The choir – a flight of the soul

The centenary Nine Lessons and Carols from King’s College, Cambridge, 2018

During the later part of his life, my grandfather was organist and choirmaster at St Mary’s, Wareham. As a child, whenever I visited my grandparents I would sing in St Mary’s choir. At home, not far from Windsor, I sang as a treble in the local choir till, sadly, my voice broke. Every Christmas, my mother would tune into the BBC to listen to Nine Lessons and Carols broadcast from King’s College, Cambridge. Those carols, old and new, have remained with me all this time and move me every time I hear them. No wonder then that, when I came to write Boy & Girl, Peter, the boy in the story, was head chorister in the choir of his local church. Here’s an extract about Peter and the choir followed by the video on YouTube of the 2018 Nine Lessons and Carols from King’s, the last such broadcast in which the choir was directed by the late Stephen Cleobury who was born in the same year as myself. I have added a gallery of screenshots from the video. The BBC thoughtfully avoided filming Stephen Cleobury close up. Only once at the end of the broadcast when the Dean Revd Dr Stephen Cherry mentioned that it was to be Cleobury’s last Nine Lessons and Carols did the camera linger briefly on the choirmaster. I have included that image in the gallery. The last of the series.

Extract: Boy & Girl – The choir sings

He got off his bike at the back door to the church just as the ringers reached the end of a series of changes and began ringing rounds. He was late, but there would be just enough time if he hurried. He shrugged off his jacket as he entered the vestry where the other boys were already lined up for the procession into the nave. Peter hastily donned his cassock, fixed the ruff around his neck and pulled his surplice over his head, straightening it till it was just right. Taking the medal of St. Nicholas, patron saint of choirboys, from his cassock pocket, he hung it around his neck and made his way to the head of the line of boys, nodding to the others as he did so. Just then, the organ struck up the first notes of the introit, time to open the door and lead the choir into the sunlit nave.

It was one of his favourite moments. All heads turned in their direction as the congregation stood. He walked, his head held high, swinging his hips slightly in time with the music so his cassock swayed from side to side as he walked. He let himself be absorbed by the music till it buoyed him up. Behind him he could just make out the footfalls of the other choirboys when the organ played pianissimo. Above, light was streaming in through the stained glass windows, flooding the church with warmth and colour. 

His soul fluttered into wakefulness and flew up to join those of all the others flirting with the rays of light as they floated on the organ music. What better moment to burst into song as he sang solo the first verse of the opening hymn. The notes of the organ softened to give his voice the room to soar and join his soul. A solitary tear of relief and gratitude rolled down his cheek and it was time for the others to join him and his voice could once again take refuge in the body of the choir.

The Boy & Girl Saga

Boy & Girl – Imagine Peter’s delight when he finds himself in the head of a girl, he who secretly dresses as a girl. Yet, despite his wild hopes, that girl is not him. She’s Kaitlin, the daughter of a mage in a beleaguered world. Peter has his own problems when a new girl at school threatens to reveal his girly ways. Becoming friends, Kate and Peter confront their problems together.

In Search of Lost Girls – In search of Kate, his lost soul-mate, Peter is beset by individuals hell-bent on stopping him dressing as a girl and besmirching the name of all those who befriend him. Meanwhile Kate has been dumped into a girls’ orphanage where, despite constant abuse and mistreatment, she emerges as a decisive figure in the rescue of her fellow orphans.

Powerful Girl – Pretty Boy – Peter is beset by an existential choice, retain his androgynous ambiguity or say goodbye to his girlish self. Circumstances, however, force both him and Kate to take up other challenges. By straddling the line between child and adult, between carefree creativity and weighty responsibility, between play and work, they find imaginative ways to confront far-reaching problems on which adults persistently turn a blind eye. (Yet to be published)

Video: Nine Lessons and Carols 2018 from King’s

Gallery: Nine Lessons and Carols from King’s

Click on a screenshot to see the full picture and access the gallery.

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