Historic pageant lined up for Christmas concert in Axminster

PUBLISHED: 17:00 27 November 2019

Peter Parshall.

Peter Parshall.


Axminster and District Choral Society is rehearsing for its Christmas concert, which will feature the words of Thomas Hardy.

Members of Axminster and District Choral Society will be performing their Christmas concert in December, which will feature readings from Thomas Hardy's 'Under the Greenwood Tree'.

The 90-strong choir has been rehearsing under its director of music, Peter Parshall, and a band of local musicians has been getting to know the music and some choice readings from the novel have been chosen.

The concert will be a historic pageant re-enacting a Dorset/Devon Christmas 250 years ago.

Organs were banned by Cromwell and later in an effort to compete with the musical attractions of the non-conformist churches, parishes like Axminster began to form small choirs accompanied by bands which were recruited from former members of the militia and local musicians who played instruments at dances and festivals.

Singers had to be able to read so were mostly tradesmen. The role of the choir and band was to lead the congregation in psalm singing and the occasional anthem at the beginning or end of a church service.

A spokesman for the society said: "These choirs and bands traditionally sat in galleries beneath the belfry at the west end of the church facing the altar - hence the name 'west gallery music' by contemporary revivalists.

"Travelling music pedlars and peripatetic teachers were sometimes employed by the vestry.

"They circulated specially written anthems, psalms and carols by west gallery composers, often choir or band members themselves, from other parts of the country."

A selection has been chosen for the concert - A Happy Happy Christmas; Lo He Comes With Clouds Descending; Awake and Join the Cheerful Choir; Remember Adam's Fall; Rejoice ye Tenants of the Earth; See Seraphic Throngs Descending; As Shepherds Watched; Mortals Awake; God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen; Hark the Herald; While Shepherds Watched; Wassail.

To help depict the scene in the Minster, as it would have been 250 years ago, there will be readings describing what it would have been like then and two excerpts from Thomas Hardy's 'Under the Greenwood Tree' recalling his grandfather's role as a church musician.

The spokesman continued: "In place of the organ, the group will have a worthy band of musicians - violin, flute, viola, clarinet, oboe, cello and euphonium.

"There will be lots of audience participation, not just in the carols but with mince pies and mulled wine after the concert too."

The concert will take place on Saturday, December 14, at the Minster, Axminster, at 7pm.

Tickets cost £10 from Archway Books, Church Street, Axminster. Under 18s - free.

Tel. 01297 33595, or members of the choir. For further information phone 01404 881838 or see website: www.axminsterchoral.co.uk

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