Log in

No account? Create an account
entries friends calendar profile Previous Previous Next Next
Voices singing in our ears - shadows of echoes of memories of songs — LiveJournal
Voices singing in our ears
I seem to have spent a lot of the last few days with my head full of Christmas carols, and I'm getting increasingly frustrated at how difficult it is to search for carols which I half-remember. Google is excellent in very many ways, but hasn't quite got to the stage where I can sing a few notes of music at it and expect to get back full details of the song.

The one that's niggling at the edge of my consciousness at the moment is a version of "Tomorrow shall be my dancing day" which I've sung before but haven't been able to find since; it's a modern and rhythmically rather unusual version, but beyond that I'm not sure how I can describe it without singing it.

It's during carol-singing season that I can't help wishing that I'd taken GCSE German instead of Greek; apart from the occasional kyrie eleison Greek isn't much help to me in a choral context. If I had a little more German I wouldn't have to rely on Google's translation skills, which created a gloriously dissociated mess out of this one:
"It is a Ros risen from a root tenderly like us old sungen, out jesse came the kind and has a Bluem flax broke in the middle in the cold winter probably to the half night the Roeslein which I means, of it Jeaja says, has us alone brought Marie the pure farm servant out God ewgem advice, has it a child born, probably to the half night"

Somehow I think we'll be sticking to the German version; hopefully at some point before the 20th I'll have time to get my pronunciation sorted out. Our conscientious junior Organ Scholar at Pembroke would have been ashamed of me, after the amount of time he put in to getting the choir syllable-perfect for "Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern", which apart from being a fantastic chorale in its own right forms the accompaniment to Peter Cornelius's Three Kings from Persian Lands Afar.

Part of the reason I'm so keen on Three Kings... is undoubtedly the associations it has for me, as it was always a staple of my school's Carol Services, which were in many ways the highlight of my school year. Loughborough High School's Carol Services were really quite a production; four 'performances' (two afternoon, two evening) and fairly lengthy. The format was a kind of elaborated nine-lessons-and-carols; in addition to the traditional carols (sung by school and congregation) and Bible readings, there were non-Scriptural readings, carols and Christmas songs sung only by the choirs, and a number of tableaux of famous paintings of the Nativity, the Annunciation, various Adorations, and so on.

A role in the Tableaux (for they were always spoken of with a capital letter) was something that nearly everybody aspired to; fortunate indeed were the junior girls who managed to get parts as shepherd-boys and juvenile Saints. Once in the exalted ranks of the Sixth, everybody who wanted to had a chance to participate; by then, nearly everybody wanted to be an Angel, notwithstanding the excruciating half-kneeling positions that Annunciation seems to require of the messenger. These positions, of course, had to be maintained for the duration of the reading or song which accompanied the relevant tableau.

The readings were many and varied. My first Carol Service was the first time I'd heard the opening of the Gospel according to St John; and after fourteen more years of studying language, literature, humanity and God, I still don't think I can do anything more than adulterate it by trying to describe it.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.

In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe. He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.

He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.

And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.

Among the non-Scriptural readings, the Carol Services also introduced me to something which rapidly became (and has remained) another favourite -- Eliot's The Journey of the Magi:

'A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For the journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.'
And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
And running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.

Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wine-skins,
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory.

In the services, the reading always ended here; it wasn't until many years and carol services had passed that I came to read the poem, and discovered that there was a final stanza which cast a whole new light on the poem:

All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death,
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.

That extra stanza, when I realised it existed, shocked me; suddenly the poem seemed to have been smuggled into the service under false pretences, twisted to suit a different agenda. It seems naive now but at the time it was an important lesson for me: we choose where to end our stories; it's how we give them meaning.

The climax of the service was a tableau of The Madonna of the Candelabra; the stage was masked by a screen with a circular aperture in it, and from either side of this a flame-haired angel gazed adoringly at the Virgin with the Child on her lap. This was the only tableau which featured a real child -- a suitably photogenic kindergarten kiddie was bribed with sweets to sit still for the duration of Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring. The choir was in darkness for this song, so as not to detract from the low lighting for the tableau; we had to know the words by heart. I sang it as a wide-eyed junior, craning round in every pause to see the pretty angels because I'd never seen anything like the Tableaux before; I sang it as a senior who knew her school-days were nearly over; and every single one of those nearly 30 times I had tears in my eyes through the final verse:

Word of God, our flesh that fashioned
With the fire of life impassioned
Striving still to truth unknown,
Soaring, dying round thy throne.

