There Came A Dream So Fair…….

Richard Crooks is not familiar to everyone, but his name is the one most likely to spring into my mind as Christmas approaches. The concept of Christmas means different things to different people. Some, especially in America, would have it a solely Christian festival, denied to those they class as “unbelievers”.

My concept of Christmas goes back to when I was seven or eight years old. Then, I had no clear idea of the Christian aspect, but believed fervently in Santa Claus, or Father Christmas as we called him in England.

That one year I had developed a passion to own my own gramophone and dutifully wrote of my desire in a letter to Father Christmas, posting it up the chimney and watching the red-hot, fiery embers – soldiers, we called them – marching up the chimney throat before being carried away on the updraught to Santa’s grotto at the North Pole.

Early Christmas morning found me creeping downstairs before dawn, profoundly excited as I glimpsed – not any old gramophone – but the very latest electric turntable, designed to play through the big walnut-cased, superheterodyne, valve (tubes, in American) radio receiver already esconsced on the family sideboard in the living room.

A note from Father Christmas, in a hand very similar to my father’s, demanded I not touch it until Daddy had arranged the wiring properly. Consequently, the next few hours were spent opening other presents and stuffing my face with candy, until later that morning the record player was ready for its first trial.

Some weeks before Christmas my mother had innocently asked me to name my favorite piece of music. Without hesitation, I proclaimed, “Jerusalem!” – the famous, nationalistic, hymn composed by William Blake and sung regularly at my grade school assembly, that begins:

“And did those feet in ancient times, walk upon England’s mountains green?”

I loved the rising crescendo that finally proclaims the question:

“And was Jerusalem builded here, among those dark, satanic mills?”

My mother was never renowned for either her precision or a good memory. So when the player was finally ready for the off, and I opened the big, wooden drawer that gave access to the turntable, there on the felt mat was a twelve inch bakelite platter entitled, “The Holy City” by Richard Crooks (tenor).

Not that I was at all bothered. Frankly, Daffy Duck performing “Oh, what a beautiful morning” from Oklahoma would have been just as welcome, but when the great man began to sing I knew he was definitely not Daffy Duck.

With a brand new record player and only one recording, the inevitable happened. Once Christmas dinner was done and the dishes cleared away, my parents rapidly disappeared into the front parlor to watch TV and left me alone to play, for the umpteenth time, “The Holy City” by Richard Crooks (tenor). As his rich, deep tones emanated from the ten inch speaker of the walnut-cased radio, the day slowly faded to twilight, and as I gazed in wonder out the window, snow began gently to fall outside.

That moment – the snow; the crackle of a coal fire; the twilight, and Richard Crooks singing “The Holy City”, will for me be forever the epitome of Christmas.

“Last night I lay a-sleeping, there came a dream so fair, I stood in old Jerusalem beside the temple there. I heard the church bells ringing, and ever as they rang, methought the voice of angels from heaven in answer sang…..”

I stopped believing in Father Christmas a few years later. I stopped believing in Christianity some years after that. But I still believe in Christmas, and I still believe in Richard Crooks.

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