A Bairns' Christmas conductor calls it a day after 34 years

The festive season is one of the most traditional times of the year ... but one institution is about to change for 2017.

Thursday, 29th December 2016, 3:30 pm
Updated Thursday, 29th December 2016, 3:30 pm
Bob Tait retires after 34 years conducting the Bairns' Christmas show. Picture: Michael Gillen

A Bairns’ Christmas took place earlier this month for the 34th occasion as Falkirk Caledonia Choir, Falkirk Festival Chorus and Falkirk Tryst Orchestra performed on the stage in the town hall.

They delighted their appreciative audience of all ages with a seasonal mixture of carols and Christmas songs.

Although the venue is booked again for next year one important component will be missing.

Well actually two, for conductor Bob Tait and his accompanist wife Christine have decided to finally call it a day and put their sheet music aside to let others pick up the challenge of keeping 110 talented amateur singers and 70 musicians in tune.

Bob said: “I’ll be 75 later this year and decided it was perhaps time to retire. Although it is supposed to be a hobby, it takes up an amazing amount of time.

“It’s been a great experience but now it’s time for someone else to take over.”

A former music teacher, he taught pupils in Denny, Falkirk, Woodlands and Larbert High Schools before ending up as manager of the music service in Fife.

He believed there was a place for a oratorio choir in the area and was instrumental in calling a meeting in 1973 to set one up. Falkirk Festival Chorus had its first performance of Handel’s Messiah the following year. For the next few years it alternated a Christmas concert with a production of The Messiah in the then Falkirk Old Parish Church where Bob remains as organist and choirmaster.

Bringing on board Falkirk Caledonia Choir and the then Falkirk Orchestra, the first Bairns’ Christmas was born in 1983 ... and has taken place every year since.

Such is its popularity that there are now two performances on the Sunday prior to Christmas. For several years Bob used to ‘recruit’ musicians for the orchestra and they would rehearse with the choirs on the afternoon of the performance.

But he eventually realised there was a need for a group and the Tryst Orchestra was born in 2002, taking its name from the annual festival where it first performed.

He will conduct the Festival Chorus for the final time in May with its production of The Messiah, eventually bowing out days later after a final time as conductor of Tryst Orchestra.

Reflecting on his years of involvement, he said: “Sadly, a lot of those I’ve worked with are no longer with us. However, a lot of people have had a tremendous musical experience preparing and appearing on stage to give a faithful performance. It’s shown what a community choir can achieve.”

Finding someone to take over Bob’s roles will be a task for both the choir and orchestra in the New Year. But he will never be replaced in the affections of all who have worked alongside him.

n One of the carols sung this year, Sleep, my Jesu’ was specially composed and made freely available for use by choirs, with the request that a donation be made to Macmillan Cancer Support. The sum of £582.85 was raised.