Sunday, December 21, 2008

Talking of nativities...

I won't reveal what my perfect nativity is, cos otherwise you might not buy the book, but it's loosely based on this.

20 odd years ago I was lucky enough to take part in the Nativity Play part of the Chester Mystery Cycle, which takes place every year outside Chester Cathedral over three successive nights. We were on the first night, after a rather arty farty depiction of Genesis. God was on top of a tall tower I seem to remember, and there was a lot of dancing with scarves.

I played a midwife together with my actress friend who is very funny and brilliant, so I spent most of the time trying not to giggle. Particularly as the director (who was also one of our lecturers and had translated the Cycle into modern vernacular) took it upon himself to dress us in Red Cross uniform and hide us in the audience. Joseph at one point calls for a midwife so my friend and I had to start some chatter about, Did he say midwife? Does that mean us? etc - it was always entertaining to see the audience thinking we were proper hecklers and start telling us to hush.

My other chief memory from the experience was of the two lads playing Octavian Caesar's messengers going out to the pub while the dreary Genesis dancers did their stuff, and staggering back on pissed. This infuriated the director who had a hissy fit of such magnitude we ended up dumping him out of the minibus on the way home. Ah. Those were the days...

Anyway. That's where the idea for my nativity has come from, minus the pissed messengers.

But I've also gone out seeking ancient carols, as I LONG LONG LONG to go to a carol concert where they sing some of the really old stuff. We have a fabulous tradition of carols in this country, and certainly my experience of attending Christmas shows over the last ten years leads me to suspect that a lot of that tradition maybe lost on the next generation who never get to sing anything much which isn't modern.

For my ideal nativity, therefore, the most modern carol I've chosen is In the Bleak Midwinter, which I love for the tune. (The words frankly are quite weird Victorian sentimental nonsense, but the tune is lovely.)

So here it is, sung by Gloucester Cathedral Choir:

And here's the King's College Choir singing Adam lay y bounden, which I may have forgotten to put in, but will do when I get my next round of rewrites.

And here are the fabulous Mediaeval Baebes (whom I discovered thanks to my lovely ebuddy and fellow RNA member, Elizabeth Chadwick) singing I syng of a Mayden that is Makeles

My last two choices are probably my favourite carols.

The first is The Coventry Carol. Here's a version with Aled Jones and the Royal Chamber College of Music. This sums up Christmas for me, and I never can hear it often enough.

Last but not least, is the beautiful Ballulalow, the words of which are ancient, but here comes from Britten's fabulous Festival of Carols. I love the harp in this, but the whole thing gives me goosebumps. And it's the perfect accompaniment to my ideal nativity (should I ever get to see it of course...)

So I've told you my favourites. What are yours?

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