Hark the Herald Angel

Tale of Two Carol Concerts

From the outside with its grand  classical edifice it is easy to forget how ornate and baroque is the inside. But sitting under the dome at St Pauls with the majestic and glittering mosaics adorning the walls I suddenly remembered that our High Church has (too)much in common with Rome. I was waiting for the start of  the annual Ceremony of Carols by Britten.  A ceremony apparently written in reply to TS Eliot’s Ceremony of Innocence which is drowned in the Second Coming.

Suddenly the thousands who are seated hush. Expectancy rises. Those wonderful treble notes  so loved by Britten pierce the enormous space. The first notes echo through the cloisters as the boys make their way to the choir stalls. The hairs on your neck tingle with tension.

 Hodie Christus natus est;hodie Salvator apparuit;hodie in terra canunt angeli; Today Christ is born;today the Saviour appears;today on earth the angel sings.

Accompanied only by a celestial harp the choristers, as sweet as toffees,  go through the cycle of nine songs based on  medieval and earlier poems. It is a wonderful entertainment ,its choral simplicity  in  contrast to the extravagant splendour of Wren’s masterpiece.

On the way out of  this  national monument, the naval heroes who died at Aboukir Bay and Campledown are noted. Going down Ludgate Hill on my way to the tube I spot a sweet  shop brimming with tempting jars. It has to be liquorice toffees.

Across London Vivien is elsewhere. She is singing at the Royal Hospital  for Neuro- disability. It used to be called the Putney Home for Incurables. Here those with severe brain injuries often caused by car accidents or strokes spend their lives in relative comfort.

Vivien’s group are singing before around  fifty ,all in wheel chairs some  with members of their families in attendance. These are the fittest inmates. Most are not capable of expression. Some make random noises. Some try to clap. It is a pathetic sight worthy of any manger.

Vivien  projects her  personality to one or two of the more vital in the  audience. They seem to respond with  eye movement ,one even mouths some of the words. Good  King.Once in Royal David’s city. Silent night. It will be  for most of the patients in this  the saddest   of all hospitals. On the loveliest of all nights. Hodie Christus natus est. Who knows ,maybe its true.

Happy Christmas.


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