The Village Choir
Most Tuesday evenings I leave the house clutching an assortment of sheet
music and (if I haven't forgotten it) the all important pencil.
My journey of about twenty miles takes me by the sea for a while, before the
main road turns inland to climb over high hills. I overtake George the
Third on his white horse and see that like me he is escaping along this route
- though he never seems to arrive. The road dips away for a few
miles through bendy villages and then a crossroads far ahead with a copse of
tall beeches on a small quiet roundabout announces a choice. And a
The roads to the left and right choices will take you to a town - or back to
the sea. The straight-ahead choice leads along a narrower, quieter way
where winter evening headlights suddenly illuminate a series of sharp bends
bounded by stone cottage walls - a glimpse of an ancient church tower - and then
forest - and the road straightens for an unbelieveble distance. In the
dark winter evenings one is often alone on this road with only perhaps a
solitary pair of tiny rear lights far far ahead. Now and then a car may
turn onto the road and then quietly disappear down a side turning and you are
That brightly street-lit patch in the distance is a level crossing and I
wonder, during the long approach, whether the barriers and warnings will begin
to flash. It's an odd feeling sometimes to rumble over the lines and see the
sudden shock of a train's lights as it stands motionless a few yards away by
In summer the long dead-straight road disappears far ahead into distant
misty overhanging trees. You can't see the end of it. It's tempting to increase
speed. I'm usually almost late having left at the very last minute and gone back
into the house for the pencil. But the limit is 40, people live here
and I'm also reminded that somewhere near here along the silent hedged
lanes, T.E.Lawrence - his life already somehow past - crashed his bike and was
The final leg of the journey is no more than a narrow asphalted track amidst
pine and birch plantations which in winter darkness seems to wall you in.
It's like descending into the deepest darkest fairy tale forest in which one
imagines no daylight and no escape. Yet now in the lighter evenings the fir
trunks are straight - purple-shadowed and pinkly lit against pale blue sky by
the evening sunshine; the small delicate birches stippled with fantastic acid
green among tall yellow grasses. If I weren't late I'd stop and draw - perhaps
I'll do it next week. Or make a journey out here on another sunny
evening. But I probably won't. So many ideas - and life so
Eventually the lane descends into a valley and the white
thatched cottages appear. In winter, lamplight glowed behind curtained
cottage windows but now birds sing and there is someone walking a small dog who
smiles directly at me as I turn into the village. Ahead is the village
hall - also white and thatched - and some parked cars of people who like me have
travelled miles to converge in this hidden place within a small wooded
combe. Near the entrance door is a very large motorbike belonging not to
Lawrence but to our conductor.
It's a choir of mixed voices - a medley of differing timbres and
qualities. Many of us are just a little past our prime though there are
some very good voices. But there is something of a quiet religion about
it. The heads turning to greet you with genuine smiles of welcome
and the occasional jokes combine with the real harmony of song to create a sense
The current 'sing' is Mozart Mass in C and Mendelssohn Hear My Prayer.
The conductor, still wearing his motorbike leathers, somehow manages to play the
piano beautifully while simultaneously conducting our cacophony. Like any
priest, he's an expert in his religion and lives and breathes it. He is a
composer in his own right and he knows what we need and why we are there.
Amidst the more disciplined learning of parts and phrases he sometimes gives us
our head and just lets us sing for the pure physical, sentimental, uncomplicated
joyousness of it. There is nothing purer.
It's the coming together which matters.
O for the wings... for the wings... of a dove...