If I was to rate Christmasses on a musical scale… this has been the longest – and loudest – and eventually hoarsest – yet.
The invitations to our Ukulele group, the Village Strummers came thick and fast as community groups and retirement villages looked for something to entertain their end-of-season parties.
Could we turn anything down? Not likely – even when it meant four gigs in a week. They wanted us? We were up for any chance to strut/strum our stuff.
Up till late November, we were just popping in the odd Christmas number to our “usual” repertoire. Shane, our tutor/leader, was worrying away about the social penalties for premature carolling. By the end of the season, we were sneaking in some “non-Christmas” numbers for our own sanity.
It’s a Kapiti Village tradition for some singers to pile into the gardeners’ trailers (safely caged in and with the chairs tied on) and carol our way around the Village on a close-to-Christmas evening.
This year, we added some of the ukulele strummers, to complete our group of Waits.
The Challenge: to sing loudly enough to cut through the closed windows, loud televisions, and turned-off hearing aids – and get people out into the streets. Our trailer-load had the advantage of our genuine Swiss cow-bell, lustily clanged by Bill, and of Bob’s door-knocking and collection-basket brandishing.
End of the evening – back to the Hall for Bob’s mulled wine, Mani’s cherry brandy (the new batch from the Hastings early-season cherry run), various nibbles, and self-appreciation of our stamina and success.
The Outcome: extreme hoarseness and $560 (plus a ha’penny!) for the Wellington Free Ambulance.
Whoops – a rather sobering thought. I checked out that old term “Waits” for carol singers. Weird Words says they were “considered an abominable nuisance by many, who complained about the discordant nocturnal noises that became one of the perils of Christmas.” A London footman named William Tayler wrote critically of Waits in his diary on 26 December 1837: These are a set of men that goe about the streets playing musick in the night after people are in bed and a sleepe. Some people are very fond of hearing them, but for my own part, I don’t admire being aroused from a sound sleep by a whole band of musick and perhaps not get to sleep again for an houre or two.
But I’m sure our neighbours would NEVER think that of us!
1. All hail the ukulele! It’s the most fun you can have on four strings. In our group, we have a handful of people who are experienced and skilful players – and then there’s the rest of us who are experienced and skilful at looking like we know what we’re doing, while getting by on half a dozen chords. Faking it is fine, when done with conviction and a smile.
The thing is… it’s all about making music together, lightheartedly.
When I sing with the choir, I’m thinking about making a beautiful tone, enunciating clearly, staying focused on the conductor and our collective sound. With the ukulele – who cares, so long as we’re having a good time and giving our audience one too!
In one of the “mad” weeks, we’d done two ukulele gigs earlier in the week, a dress rehearsal for the choral concert followed by another ukulele gig that same night, then the choral concert on the Friday night (with a couple of ukulele numbers in the middle of the concert just for fun). At supper, I heard myself saying “I don’t think I can face ukulele practice tomorrow morning.” Of course I turned up – and within minutes the ukulele worked its magic. Smile back. Energy up. Yeeha!
2. The reason for the season. Now that more than 40% of us are saying we have no religion (Census 2013) – what is it about Christmas? Mumble-decades ago I decided I was a non-believer. But I’ll sing carols about a mythology I don’t believe in, with gusto.
Well, I think it comes down to that much more ancient philosophy – that of Any Excuse for a Party! If a date on a calendar gets us together with friends, family, neighbours, strangers, and involves eating and drinking – it’s got to be worthwhile. So bring on New Year’s!
And Waitangi Day…
And Diwali…. I wonder what we’d sing for that?
And – to finish the year’s bird theme … Kiwi readers – you’ve seen the cats that look like David Cunliffe. How about this gull as a stand-in for Peter Dunne?