The Backs are famous the world over. And so too, as a consequence of a picture in the on-line version of The Times, is the Choir of St. John the Evangelist, Hills Road, Cambridge.
Wow! You don’t know how good it feels to write that! Think about it! It’s quite something for a small parish choir to be on the international stage – if only for a day! I’ll bet it beats some of those illustrious cathedral choirs this Christmas!
Grudgingly, we must admit to it being something to do with the setting - a certain college choir and the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, perhaps.
But not entirely. How we first came to be invited to sing for the organisers of ‘Carols on the Cam’ is not important. The fact that it is an event that has become so successful at raising considerable sums for charity, is. ‘Let’s Go Punting’ are to be congratulated; particularly their manager Caroline Godfrey.
And it is St. John’s Choir that has been at the centre of it from the outset – a couple of years before Covid cancelled Christmas (albeit we did manage to squeeze in a flotilla in 2021); and recently this last year 2022.
Neither should we ignore the punting company’s committed and hardy staff. Most of us who live in Cambridge will have experienced the discomfort of the slow drip of the punt pole soaking first a sleeve and then gradually, a whole shirt. But our experience is of balmy summer days, when it doesn’t matter and we couldn’t care less! Theirs is of the bitterly cold waters of the Cam in the dead of winter. How unpleasant is that! So, thank you punters.
Speaking of the cold and wet, none of us will ever forget the experience of the 2019 Flotilla. ‘Carols on the Cam’ is a cold event by any standards. (It’s a good thing the HSE don’t inspect us!) But it blew a blizzard that year. Not a typical blizzard! But a blizzard that only the Cam in Cambridge can dream up and throw at you. Goodness knows what it must have been like for the punters. Fortunately, none of them slipped on their icy decks. At least we were singing! Well, in a manner of speaking!! Frozen, our clothes and robes soaked through to the skin, our music floppy, illegible and dripping, we were exhausted by the time we had made the round trip from Quayside to the Mill Pond and back again.
The 2018 Flotilla was a bit of a prototype. It took place before wide-beamed punts had become commonplace. As a consequence, the choir was split between two punts. Lower voices in one punt and upper parts in another. Logical enough you would have thought – except that the conductor (Roger) was in one punt and the pitch provider (Elizabeth) in the other! So a recipe for chaos, but reasonably manageable with familiar music and experience - that is, until a punter (understandably unaware of the essential eye contact needed for unaccompanied singing) wedged his punt between our two choir punts. Out of sync. and not always singing to the same pitch, it was not our finest hour. A cartoonist would have had ‘a field day’!
But we survived! And importantly, so has ‘Carols on the Cam’ - sufficient for it to head the 2022 ‘Cambridgeshire Live’ publicity which described it as ‘one of the highlights on the festive calendar’ and ‘a staple of Cambridge festivities’. With our teething troubles behind us and no blizzard to contend with, it was a success. The weather was cold but not freezing; the flotilla kept its shape; we sat together three abreast in a brand new wide-beamed punt and sang as a choir should – in tune, to time, and in balance. A pretty good ensemble by all accounts. And a sell-out.
Yes! Thanks to the generosity of the ticket holders, the 2022 Flotilla raised just shy of a whacking £1000.00 in just one hour! It looks like ‘Carols on the Cam’ is here to stay.
So, people of St. John’s (and beyond), don’t be shy or anxious. Come and join us in the choir stalls - and of course, on the Cam! Especially children. There’s no audition. And remember, you’ll be a member of a choir with an international profile! Think how good that would look on your CV!! We have lots of fun (in and out of our robes).