Like many other people around the country - or indeed the globe - I found myself at a loose end at times during Lockdown 1.
I was still working, but for a couple of months I was at the office for fewer days per week to limit my travelling, working longer hours each day to compensate.
When not at work, I spent time homeschooling our youngest child - welcome relief for my husband, who bore the brunt of this testing experience. I devoted a fair number of hours to soup-making, to the unanticipated delight of the elder children, and cleaned areas of my home that had never previously seen the merest whisper of sanitation.
My husband and I indulged in an evening walk each day, discovering areas hitherto unknown to us. And I tried my hand at writing a Nativity play. Well, how hard could it be? Surely the story pretty much told itself….
The seed of this idea had its roots in a brainwave I had some years ago for my friend and I to get our musical heads together and create a Christmas production. I had no doubt this friend - highly musically talented, and a gifted instrumentalist - would be the perfect partner for this festive venture.
Full of initial enthusiasm, I scribbled a few lyrics down on a piece of paper, wrote out the basic notes of a tune - and promptly forgot all about it. However, the concept must have been hovering somewhere at the edges of my consciousness because when life paused in its relentless busyness for a short while, I allowed the prospect of playwriting to float back into view.
Inflated with renewed enthusiasm, I scrabbled inside the dim recesses of the piano stool to locate the scrap of paper I had flippantly discarded all those years ago, eventually emerging triumphant.
By this time, my friend - who, it should be said, had known nothing of the enterprise at any point - had moved away from the Bay and was preoccupied with her own musical opus.
Bereft, but undaunted, I made the bold decision to fly solo, and set to work with vigour. I love the essence of Nativity plays, the way they find novel ways to reiterate the best-known story in the world, with a variety of hooks (talking animals) and fanciful features (talking stars) to engage the attention of the young actors and cutely captivate their audiences.
Year upon year, I have gazed indulgently at the lisping infants, creative costumes, inevitable mishaps and overwhelming joyousness that are part and parcel of school Christmas plays.
Few parents can fail to be moved by the sight of their gorgeous offspring wandering haphazardly around the stage, missing cues, facing the wrong direction, and forgetting their one line; it's a beautiful example of humanity at its most lovable.
Lately, there has been a trend to move away from a traditional retelling of the story to a more imaginative interpretation, but I wanted to get to the heart of the story - Mary. She is the vital core of this ever-amazing tale, and I placed her very firmly at the centre.
Early on in the creative process, I established that eight simple songs - a mixture of duets and ensemble pieces - would be an achievable goal. I quickly realised the melody into which
I had already made overtures would not be the primary piece of the play; I wanted an upbeat song to initiate proceedings, and this one was promising to be more reflective in tone, exploring the encounter between the Archangel Gabriel and Mary. I took up my pencil, and began to set the scene….
A few weeks later, having expended every spare minute on composing and writing, I added the final exclamation mark to the libretto and placed the closing bar line on the score: the play was complete.
Sadly, the ravages of the pandemic precluded any opportunity for performance, and it wasn't until this year that I tentatively approached my younger son's Catholic primary school to enquire whether staff would consider using it for this year's production.
To my astonished delight, they said yes, and plans are afoot for the play to be shown in the church one evening during the final week of term. I am thrilled and terrified in equal measure, not least because I have limited expertise in composition (GCSE Music was many moons ago) and really have no idea whether the songs can come together successfully. I am crossing fingers and toes and hoping for the best; watch this space.
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