I’m sure many of you will have experienced the stress leading up to a major event for which you are responsible - knowing there will be just the one chance of getting it right. That’s how my friend Sue
and I had been feeling as yesterday morning approached. We kept reassuring each other, more in hope than expectation, that it would be “alright on the night”. The Great Occasion, in case you hadn’t remembered, was a Farewell and Thank You
to the conductor of our Singing for Pleasure choir on the occasion of her retirement (at the Grand Old Age of 95) and after twelve years of leading us in Joyous Song.
Our present - a personalised cushion - was wrapped in appropriately musical gift wrap, finished off with a stylish maroon ribbon, while the beautiful hand-made greetings card (no, not handmade by me, don’t be silly, it was far, far too beautiful
for that) had been signed by every member of the choir. What’s more, when I walked into the hall at the Heene Community Centre where we meet every Friday morning, there wasn’t a spare seat in the house. Almost everyone, it seemed, had responded
to my emailed request for a “splendid turnout.”
Our erstwhile conductor, known to regular readers as The Redoubtable Muriel, was due to arrive at 11
a.m. giving us time to have a bit of a sing-song but, most importantly, to rehearse our special greeting. It was decided that at a signal from someone stationed near the door to say she had arrived, we would all rise to our feet as one and welcome her with
a resounding rendition of that popular ABBA song: “Thank you for the music.” The lyrics couldn’t be more meaningful for such an auspicious occasion: “Thank you for the music, the songs we’re singing / thank you for the joy they’re
bringing...” We would sing the chorus twice through, we all agreed, and our rehearsal proved we were in excellent voice. Sue and I sat ourselves in the front row of the soprano section (we never sit there normally, preferring to bury ourselves second
row back in the alto section) so that we could spot our Most Honoured Guest immediately she stepped through the outer doors.
Eleven came and went. Muriel failed
to arrive. Five minutes, ten minutes, fifteen minutes, twenty minutes passed. Sue and I bewailed the fact that neither of us had thought to phone the evening before to make sure she had remembered. What to do? When did “late” turn into a “Did
Not Arrive”? I was building myself up to make an announcement to an increasingly restive choir when Sue and I caught sight of the familiar figure in the corridor. We were all on our feet in a trice, ABBA on our lips. “Thank you for the music!”
we sang, lustily, as the Redoubtable Muriel entered. To say we took her by surprise is something of an understatement.
The cushion we gave her was decorated
on one side with the words of our choir theme song “Viva La Musica” together with her name and “Singing for Pleasure.” On the back: “To dear Muriel. Thank you for the music, from your Worthing Singing for Pleasure Choir.”
Muriel hugged the cushion to her and asked us to sing for her all over again. We were, of course, more than happy to oblige...
Always (as you know) the over-emotional
type, I was on the verge of treacherous tears as Muriel told us she would remember the day for as long as she lived. And they spilled over completely as she conducted us, for the very last time, in Viva La Musica. Tears turned to laughter a little later when
she smoothed out the musical gift wrap, sat down at the piano and proceeded to play the wrapping paper. Once a pianist, always a pianist. It was another precious moment.
The gathering in the community centre café afterwards was joyful indeed, with Muriel at the very heart of it all. Which was just as it should be.
I waited outside with Sue for her lift to arrive and we quietly congratulated each other that, all things considered, it had all gone very alright on the night...