This morning in the village church of Cerne Abbas, we invited the children of the local primary school to come and listen to a rehearsal of Aaron Copland’s attractive piece, Appalachian Spring (part of tonight’s concert programme). It lasts around 25 minutes, quite a long while for young children to sit quietly, which they did. Towards the end of the piece, Copland brings in the lovely Shaker hymn ‘Simple Gifts’ with its well-known words, ”Tis a gift to be simple, ’tis a gift to be free’.
I was playing the piano at the back of the ensemble and was turned at right angles to the audience, so I couldn’t see them, but suddenly I heard what sounded like an angelic choir singing along with ‘Simple Gifts’, perfectly in tune. I turned to my right to see all the children unselfconsciously singing along with us, their little faces seriously raised towards the stage. It was a most beautiful effect, a choir of young children suddenly added to the instrumental ensemble, and I must say I had tears in my eyes. Had Copland been in the church he might have wanted to rewrite the piece and add a choir of children to his original score. But of course what made it particularly sweet this morning was that their contribution was spontaneous, unrepeatable.