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  • Michael Smith

Winter Poems by Candlelight - a magical evening at St James'

St James’ Church at Stanstead Abbotts resounded to a magical evening of poetry and music this December as folk gathered in this ancient setting to enjoy Winter Poems by Candlelight, a collection of poems put together for us by Nicky Parker.

Four readers, Stuart Handysides, Anton Kadouchkine, Nicky Parker and Michael Smith, under the expert direction of Michael Ashman, treated us to a magical evening in which poetry seemed to emerge from every corner of the church.

The evening was further enhanced by four poems in Russian, read for us beautifully by Anton who himself comes from Russia and whose performance was a particular highlight of the evening.

Six hundred years of poetry in one evening...

Over 100 people took their seats in the Georgian box pews to listen to works whch ranged from the Gawain-poet of the 1390s through Keats and Dickens and on to modern classics by poets including TS Eliot, Kit Wright and Dylan Thomas.

Of course, the box pews of the church form an integral part in creating the magic of the evening. Because they enclose the audience, they focus the mind very much on listening rather than watching the performance. So, as the audience sat in rapt silence, the readers processed to various points of the church, speaking over and into the audience in their boxes.

Ancient music, beautifully played...

The performance achieved a further magical dimension with the addition of the music of Dr Jon Banks, himself a musical director of the Globe Theatre in London. As the readers took us on their 600 year journey of festive poetry, Jon accompanied them with wonderful array of instruments including a 100-year old Greek Santouri. He also created an extra dimension in playing the accordion to accompany the audience in singing In the Bleak Midwinter and The Holly and the Ivy.

Yet again, St James proved itself to be a magical place to start the Christmas season. The church, beautifully decorated in festive holly and ivy, was a tribute to the selfless work of our volunteers – in particular, Suzy Richardson and Anne Sauntson who did so much to create a magical atmosphere, and to Adrian Powter of the Churches Conservation Trust who also worked stoically all afternoon to get the church ready (and supply some delicious gingerbread to go with the mince pies and port!).

And later that night, after the performance, snow fell upon St James. Winter had arrived.

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