Musical Xmas Cheer


As annually observed on the blog, my own Christmas starts effortfully in mid-November, when I’m summoned into Maida Vale Studios to look at entries for the BBC’s Carol Competition. The weather has generally turned towards the grim, and the Studios are at their starkest as we survey very large piles of music, anonymously submitted and all setting the same verse (this year the agreeably crazy Sir Christemas.) After the first hour or two of this, my eyes and brain often suffer a seasonal white-out. But thanks to the good sense of my fellow jurors, we always end up with six carefully shortlisted scores to present to the BBC Singers, who will record these and broadcast them to the waiting nation on Radio 3’s Breakfast. The winner is then chosen by a public vote.

My mood has usually improved considerably a month later, when we once again enter the Studios to meet the selected composers in person, and hear the BBC Singers' live performance of their new carols, in front of an enthusiastic audience. It’s a lovely event, with BBC mince pies to look forward to afterwards. We Carol Comp ‘lifers’ thought this year’s entry a particularly good one, and several of the carols turned out to be earworms. It was humbling to learn that our excellent finalists worked in fields such as software development, healthcare management, industrial design and corporate law, as well as primary and secondary schoolteaching. The majority though had studied music up to graduate level; a cheering reminder, to those of us who teach college-level music, that a music degree can have many different but successful outcomes.

Pictured – carol composer finalists, with BBC Singers in the background. Competition winner (and retired headteacher) Bernard Trafford front row far left; conductor David Hill, in reindeer gear, far right; BBC Singer Rebecca Lea, back row left, dressed in ‘the Full Santa’. And since posting this snap, I've been marvelling once more at Maida Vale Studio Two; look at those amazing 'Early Dr Who' fittings (possibly made of bakelite?) on the back wall and door frame.

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JUDITH WEIR

Composer

© Judith Weir, 2020