After the last notes and their aftermath had faded away, the house lights came back up, everybody stood up, and choir and congregation sang "O Come All Ye Faithful", with the school choirs taking the descant. The subsequent recessional always felt like something of an anticlimax, but it didn't matter; the important bits had already happened. We choose where to end our stories.
Read 24 | Write
rbarclay From: rbarclay Date: December 3rd, 2003 07:48 am (UTC) (Link)
Google's translation skills, which created a gloriously dissociated mess out of this one:

Small wonder google's no good with that, as it's the written version of an artificial, eg non-existant, kind of slang. Try http://ingeb.org/spiritua/esistein.html ;)
imc From: imc Date: December 3rd, 2003 09:01 am (UTC) (Link)
The English words on that page were of course set to music by Herbert Howells. I'm told it's one of a trilogy, the other two being Sing Lullaby and Here is the Little Door (and not many people know that).
j4 From: j4 Date: December 3rd, 2003 09:14 am (UTC) (Link)
Ah, that's better -- thank you! I'm surprised to find that it's slang, though... I'd assumed it was just archaisms and poetic turns of speech that Google was (unsurprisingly) failing to cope with.
rbarclay From: rbarclay Date: December 3rd, 2003 10:24 am (UTC) (Link)
Well, slang. Remember, this comes out of the general region of the Alps, eg a chain of mountains across central Europe. Every valley had of course their own version of German (and some other languages), pretty much incompatible to everyone outside (some still have ;) ). Modern German is a pretty new thing, I think the language was only kinda standardized late 19th/early 20th century. This song is something sounding vaguely like generalized&smoothed Tyrolean, and originally probably is of late 18th/early 19th century.
From: bibliogirl Date: December 3rd, 2003 07:58 am (UTC) (Link)
I only know one version of Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day - are there others? (But hey, until I tried that carol quiz earlier on, I had no idea there was more than one version of Away In A Manger, either. I hang my head in shame.) Though the version I know isn't especially unusually rhythmed, which probably means it's not the version you're talking about...
teleute From: teleute Date: December 3rd, 2003 08:10 am (UTC) (Link)
Theres an English verwsion and an American version of Away in the Manger. However, they're not too dissimilar, and so now that I know both (I sung the American one last year at church) I keep switching between then around about the middle of each verse.
imc From: imc Date: December 3rd, 2003 08:56 am (UTC) (Link)
I don't know the English and American versions, but I do know that the original green edition of Carols for Choirs had two different tunes, the second being in A minor and one that I rather like.
teleute From: teleute Date: December 3rd, 2003 10:25 pm (UTC) (Link)
hmm, I have been told the one that begins with a rising fourth (C, F, F, G, A, F) is the English version, and the falling scale (G, G, F, E, E, D) is the American one, but ath could just be because I know the first and I'm English, and all the Americans I'm surrounded by know the second.
imc From: imc Date: December 4th, 2003 04:50 am (UTC) (Link)
Ah yes, that one does sound vaguely familiar now you mention it. You are probably right about it being the American tune. (I can change my answer on the quiz to three now. <g>)
teleute From: teleute Date: December 4th, 2003 08:13 am (UTC) (Link)
is there another as well?
imc From: imc Date: December 4th, 2003 08:21 am (UTC) (Link)
The aforementioned A-minor tune - it isn't either of the versions you were talking about. (I think it may actually be French in origin.)
huskyteer From: huskyteer Date: December 3rd, 2003 08:03 am (UTC) (Link)
One of the few things I enjoyed at boarding-school was the Christmas Reading. This was something only my house did: carols and readings in the common room, us in pyjamas, a few invited teachers.

One year I composed two original pieces of writing for this ceremony, which went down very well; one was Father Christmas as hardboiled detective, the other was about a man turning up unexpectedly to wish his mother a happy Christmas, with the revelation at the end that he had in fact died in a car crash at the time of their conversation.

