Indeed, times were chaotic. The church was very cold, the roof leaked, rubble was on the floor, the aisle full of pot holes, most benches had been used for kindle and the early morning December wind blew through shrapnel holes in the wall. We huddled closely around the altar, and Mr. Alles encouraged us to sing with fervour, the birth of Jesus Christ was an event needing to be celebrated with all we could give and besides, we would forget a little bit about the cold.
Not any more now, but then as a child, I had a nice voice and could easily learn and carry a tune and, above all, I could very well disguise the fact that I could not read music. So when the time came to choose a soloist, Mr. Alles, my wonderful teacher, picked me. I was dancing on the rubble with joy, in my elder brother’s spacious shoes, my handknit grey stockings slipping down and bunching around my ankles. In front of the class choir my courage sank quickly when Mr. Alles handed me a sheet of music, asking me to sing the first part of the song we were about to learn for Christmas.
Not even looking at that sheet of music, I felt like sinking into a black hole, painfully aware that I could not read music, thinking that everybody else could, and hoping fervently he would sing the part first I was sure I could repeat it … What would he think of me, I was probably the only person in the church not being able to sing at sight. Mr. Alles looked a bit surprised at my worried face… But the next surprise was mine: “Oh dear, I am so sorry, I forgot that this is a new song for you, with strange words, and I think I might just have to sing it to you a couple of times and explain the words before we have a go at it.” I felt so relieved and later sang that solo part with confidence and joy. And on my way out my beloved teacher looked at me smilingly and said with a twinkle in eye: “What a lovely voice you have”. It was my best Christmas gift.
The choral was: In Dulci Jubilo. And it became one of my favorite Christmas chorals. Click here for a rendition of the choral sung by the Vienna Boys’ Choir and here a version by the Choir of the King’s college, Cambridge.