(From The Oundelian, published June 2020)
It’s December. The end of the Michaelmas Term – the longest of the School year – draws near, the frost sets in, and we all start to get ready for our favourite time of the year: Christmas. It’s said that Christmas is the ‘most wonderful time of the year’, and for many, that is true, although for the singers of Oundle School, it’s also, naturally, one of the busiest.
“It must be said that it is a mildly alarming task, standing at the back of the School Chapel, music folder open in one hand, burning candle in another, attempting to turn pages of music whilst walking down the Chapel aisle.”Charlie Martin, Crosby
Advent begins on the Sunday nearest to 30 November, signifying the start of the first season of the Christian liturgical year. This is marked at Oundle School by the Advent Carol Service, in which the Schola Cantorum sing in a candle-lit evening service on a Sunday. It must be said that it is a mildly alarming task, standing at the back of the School Chapel, music folder open in one hand, burning candle in another, attempting to turn pages of music whilst walking down the Chapel aisle. Ideally, setting people’s hair on fire should be kept to a minimum as you walk past them singing, page-turning, and wielding a stick of burning wax which is surely a health and safety nightmare in this day and age. In total, this service lasts about an hour.
The last week of term is the busiest for Oundle’s choirs. This year, Schola Cantorum performed a carol service in the Two Acre Club for Community Action, which makes for an interesting adjustment from the School Chapel – and it is always nice to sing to an audience other than the rest of the School.
After a week’s intense rehearsals and last minute preparations, the Chapel Choir and Schola Cantorum pull together on the last evening of term, usually along with a suitably grand-sounding orchestral accompaniment, for the first School Carol Service, performed in the School Chapel. Nerves are palpable as soloists prepare to sing ‘Once in Royal David’s City’ and even ‘In the Bleak Midwinter’. During the one-hour service, we sing these and more Christmas carols and hymns, in between prayer and readings.
The next morning, we wrench ourselves out of bed and prepare to rehearse at about 9.30 for the first of two services, on the final Friday of term. After our second run of the service, and another Chapel-full of Houses has been sent home, we convene in the Common Room Dining Room for our annual Choir breakfast, where we have a bit of a break, and have a few speeches. But there’s not too much time for slacking. We return to the Chapel once again for our third service at midday – and in this service, we stop being concerned about ‘saving our voice’ for later. That is to say that you have probably never heard ‘Hark the Herald Angels Sing’ sung in quite the same way; there should probably be a prize for anyone who still has a voice at the end of it!
"Being part of the Oundle School choirs at Christmas is certainly a little bit tiring, and a true test of commitment for some, but it is also extremely positive"Charlie Martin, Crosby
Overall, being part of the Oundle School choirs at Christmas is certainly a little bit tiring, and a true test of commitment for some, but it is also extremely positive. Hats off also to all the staff who make it work: Mr Thomas (Head of Music) and Mr Warden (Head of Singing and Chapel Choir) especially, who work tirelessly to oversee the mammoth task of pulling together all these services. Four carol services in seventy hours is not for the faint-hearted, but if you enjoy it, it can be an excellent time to be a chorister.