Over the years the Surrey Hills Christmas concert has become a firm fixture in the diary of our local residents. The mix of delightful children’s choirs alongside the excellence of the adult choirs is the perfect recipe to celebrate Christmas. Add to this the opportunity to sing carols and enjoy the after-concert party refreshments and it’s a winner. So much so that the past three years has been a sell-out and with no bigger venue in Cranleigh we faced a real problem.
So, this year, we decided to run two concerts: one in Cranleigh featuring all the choirs on the Saturday; and a candlelit concert in Guildford featuring just the adult choirs on the Sunday. To our utter surprise and delight, both concerts were a near sell-out and were very successful.
Saturday’s concert was held in the very quaint Cranleigh Village Hall featuring the Training Choir (ages 6-7), Young Voices (ages 8+), Singers and Chamber Choir; with special guests Glebelands in Harmony. All choirs opened with the Queens jubilee anthem “Sing” by Gary Barlow and Andrew Lloyd Webber.
First up to perform were Young Voices, who sang and danced the Broadway song “Another Openin’, Another Show”. Dressed in silver sequined top hats their routine was very impressive. They followed this with a very moving rendition of “Safe and Sound” by Taylor Swift and finished their set with a very theatrical performance of Double Trouble from Harry Potter. The way each singer contributed emotionally to every song was wonderful to see, particularly at an age when teenagers become self-conscious. They are true performers.
Our delightful Training Choir sang “Pick a Bale of Cotton”, a traditional song sung whilst picking in the cotton fields. Young Katie bravely opened the song by herself whilst the choir answered her opening phrase. This song has two melodies at the same time, introducing the choir to part-singing.
Glebelands in Harmony are a relatively new addition to our Christmas concert. Looking very glamorous in their uniform, they sang “Seasons of Love” from the musical “Rent” with Jemima and Amy providing some lovely solos. The older singers from last year, who have developed so much, were joined by some new Year 7s.
The Surrey Hills Singers sang a very contrasting programme from the medieval motet “Flos Regalis”, the beautiful Bob Chilcott song “O Lord support us”, to the popular “Jar of Hearts” and “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy”. “Jar of Hearts” was delivered with such emotion that there were tears in the eyes of both choir and audience!
After a programme of treble voices, the power of the Chamber Choir always takes the audience aback, particularly with the opening chords of the wonderful “O Radant Dawn” by James MacMillan. This was followed by another very popular song, “O Magnum Mysterium” by Morten Lauridsen. This slow and sustained song suddenly swells in the middle and takes singers and audience alike on an emotional journey. Eric Whitacre’s “With a lily in your hand” is a delightful mix of upbeat Spanish rhythms juxtaposed with the sustained chords with harmonies identifiable to this composer. Starting with a call to his lover and ending with a strong “hey” the song has interest from beginning to end and was sung with character and precision. The spiritual “Didn’t my Lord deliver Daniel”, with the strong opening solo sung by Carol Fousset was a superb end to the first half.
The second half featured each choir singing carols and Christmas songs, interspersed with audience carols. The highlight of this half was “Frosty the Snowman” sung by the Training Choir. The choir acted out a wintery story, reciting cross rhythms of “shiver” and “chattering”, sang a canon to wintery words and then built an imaginery snowman before performing the song with lots of expression. In verse 2 each child took a line to sing as a solo and at the end of the song Frosty appeared, in the form of cuddly toy, and was passed along the line and waved goodbye as he went out the door. Sadly, when the song was finished, Frosty got put next to a stage light and got his bottom singed, but Michelle with a strong nose smelt the burning and saved the day!!!
The concert on Sunday was a complete contrast to the family concert of the previous night. The beautiful church of St Nicolas, Guildford, was lit with lots and lots of candles, providing a beautiful glow. The later time and night seemed popular as extra chairs were brought in and there was barely a seat left. Feeling confident from the night before, both choirs performed to an even high standard to a wonderfully warm receptive audience.
The programme was the same as Saturday with some additions. The Singers sang an extra movement from Bob Chilcott’s “This Day” and the Chamber Choir added the lovely modern carol by Howard Skempton “Adam lay y bounden”. Solo items were also provided by Mike Winterbotham, accompanied by Sarah Winterbotham on the cello and Singers accompanist Robert Gillman, and by Carol Foussat. Mike sang an aria from Bach’s Magnificat in D, “Quia Fecit Mihi Magna” that was very powerful, energetic and rhythmic, whist in contrast Carol sang the beautiful and delicate carol “The Little Road to Bethlehem”. We are very proud to have such good singers and musicians within the choir.
The weekend of concerts sadly saw the retirement of three members of the choir. Juliet, a founder member of the choir, and Tony and Mike, who joined a couple of years later. All three have been committed and enthusiastic singers and have been instrumental in the choir’s growth and success. Their supportive and caring nature has also made them great friends and we shall miss them, but we know we shall keep in touch.
The concert ending with presentation of gifts and singing Mike’s arrangement of “Have yourself a merry little Christmas”.
We hope you will join us for our Christmas 2014 concert.