We were delighted and priviledged to sing at the remembrance service held by Greenacres Woodland Burials at Heatherley Wood near Guildford. It’s a truly lovely spot; a sweeping meadow area lies open to the skies, through which a path leading to a quiet wooded valley where the plots nestle beneath shady trees.
Set in the meadow, the Woodland Service Hall is a charming blend of natural wood and glass, with just a hint of ski chalet! It’ was the perfect setting for a relaxed ceremony led by a celebrant and featuring songs and carols sung by us and the guests, and contributions from family members too.
So, what to choose to sing? We wanted songs that evoked fond memories rather than sad ones, and left people looking forward to the festive season as best they could. Our hand was a little forced by Toni suffering from a cold and subsequently losing parts of her vocal range, but why struggle with the bottom notes when you have a mezzo on hand?!
So, we swapped “O Holy Night’ for “Walking in the Air” (such a lovely piece of music), I led the carols, and we duetted on those favourite Christmas songs “White Christmas” and “Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas”.
In one of several lovely touches, the staff provided natural tree discs with the name of the deceased written on for attendees to hang on the Christmas tree. So, everyone got their chance to commemorate their loved one in a supportive and gentle environment, where timings didn’t matter and everyone was there fore the same reason.
Just before this, Toni sang “I’ll be seeing you in all the old familiar places”, which we thought particularly apt, offering a chance to reflect and recall particular memories.
I’m sure we’ve all found ourselves in situations at Christmas where memories flood back, sometimes catching us unawares. I still picture my own grandma sitting in a particular chair at my mother’s house every Christmas, (even though both grandma and chair are long gone) directing operations in a voice that cut across dogs barking, kids yelling, Morecombe and Wise on the tv, and the dishwasher on full blast! (She wasn’t a contralto for nothing…)
The power of music to evoke memories never fails to amaze us. People often forget that as a soloist standing up and facing an audience, we can see everyone’s faces. Seeing a particular phrase or lyric affect people in the room, with smiles and tears in equal measure, is a moving experience in itself.
And once again, it reminds us that, yes, we do love what we do. Especially at Christmas.