Review: Dursley Male Voice Choir’s Christmas Concerts

The Dursley Male Voice Choir

The Dursley Male Voice Choir - Credit: Archant

Last December, Katie Jarvis visited the Chantry Centre in Dursley to listen to the Dursley Male Voice Choir’s festive programme, and enjoyed the fun and warmth that have become the mainstays of their annual performances

The Dursley Male Voice Choir

The Dursley Male Voice Choir - Credit: Archant

With ev’ry breath I take

Let this be my solemn vow:

To take each moment

And live each moment

In peace eternally

(From Let There Be Peace On Earth)

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Grandma got run over by a reindeer

Walking home from our house Christmas Eve.

You can say there’s no such thing as Santa

But as for me and Grandma, we believe.

(From Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer)

So this is Christmas: a sea of discarded coloured paper and velvet bows; waxy satsumas and hastily-hidden sprouts; a carpet of pine-tree needles; stomachs rising in post-prandial contentment, breath falling in afternoon snores; a crisp walk over steep hills, a black Labrador with new collar; a church resounding with conjoined voices and, later, an inky sky lit by a single star.

And so, too, the festive programme that Dursley Male Voice Choir offers each and every year: fun, solemnity, warmth, tradition, old, new, friends, strangers – all the elements that make Christmas ‘Christmas’. We filter in, a capacity audience, greeting old friends, buzzing, filling Dursley’s Chantry Centre with chat. Musical director Barrie Cooper is sitting at the piano, tapping out a silent rhythm with accompanist Robert Burgess; ushers are manning raffles and CD stands. Then silence falls and Brian Parslow, poised at the conductor’s stand, beckons. The procession begins: inky bow ties, crisp white shirts, maroon jackets, and the music of Holst – Sing Aloud On This Day – lifts the hall. No wonder these concerts are always fully sold out.

This wonderful choir is a continuation of a musical tradition stretching back through Dursley and Cam as far as the known horizon; but Dursley Male Voice Choir itself has a more documented history, conceived in a pub, in 1978. Since then, it has sung all over this country and abroad, raised thousands upon thousands for charity – including more than £13,000 for cancer charity Hope for Tomorrow, in a concert with Welsh tenor Wynne Evans last year – and distinguished itself in many-a-competition.

The website FAQs say it all. Members don’t have to have sung in a choir before; it doesn’t matter whether or not they can read music; and auditions are simple, informal affairs, more based around discovering where in the choir a voice will fit. But despite those modest criteria, the sound the choir produces is as magnificent as can be. On these Christmas nights, they tackled their first song in French, Plaisir D’Amour by written by Martini in the late 18th century, with more than a nod to Mozart; followed by the unaccompanied beauty of Vive L’Amour, with its element of ‘round’ singing.

There are well-loved traditions that have to be followed – the audience participation (we were magnificent in O come, all ye faithful, of course); the wonderful solo, Good Enough For Him – this year from Stan Unwin with his rich baritone; the terrible jokes from compere Terry Pascoe (Penguin walks into a bar and asks the barman, ‘Have you seen my father?’ ‘What does he look like?’ asks the barman); and the hilarious Reindeer Trio set of songs that never bodes well for Grandma. Yes, alongside asking, Let There Be Peace on Earth, Dursley Male Voice Choir told the tragic story of Grandma’s demise courtesy of a badly-managed sleigh.

But always a highlight of these concerts is the guest singer; and this year, the choice was magnificent, both in terms of talent and contrast. Soprano Gillian Wells, who also sang with the choir in Cirencester earlier in the year, performed with such beauty, skill and humour: her youth captivated; her voice mesmerised. From I Could Have Danced All Night, to Puccini - O mio babbino caro; from Chestnuts Roasting by an Open Fire to the Prima Donna song (Mamma is a queen and papa is a king; so I am a Princess, I know it!), she was utterly, utterly engaging.

Dursley Male Voice Choir, what a wonderful end to the year. You truly help make Christmas ‘Christmas’.