Headington Headlines #41

Here is my round-up of local news for the week 5 – 11 December —

Like them or loathe them, the Christmas lights in Headington sparked a big debate on the e-democracy forum this week.

Sobell House Hospice (by the Churchill Hospital) benefited from £200 raised by @OxTwitChoir (the Oxford Twitter Choir), organised by @Ox_Bex of Bayswater/Sandhills.

@TVP_Marston hosted a Coffee With Cops meeting at Café Bonjour on Wednesday, giving local people an opportunity to meet their local police team and raise any matters of concern. They report it went well.

The Masons Arms (@TheMasonsArmsHQ) made it to second place in CAMRA’s Oxford City Pub-of-the-Year competition. Far From The Madding Crowd was top.

Oxford City Council granted permission for The Bricklayers Arms in Church Lane, Old Marston, to become a four-bedroom house, with five new homes in the grounds. Oxford Car Audio on Cherwell Drive closed.

Costa Coffee have submitted a planning application (11/03106/FUL) to change the frontage of what was Cartridge World on the London Road. To open a coffee shop they’ll have to get a change of use agreed, which might not be easy.

The Barton Area Action Plan Proposed Submission goes to the City Council 0n 19 Dec. Download it here: http://bit.ly/uqjNek

My favorite Headington-related tweet this week:

Active topics on the Headington & Marston e-democracy forum this week:

  • Christmas lights in Headington
  • Londis corner shop in receivership
  • Library
  • Church Bells in Ferry Rd, Marston
  • Blocked drain/leak on corner of Headley Way and Staunton Road
  • Oxford Car Audio
I try to cover news from the OX3 postcode in Headington and out as far as Barton, Sandhills and Risinghurst (see map). To feed into next week’s summary you can comment on this article, or tweet either with the hashtag #ox3 or @mentioning @TonyOX3.

Oxford Twitter Choir

I’ve been on twitter for about a year now. I think I’ve avoided becoming a twitter obsessive but I enjoy using it – it’s fun, amusing, and informative. But if for me it’s just an indulgence it’s particularly nice when it can be the means of doing something real and positive.

The Oxford Twitter Choir @OxTwitChoir was created out of nothing a year ago by @Ox_Bex. A group of people who had either only ‘met’ on twitter, or had met in the real world through twitter, got together to sing Christmas carols at the Oxford Castle Christmas market in aid of charity. I’d only just started tweeting so didn’t feel right about going.

But a year later I’ve (real world) met quite a few of the Oxford twitterati and ‘met’ and chatted with many more. So when @Ox_Bex announced a repeat performance in aid of Sobell House Hospice I agreed to go along.

Which is how yesterday I joined up with around two dozen others at the castle clutching our song-sheets and determined to sing as loudly as possible in the hope that something tuneful would emerge and people would give lots of money. Gareth Malone would be proud of us – this was genuine grass-roots community singing in action. With a few notable exceptions none of us had any discernable singing training, but does that matter? Gareth would surely say ‘No’.

An hour from 12.00 to 1.00, a pub lunch break, and a repeat performance from 2.30 to 3.30 may not have had the Castle crowds rocking around the Christmas tree, but it did tap their generosity to the extent of raising £200.45 for Sobell House.

Photo: @OxfordCityGuide

So well done to everyone who turned out, but especially to @Ox_Bex who organised it all, and a special ‘thank-you’ to the students from Stanford University who have been here this term and who came along to sing as part of our choir.

Handel’s Messiah at The Queen’s College

Even though I heard a fair amount of classical music as a child it hasn’t been a major part of my life since then, so I don’t feel qualified to write a review of the concert I went to yesterday evening. I shall call this an ‘appreciation’ instead.

The Queen’s College choir is rated as one of the best in Oxford so a full-scale performance in the College chapel easily got me out in the cold to walk down into the City. With chairs set out on the chapel floor and in the ante-chapel I estimate the audience must have been about 300. Congestion and late arrivals delayed the start of the performance by some 15 minutes to around 7.45. The twenty-eight strong choir was accompanied by the Queen’s Consort (leader Caroline Balding) – strings, oboes (2), trumpets(2), timpani, and harpsichord/organ. Choir and Consort were all under the direction of Owen Rees.

The short instrumental Sinfony opening the performance got off to a slightly shaky start but after a few minutes it all came together and from then on everything went well. Tenor William Blake opened as the first soloist and led confidently into the entry of the full chorus with And The Glory of the Lord.

Owen Rees used the opportunity to give as many choir members as possible a chance to perform a solo, so a succession of voices alternated with the full choir. Their enthusiasm was obvious, with the choir and their musical scores bobbing in time with the music. Discreetly bobbing, of course. Although inevitably some soloists managed better than others the standard was extremely high and I think it would be unfair of me (what do I know about choral music? Very little.) to single out any for special praise or criticism. I would rate them all from Very Good to Excellent.

Whenever I go to a live performance I hope there’ll be a point where the performance itself takes over and I stop being aware of being a spectator. This happened towards the end of the first part during Flora Allen and Sheena Wong’s duet of He Shall Feed His Flock, not one of the Messiah’s blockbusters but one of the highlights for me.

A fifteen minute interval followed His Yoke is Easy (Chorus). They work you hard at Queen’s, it seems: the choir filed out through the audience to loud applause; most of the audience then headed for the Hall for wine or soft drinks where we found the choir members drafted in to serve the drinks and take the cash!

The second half began bizarrely. There seemed to be a few thumps and bangs during the choir’s opening chorus. Then Tara Mansfield’s gentle solo He was Despised was accompanied by the flashes and bangs of a firework performance somewhere close by (I suspect Magdalen!*). Mansfield carried on unfazed while the choir and audience allowed themselves a few smiles. Am I wrong to suspect that Owen Rees indicated the choir should turn up the volume for Surely He Hath Borne Our Griefs that followed? Result: Choir 2: Fireworks 1.

The performance continued, thankfully firework-free by now, to climax with the Hallelujah Chorus with the audience standing and demurely tapping its collective feet. No-one seemed inclined to sing along. Then a five minute breather before the short third part ended with the full Consort and Choir’s Amen.

It was a really enjoyable evening. The acoustics in Queen’s chapel are excellent for performances like this, and the choir lived up to the reputation it has earned over the past years under the tutelage of Rees. My ancient mobile phone could only manage a grainy picture in the low light, but for what it’s worth here is the scene.

* see comment