One attractive Christmas song followed another in this appropriately festive concert by the Military Wives. Traditional carols like O Little Town of Bethlehem and Ding Dong Merrily on High were performed in snappy new arrangements which included uplifting key changes. Not to mention more commercial repertoire like Jingle Bells and Let it Snow. Particularly fascinating was an arrangement of Away in a Manger which cleverly juxtaposed both the English and American versions.
All of them were sung with bright-toned commitment and verve by the black-clad Military Wives, performing in the space between the nave and the choir of Peterborough Cathedral. High above them soared the blazing red and gold figure of Christ on the Cross. And bathing both the singers and the architecture was atmospheric lighting in blue, green, lilac, and rose. Running up the pillars, capitals, and arches of the great building and transforming it into a kind of massive fairy grotto, the whole experience amounted to nothing less than a ‘son et lumiere’ show.
Not to be outdone, the large audience joined in with While Shepherds Watched and God Rest Ye Merry to conclude the first half. At the interval I chatted to Gavin Cooper who’d proved a relaxed and informative compere, as well as accompanist on both piano and organ. Gavin explained something which had been puzzling me. Rather than one monolithic choir as I’d supposed, Military Wives is in fact an association of no less than 75 choirs centred at military bases all over the country.
The singers in this particular concert were from the Cottesmore, Wyton, and Brampton branch under conductor Corinna Selby, and from RAF Cranwell conducted by Rowland Lee. There was more information from Melanie Nightingale, national director of the Military Wives foundation. Despite its title by no means all its members are married to male military personnel. Others are active service-women, some are ex-services.
Both Gavin and Melanie stressed that strong friendships were an essential feature of the organisation. This raised issues beyond the scope of this review, but which are of great interest nevertheless. Do women bond together more readily than men? Are girls more innately musical than boys, with an ability to sing in tune, and a better sense of rhythm?
Fascinating stuff, but the second half was soon upon us. I particularly enjoyed Roland Orzabal’s It’s a Mad Mad World and the choirs’ finale Home for Christmas. Encapsulating their seasonal message it turned out to be an upbeat version of Hark the Herald.
REVIEW: Joe Conway