Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Are you ready to WASSAIL?

The test of a good caroller, I've decided, is how many notes you think there are in "born the king of angels."

Anyway, that was fun. We carolled in the coffee lounge, mince pies were eaten, >£80 made for NSPCC.

I seem to have discovered my metier as a bass. If I possibly can then I prefer tenor, even if it comes out slightly flat (you don't notice if everyone is joining in). However, one of our number hadn't been able to join in the rehearsals due to a sore throat which has now gone; when I woke up yesterday I had a fair idea of where it had gone to. Sticking to bass seemed less likely to crack on the high notes like a fourteen-year-old. Of course, not actually being able to sight read music, my version of "bass" is the main tune sung a couple of octaves too low. But hey, it works.

We gave them the ever-cheerful Coventry Carol, 'O Little Town of Bethlehem' (with descant), 'King Jesus Hath a Garden', 'Away in a Manger' and 'O Come All ye Faithful' (also with descant). I can just about sing 'Away in a Manger' nowadays without coming out in hives. Well, you try being a five foot kid with choir training in a church of flat-voiced whispering children all at the four foot level, being made to stand out the front with the kiddies and sing the bloody thing year after year.

My editorial nature likes to pick at the inconsistencies in carols - like "Little Lord Jesus no crying he makes" versus "Tears and smiles like us he knew". My new issue is with 'King Jesus Hath a Garden'. I wasn't familiar with this one until a week ago, but take my word for it that in said garden:

" ...naught is heard
but Paradise bird
harp, dulcimer, lute
with cymbal
trump and tymbal
and the tender soothing flute."
So, naught is heard but ... and the song goes on to list eight things you can actually hear, which rather softens the impact of the naught. I can currently hear ... traffic on the road, the computer's fan, keyboard clicking, and very faint noises off from the other end of the flat. So in peaceful Paradise I can hear four more things than I currently can here.

Further, of those total eight, I just can't imagine harp and lute, two very gentle instruments, being accompanied by a cymbal and trumpet. Nor am I entirely sure what a tymbal is, apart from an obvious rhyme with cymbal that I'm coming to suspect they made up. ('Thimble' was probably tried but dropped for not making sense in the context, and they couldn't really tie it in with The Fugitive, so couldn't use Kimble either. They could have got 'nimble' in with a bit of effort.) I understand that birds of paradise have a song like a corncrake so maybe all those instruments are needed to drown the creature out, and the tender soothing flute is the musical analgesic one needs by the end of it all.

It's good to sing carols from different times with different takes on the English language. Filtering through it all helps you focus on the perennial take-home messages rather than anything cute, Victorian and snowy.

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