“I –i-it came upon th-e-e midnight clear, that glorious so-o-ong of old...”
There was something not quite right with St.Mary’s choir, it had been since Emilia Sattersthwaite joined it and it wouldn’t be right ‘til she went again.
Unfortunately the day before Christmas Eve was not an auspicious time to do anything about it - spectres of Ebineezer Scrooge waited in the ether to show themselves at the first suggestion of bad will to any man.
In any case, the Reverend Simkin would not have a bad word said about the mad old haddock, purely because she helped nurse his old mother on her deathbed.
That and the fact that the old duffer was tone deaf. He’d have to be! No-one with any kind of music in their soul could fail to feel, never mind hear, the duff notes the old woman produced in the name of music.
“...That was lovely, ladies. You must pat yourselves on the back and then come back to the vestry for mince-pies and sherry.”
This they did. The reverend had quite a following amongst the ladies of the congregation and not only the in blue-rinse brigade.
The Reverend Alan Simkin was a gentle man with a true vocation. He loved God and his fellow man and put them all before his own needs and wants. His wife held a position only immediately ahead of him, for which she was grateful, for she was a spiritual woman too.
“How did the choir practise go, my dear?” Aileen Simkin was rolling out yet another batch of pastry for yet another batch of mince-pies, for yet another lot of parish hampers. These they would distribute amongst the needy the following morning.
Fortunately, Chisleton was a fairly prosperous hamlet. They had the odd old age pensioner with no family and several families without work, but on the whole, they managed to look after their own.
“Like the curate’s egg,” Simkin replied, “good in parts.”
“Emilia not in good voice then?”
“Sorry? Can you speak up?”
“Take them out Alan.”
Simkin’s fingers went to his ears and removed the ear-plugs his wife had thoughtfully provided.
“Completely forgot about them. Quite comfortable once you get used to them.”
“I must try them in bed,” Aileen smiled as she cut tops for the pies.
“Your snoring’s what for!”
“I don’t!” he looked pained, as only those who genuinely aren’t aware of something can.
“Alan, you do,” now the beaten egg and into the hot oven, “I’m not complaining, just observing. Or should I say listening?”
Simkin shot her a ‘well, I don’t care’ look.
Aileen went back to her original enquiry. “Emilia not in good voice tonight?”
“On the contrary. I’ve seldom heard ‘In the Bleak Midwinter’ traumatised so well. She’s becoming quite expert at the old torture. Even through earplugs!”
“Oh, like that then?” Aileen stifled a snigger. “What are you going to do about her?”
“What can I do about her? She’s a lovely old lady and if she could carry a tune in a bucket, we wouldn’t have a care in the world. Besides, you know she has nothing left, besides our little church and it’s functions. She even looks forward to your cooking!”
Aileen threw him a withering look. “But she totally ruins the choir. It used to be such a fine choir. Something to be proud of.
“It still is. Music comes from the heart.”
“Yes,” replied his practical wife, “but it’s heard with the ears! Emilia’s voice is capable of subsonic frequencies! Aren’t you worried about the great bell? If she cracks it, you can’t have another one!”
“Very funny. Well, what do you suggest my darling? Decapitation? A little strangulation perhaps? Some poison in your lovely tarts?” Simkin smiled sweetly at his wife. “Darling, there is nothing we can do without hurting her feelings and I won’t do that. The choir is all very good and well, but people have to come first. Unless you think the poison won’t be detected?”
“You’re right of course and I am thinking of people. It matters not to me how the choir sounds - I’m tone-deaf – but I suspect it might to the other choristers, y’know, the ones that come to all the practices, come hail, rain, snow or high water?”
Simkin folded his paper with a theatrical flourish and announced, “I’m going for a shower. Please call me when dinner’s ready.”
Simkin followed his wife to Emilia’s garden gate in a daze.
“Alan, don’t be too sad. She was very old you know,” Aileen tried to comfort him. “She’ll be with Our Lord now, and free from that awful arthritis.
Simkin still had the hamper in his hands. Mrs.Turnbull, one of the parish ladies took it from him.
“I’ll carry on delivering these Mrs.Simkin,” she put a comforting hand on Simkin’s arm, “I’ll come over later.”
“I never knew you could die from arthritis,” he said simply, “and Dr.Thompson thinks that’s why her voice was so awful too.”
“She’s in no pain now Alan. Be glad for that.”
“I know. Well, at least the other choristers can have their choir back now,” he added, without humour.
The midnight service was always very well attended. Simkin only wished a half of them would continue to attend the rest of the year, then they would realise that wonderful though Christmas was, Easter was far more important.
Everyone was in good spirits and listened to his intentionally lively sermon with apparent interest.
A couple of the younger adults appeared to be fortified with another kind of spirit, but he turned a blind eye to that.
Then was the bit they all came for. The carols.
Mr.Preston, the organist, worked himself up into a crescendo for ‘Hark the Herald Angels Sing’ and the little ones did a special arrangement of ‘Away in a Manger’ and ‘Little Jesu Sweetly Sleeps’ tucked into the Nativity play that was always Aileen’s responsibility.
When the play had finished and the lumps in their throats had all subsided a little, the choir had their opportunity to lead the congregation in the carols they had been practising.
‘O Come All Ye Faithful’ had a beautiful descant arranged by Mrs.Turnbull and sung by Mrs.Lightbody who, at fifteen stone, was no such thing but had a wonderfully powerful voice that soared into the rafters.
By the time they got through ‘Silent Night’ and ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem’ everyone was thoroughly enjoying themselves.
When they got halfway through ‘It Came Upon the Midnight Clear’ Simkin noticed the choir looking a bit restive. By the second verse of ‘In the Bleak Midwinter’, it was unmistakeable. Impossible, but unmistakeable.
“…frosty wi-ind made mo-oa-nn…”
Only one person could select to many incorrect, painful notes and fit them into such a short sentence.
Emilia Sattersthwaite was with them, if not in body…......