taking part in Dunster by Candlelight, an annual event during which this perfectly preserved medieval village turns back the centuries. Lanterns light the streets; there are fire dancers, jugglers, a fairgound organ, and all manner of traditional merrymaking to be enjoyed. We will be singing in Dunster's 15th century parish church so at least we will be warm and dry. If you live in the area, or are visiting, do come along and hear what all the weeks of practising have been for, and say hello. (We are performing at 6pm on Saturday 8 December.)
Dunster by Candlelight raises funds for St Margaret's Hospice in Taunton, which offers physical, emotional, social and spiritual care to people with terminal or life-limiting illnesses and their families and makes a profound difference to their patients' quality of life. It has a special place in the hearts of many of us.
Our programme includes sacred music from France and the old English version - and to my mind the best version - of The Holly and the Ivy (as sung by Steeleye Span here) and Since First I Saw Your Face, a bittersweet madrigal, composed by Thomas Ford in the 16th century. This solo version, by counter tenor James Bowman, is sheer perfection. Long-time readers may recall that my love of the counter tenor voice knows no bounds. We may not be in the same class as Mr Bowman but we promise to do our best.