The Latin students would sing a Latin carol, the French students a French carol ect. I was always glad that I did German rather than Spanish GCSE, as the German carols were so much prettier.

And afterwards, Christmas cake and those long iced buns universally known as Sticky Willies.
teleute From: teleute Date: December 3rd, 2003 08:09 am (UTC) (Link)
for a very obvious reason, I know both versions of Tomorrow. The lilting one in triplets is arranged by Wilcocks, and the more bouncy jumpy one is John Gardener's.

Tha Tableaux sound wonderful, I've never seen anything like that, and I really want to now :)
From: bibliogirl Date: December 3rd, 2003 08:30 am (UTC) (Link)
Ah, it's the Wilcocks one I know, then; it's in triplets.
karen2205 From: karen2205 Date: December 3rd, 2003 08:24 am (UTC) (Link)
Am I supposed to be getting weird flashbacks to Chalet School books with your descriptions of the Carol Service? - references to 'juniors' and 'seniors' in that context, 'the Sixth', Tableaux etc....
j4 From: j4 Date: December 3rd, 2003 09:30 am (UTC) (Link)
j4 went scarlet. karen2205 was awfully on the spot sometimes!

"I suppose I did mean it," she said, rather shamefacedly. "I didn't think anybody would notice."

"My dear girl!" exclaimed Karen. "At least credit us with the sense we're born with!"

"I'm sorry," muttered the smaller girl, crimson to the roots of her long pigtails.

"Well, since you're new, I'll let it go this time; but don't let me catch you doing it again," said karen2205, outwardly every inch the prefect, but inwardly chuckling as she thought what Joey's reaction would be when she told her the story over Kaffee und Kuchen.
imc From: imc Date: December 3rd, 2003 08:44 am (UTC) (Link)
Tomorrow shall be my dancing day

Does this help?
bopeepsheep From: bopeepsheep Date: December 3rd, 2003 09:29 am (UTC) (Link)
I have bought myself two carols books over the last three or four years - Merrily to Bethlehem which is a reissue of one we used at school, and the Novello Book of Carols, both in an attempt to finally get rid of the half-remembered earworms and get the proper words. Alas, neither of them has Winds Through The Olive Trees (which luckily I can remember), A Babe Is Born I Wys, or a few others I loved from school carols services. Our school complicated matters by having an annual carol competition (I won in 1st and 4th year!) so some of the ones I particularly like were written by my peers.

Merrily to Bethlehem does have Kings Came Riding, though, which is possibly the best carol for bloodthirsty small children (since you can do actions to go along with the planning of the Slaughter of the Innocents).

Mmm, only two-and-a-half weeks until the annual carol singing party (which we've missed two years running, alas).
bopeepsheep From: bopeepsheep Date: December 3rd, 2003 09:33 am (UTC) (Link)
Oh, and we sang in German, French, Italian, Latin and Czech as a matter of routine (Czech because Mrs Franek, a Czechoslovakian French teacher (?), helpfully provided the words and pronunciation). I didn't know O Tannenbaum had English words until I was about 20, since my mother and music teacher both taught it to me in German. Il Est Ne, Le Divine Enfant is dull in English. Poydem Spolu do Betlema (sp?) has no English equivalent that I know of. :-)
rbarclay From: rbarclay Date: December 3rd, 2003 10:32 am (UTC) (Link)
Hrmpf. Now I'm reminded of
O Tannenbaum,
O Tannenbaum,
mir geht die Haut beim Orsch ned zsamm.
"(Dear fir-tree, dear fir-tree, I can't get the skin on my ass back together)", the version of the song most popular amongst youngsters here ;)
vinaigrettegirl From: vinaigrettegirl Date: December 4th, 2003 03:45 am (UTC) (Link)

Thank you!! and carols and the cold coming...

Thank you for quoting so extensively from the service you recalled. What gorgeous stuff.... when I feel myself to be in the dark I remind myself that the "dark comprehended it not", but that I have at times comprehended the light and therefore cannot, after all, belong to the dark. An excellent year-round verse, but especially as the days grow shorter and shorter.

Eliot nicked that cold coming from a sermon of Launcelot Andrewes: Christmas, 1622. "It was no Summer Progresse... A cold comming they had of it, at this time of the yeare: just, the worst time of the yeare, to take a journey, and specially a long journey, in. The waies deep, the weather sharp, the daies short, the sunn farthest off in solstitio brumali, the very dead of winter." (and thanks to Adam Nicolson, whose scholarship I have nicked. If you haven't read The Power and the Glory yet you should: ripping yarn about how the KJB came to be...)

I take it that the Maddy Prior version isn't the one you wanted! Not in Carols for Choirs?

I haven't checked in at GirlsOwn for a million years, but there must be a lot of talk about 9L&C just now.
j4 From: j4 Date: December 4th, 2003 04:06 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thank you!! and carols and the cold coming...

When I go home for Christmas I'll try to remember to dig out the programmes/orders-of-service for some of the school Carol Services; that way I can trace all the songs and readings I half-remember. Fortunately I'm an obsessive souvenir-hoarder so I should have them all somewhere; unfortunately, I'm an extremely disorganised hoarder, so I suspect a needle/haystack scenario is indicated...

when I feel myself to be in the dark I remind myself that the "dark comprehended it not", but that I have at times comprehended the light and therefore cannot, after all, belong to the dark.

Am I right in thinking/remembering that "comprehended" here is not to do with understanding so much as with incorporating? I seem to recall that "the darkness comprehended it not" is nowadays translated as "the darkness did not overcome it".

Re Eliot's borrowing stealing, thank you -- I didn't know that one. (Which makes me realise with some surprise that the Magi is one of the few of my favourite Eliot poems which I haven't paperchased through allusions and footnoted references.)

I don't know a Maddy Prior version of "Tomorrow..." (it was that one you were talking about, yes?). Unfortunately she and the Carnival Band aren't playing Cambridge on their winter tour. I really should pick up a CD of her Christmas music; I love her version of "The Truth from Above", which is another of my favourites.

Last year I finally gave in to temptation and bought the green and orange Carols for Choirses, so I'm sure the one I want isn't in either of those.

What's GirlsOwn?
vinaigrettegirl From: vinaigrettegirl Date: December 4th, 2003 04:44 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: references, etc.

You'll like the Nicolson book, then...

Yes, MP has a CD with "Tomorrow...": Carols and Capers, on Saydisc, the companion to her collection of gallery hymns. Irresistable :-)

Re dark: I gather that "comprehended" was a deliberate choice of the KJB committeemen precisely because it allowed for multiple layers of meaning. I must consult my friends the classicists to be more sure of the etymologies, of course; but not all the modern translators give "overcome" as the Offical Right Word. :-)

This year's crop of sermons on Advent 1 seem to show up quite a lot of double meaning, referring to understanding as well as overcoming. Frex, from Andrew Bunch at St. Margaret's (disclaimer HERE: he isn't stupid, but expressly isn't an academic): "In our society, the concept of hope can easily be confused with the idea of wishing for something of transient importance... but the quality of hope [suggested by the Advent season] is hinted at by one verse in the first reading of the service, particularly in the Authorised Version: 'And the light shineth in the darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not'. The idea of hope, from the perspective of Advent, is an invitation to stretch our understanding of what we think is possible in this life, beyond the limits of what we think is either sensible or believable."

(He then goes on to list three instances from the readings where God comes up with apparently ridiculous suggestions, and how the people involved reacted: laughter, dumbstruck disbelief, and perplexity.)

I was delighted to see the last verse of the Eliot again - I wish I knew where my Eliot was. I can quite understand that having seen the Birth, the Magi could also see the death of what they had known previously, and found that condition wearying and flat (...stale, and unprofitable; or is it unprofitable and stale? asked Miss Meteyard).

What is GirlsOwn? aha! http://www.club-web.pwp.blueyonder.co.uk/girlsown/index.htm

It doesn't limit itself to book discussions, though. A quirky, bright bunch of [mostly] women, with one or two trollish types, alas. But I think you would rather like it; as e-communities go, it isn't flamey, and the clientele seem to range from 17-ish to 70-ish.
huskyteer From: huskyteer Date: December 4th, 2003 05:23 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: references, etc.

Oh yes, you'll like GirlsOwn. I thought I'd menched it at some point; slapped wrist for not doing so. My mama is a very keen member. And I have been published in their Christmas Annual :)
Read 24 | Write