Rodney clocks up 14 Christmas events

Ronnie Spence INPT01-201
Ronnie Spence INPT01-201

Organist Rodney Spence is giving his fingers a well-earned rest having accompanied no fewer than 14 yuletide events on instruments ranging from majestic organs to portable electronic pianos.

The concerts included the full three hours of Handel’s Messiah, to a primary school concert, and to carolling at Rushmere Shopping. And, as organist of Armagh Road Presbyterian Church, he organised, directed and accompanied the Festival of Lessons and Carols at the church. “Interesting, fulfilling and very busy,” said Richhill man Rodney, a retired teacher of English at Banbridge Academy.

The 14 events fell into the three-week run-up to the big day. The most prestigious was The Messiah in St Malachy’s Church Armagh, when he played the ‘Continuo’ part of the great work in the orchestra when the soloists were Karen Lynas, Nicola Knight, Matthew Day and Jeffrey Ledwidge. Rodney usually sings bass in the choir, but he was required among the musicians.

At the other end of the scale, so to speak, he played the accompaniment for the children of St John’s Primary School in Gilford, where proud families watched and listened to their little prides and joys singing traditional carols, and he went with the kids to Rushmere Shopping Centre where they did their bit.

Other events that benefitted from the flying fingers of Rodney Spence included two carol services at Banbridge Academy, with the music teacher flattened with a bout of the flu; three ‘specials’ given by the local choir ‘Cantilena’, a 12-voice harmony ensemble, at venues in Portadown, Lurgan and Cavan; a Christmas Spectacular at Lisburn Cathedral; playing with the local Lowry Singers at Kilmore Church of Ireland; supporting three small Church of Ireland choirs in County Louth; recording an Epiphany broadcast for the BBC near Omagh; and playing at Portadown’s PACE service at Armagh Road.

It all caught up with him on the pre-Christmas weekend when he had played at Kilmore Cathedral in County Cavan on the Saturday night, followed by his own Lessons and Carols in Armagh Road the following day.

He admitted, “I had arranged a final practice at Armagh Road for the choir at 10am for the 7pm service. But I’m afraid I slept in and was awakened when one of the choir phoned me at about 10.20 in the morning! The practice just didn’t happen, and I had to haul them back at six o’ clock for a final run-over.

“I feared they’d be under-practised, but they pulled out the stops and did really well. My alarm clock wasn’t working - at least that’s my excuse! But the choir members have a great sense of humour, not to mention their sense of timing and loyalty, so all’s well that ends well.

“They even gave me a present of a hamper afterwards, and word has it they’re collecting for a new alarm clock!”