Friday 5 December 2014

Christmas lights

Today was the day for turning on the lights along the small row of shops in our village. There was a big turnout of all ages, and a loud countdown to the pressing of the switch. It's actually only a dummy switch, and the real reason for the countdown is so that the person waiting by the real switch can hear when to press it! A bit like Father Christmas for the kids, really – everyone knows but nobody says. The switch is pressed and the light comes on – so what if the cause and effect link isn't exactly what it seems!

Enveloping the moment of the lights coming on is the carol singing, everyone joining in at full volume in the open air. And, for that, I take my piano accordion along – it's good fun to lead a crowd enjoying their carols. However, it has to be said that it's not the same as playing on the towpath in June. I dress up warmly, and I have a nice pair of red-and-black striped fingerless gloves, but the temperature at 4.30 p.m. in early December is still guaranteed to remove the feeling from my fingers in about five minutes. Doesn't matter too much for the right hand – it's a keyboard and after all these years my fingers pretty much know what they're doing without too much intervention from my brain. Anyway, I can always glance down.

The left hand is a different matter. I've played the accordion since I was 11, but I only got my own last year, and my fingers have never acquired the same degree of automation on the buttons as on the keys of a piano. When I play, I'm mostly working it out from first principles on the hoof. That's not too bad – until you can no longer feel your fingers. Then your only clue as to whether you hit the button(s) you were trying for is the sound – catch it quick, work out where you are relative to where you should be, and switch. With a bit of luck, and if you do it quickly enough, nearly everyone will think it was a cunning modulation or embellishment slipped in to liven things up. Unfortunately, when you're playing for a sizeable group in the open air it can be a bit like playing the piano underwater with cotton wool in your ears (if you'll forgive my metaphor-mixing). With the sound taking a while to register, your last hope of staying on track disappears. Then the danger is that the analytical part of the brain is so busy working out what to do that any connection to the right hand also evaporates and lively embellishments start to happen down that side of the instrument as well.

But turning out for village carol singing is one of the joys of life, even with frozen fingers. I love it.


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