Rain lashed against our bowed heads as we rattled the right hand side door of the church. It was locked. We three weary mothers leaned our shoulders into the driving wind as we circumnavigated the church to try our luck at the left hand side door. It was marked, ‘Reserved For Junior Infants.’ Turning at last to the main entrance (always the last resort), we squeezed ourselves on to a wooden bench against the back wall.
The church was filled to capacity as the entire school body, students, teachers, SNAs, secretary and caretaker, were packed in like sardines. Two dozen or so parents who had managed to escape from work were huddled in the last two rows.
My Small Girl was out of sight in those Reserved seats on the left. My Middle Girl was in the front row and I saw the Headmaster walk over and, presumably, ask her if she was sure she was well enough to sing her solo. Oh my nerves. We are not accustomed to solo performances in this house. Neither Husband or I, nor either of the Teenagers would be inclined to sing in public. But Middle Girl has music in her veins. She sang before she could talk. She sings in her sleep. She is a singer. She didn’t volunteer for this solo. She was asked to do it.
Singer she may be but also sadly prone to coughs and colds and sore throats Despite all my administrations of cough bottles, soothing lozenges and honeyed hot drinks the chances of her singing were still fifty/fifty when I dropped her off at school.
The service began with Oh Come All Ye Faithful. Headmaster invited the parents to join in and I did try. I love to sing in the security of a crowd and thought that surely I could manage it under the cover of 300 children’s voices. Alas, at every attempt, a golf ball-sized lump welled up in my throat and my eyes filled with tears. What is that all about?
Every single year, from the very first note, the carol service reduces me to tears.
One of my favourite teachers, a quiet and reserved woman, sang Suantraí na Maighdine which I haven’t heard since my Irish College days. The golf ball stretched to sliotar-size.
We Three Kings Of Orient Are warmed us up at bit. Who could resist that slide into Oh-oh star of wonder, star of might, star of royal beauty bright, westward leading…are you singing?
A few more songs and prayers and we came to my girl, standing all alone at the altar, accompanied only by her teacher on a box drum, singing The Little Drummer Boy. She was just lovely, so solemn and earnest. The voice might have cracked once or twice but, if anything, it made it better. There was a round of warm applause and appreciative head-nodding. My fellow mothers grabbed a mop and wiped me up off the floor.
A few more songs passed while I managed to pull myself together to concentrate on O Holy Night. It’s such a big and brave song, we wouldn’t hear it performed too often at our school carol service so there was a shuffle of apprehension at the opening chords.
Oh my God. Such a joyous thing. One boy, maybe eight or nine years old and one teacher beside him, supporting each other and singing as though their hearts would burst. It’s not what you are prepared for at ten o’clock on a wet Wednesday morning. This boy has one of those voices, not affected or stagey, but simply innocent and pure, that makes you stop in your tracks and wonder at the absolute miracle of it. A perfect thing.
We heard the angels’ voices. I wish you could have been there.
We don’t regularly burst into applause in the church. You do know that only happens in movies, don’t you? This was the very first, instantaneous and almost involuntary standing ovation I have ever seen. The children didn’t quite know how to react, being under strict warning to stay glued to their seats, but the headmaster gauged the atmosphere in a instant and brought them to their feet. Mothers passed around tissues to wipe away tears and snot. I don’t know the boy’s mother. I hope she is doing OK.
Click on this. It will do you good: