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The Choir

Anna stamped the snow from her ankle boots before pushing open the church’s heavy oak door. The muscles in her stomach tightened as she listened to the voices soaring up and down the warm- up scales and arpeggios, knowing that she wouldn’t be able to reach the top notes. Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea, she thought, stuffing her gloves and scarf into her bag as she crept up the aisle towards the choir stalls.

She eased herself into one of the wooden pews to listen to the fifteen singers, who shuffling into place, opened their music and eagerly waited for the choir leader to bring down his baton for the opening bar.

Anna was enthralled by the upbeat tone of the piece and was so inspired to join in with the chorus of Rejoice, Rejoice, she had to put her hand over her mouth in case they heard her. Eyes turned to look at her as she quietly clapped her appreciation.

‘Sorry, I hope I haven’t disturbed you,’ she said.

‘Not at all. It’s always lovely to have an audience, even if it is just one person. ‘Welcome.  My name’s Ray Shaw and these are the good folks who turn up rain or shine to sing our Sunday services. We’re rehearsing for a big concert on Saturday. John Rutter’s Requiem. It’s in memory of Sir Charles Winter. He was a local philanthropist and set up a programme called Out of Poverty to help young families. It went global. I don’t suppose you’ve heard of him.’

Anna smiled and said, ‘Are you expecting a lot of people?’

‘Sold out,’ called out one of the sopranos, who peered at Anna over her glasses. ‘If you want to come, I’m sure we find a camping chair or something.’

‘Jean! That’s not very kind,’ said one of the altos standing behind her.

‘Thank you,’ said Anna, slipping off her coat as the heating in the church warmed her blood.

Ray tapped his music stand with the tip of his baton. ‘I want to go through the Agnus Dei again. Basses, let’s hear your part first.’  He coughed to get the attention of the organist, a student from Birmingham Conservatoire, who was checking his mobile phone.

As the choir were taken through their paces, Anna looked around the church, marvelling at the generosity of George Cadbury, a Quaker, who set aside land in the garden village of Bournville for an Anglican church.  She loved its openness and the light that filled every part of the building. The acoustics were wonderful she thought as the young soloist hit a top B flat with perfect pitch. She felt the goose bumps on her arm.

‘Break for refreshments,’ called Ray, turning to Anna. ‘I’m sure you’d like a warm drink. It’s hard to believe we’ve had this Arctic weather in March, especially with Easter round the corner.’

He guided her towards the vestry where a large urn was steaming away. ‘What can I get you? Tea? Coffee?’

‘Tea please. No milk.’

A woman with grey hair cut into a severe bob approached them with a plate of biscuits.

‘Are you from round here?’ It seems very strange for someone to walk into a church on a Wednesday night for no reason.

‘I live in London but I have a friend on Bournville Lane. I’m visiting her.’

‘Do you sing?’

‘Well. A bit. I like to sing in the shower,’ Anna said with a nervous laugh.

‘Not quite the same thing, is it dear?’ butted in Jean. ‘Some of us could have been professionals.’

A low murmuring of voices filled Anna’s ears as she tried hard not to eavesdrop. Someone was muttering that the Lady Winter was supposed to be coming to the service but no confirmation had been received.

‘Rude, if you ask me. I asked the Vicar at the church council meeting on Monday and he said it was all in hand.’

‘Shall I take that cup from you? We’ve got another forty five minutes or so of rehearsal but you are welcome to stay. You can have a copy of the music if you like. To follow.’

A man with mischievous blue eyes leaned over her shoulder and said, ‘You can sit in the choir stalls and have a sing. There’s a spare seat next to me.’

‘With the best will in the world I don’t think she can sing tenor,’ said Jean with a scowl.

‘I’m fine thank you.’

Ray ushered them back to their seats and spent the rest of the time unpicking some tricky passages in the Requiem Aeternam.

‘Sopranos, bar 18. You are flat. Mark, can you play that section again. Just the top part.’

Anna felt that Peter Winter would be very impressed by the effort the Bournville Singers had made to make his memorial service a success. A glow of satisfaction burned her cheeks as she rested her feet on a hassock, embroidered with doves. It was most appropriate she thought as she buttoned up her coat and slipped on her gloves. The walk back to her friend’s house through the chocolate-box village of Bournville was a treat, especially if the snow was still falling.

As the choir members spilled out of their places and into the nave of the church, she stood up and smiled.

‘Thank you for having me as your guest. I am sure the concert is going to be wonderful. Thank you all on behalf of my husband.’

Jean stopped in her tracks and frowned at Ray.

‘Your husband? Is he connected to Bournville? I’m sorry. I’m confused. What did you say your name was?’

Anna turned her eyes to the west facing St. Francis window which her husband told her received the most glorious light on sunny days.

‘I’m sorry I didn’t. I’m Lady Anna Winter.’