Sunday, December 9, 2018

Hark! A madrigal or two.


One of the joys of the holiday season for us is taking in a performance of the Christmas Revels. There are a number of Revels organizations around the country -- our local branch is the Washington Revels -- but in all of them, everyone involved is a volunteer, and every year they put on a holiday show that features a different historical era or nation or both.

In DC, this year's show is set in Elizabethan England. There's a very loose storyline -- Elizabeth I travels to the town of Norwich to celebrate Yule with the country folk, and there runs into Will Kemp, a former member of Shakespeare's theater troupe. Kemp has just completed a marketing stunt: he has Morris danced the 100 miles from London to Norwich (which really happened, just not at Yule). Anyway, the point of a Revels show is the music; the storyline is a convenient scaffolding on which to hang a bunch of songs and dances. And they make the audience get up and sing, too. (One of these years I'm going to nail the arpeggio in the third part of "Dona Nobis Pacem," I swear it.)

Fun fact to know and tell: I went off to college intending to major in music. My first semester disabused me of the idea pretty rapidly, but I did gain a few things, among them an appreciation for Renaissance music. So I was pleased, but not really surprised, during yesterday's show when I found myself fa-la-la'ing along to a song I recognized because I have a recording of it.

I couldn't have told you the name of the tune, however; I had to look it up. It's a madrigal called "Hark all ye lovely saints above" by Thomas Weelkes. Wikipedia says Weelkes was the organist at Winchester College around 1600. Then he moved to Chichester Cathedral after earning a music degree from Oxford. He is best known for writing vocal music -- madrigals as well as music for Anglican services. He also apparently had a drinking problem and was a "notorious swearer and blasphemer." That last bit endears him to me, but apparently not to the church elders, as eventually he was fired. He died in London at the age of 47.

Okay, so what's a madrigal? It's a type of secular choral music developed in the Renaissance and featuring up to eight people singing in harmony. The part about harmony is important. Until medieval times, every piece of music was monophonic -- in other words, it had a melody and that was it. Gregorian chant, for example, is monophonic. But in the Middle Ages, composers began introducing a second melodic line as a counterpoint. By Weelkes' time, 400 or so years later, things had gotten crazy. In fact, the Elizabethan age is considered to be the greatest era for music in English history. (Until the Beatles, I guess.)

The thing about Weelkes is that he created moods with his music. Here's "Hark all ye lovely saints above" with the lyrics so you can follow along. The song is in a major key, but when he gets to "why weep ye?" it switches to a minor key. The same thing happens later, on "ere ladies mourn." It's a little like a tone poem. (Think of the fa-la-las as the Renaissance version of shoo-be-doo-wop and they won't seem so weird.)


This is not the recording I own, by the way. Mine is on Welcome Sweet Pleasure by the Waverly Consort, an album that was never released on CD. As it happens, the title tune from that album is another madrigal by Weelkes. Here's a version of it. (Fair warning: More fa-la-las ahead...)


On that happy note, have a great week!

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These moments of polyphonic blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Welcome, Yule!

Sunday, December 2, 2018

All I want for Christmas.


You may have seen the meme that's begun floating around Facebook about the difference in the nature of holiday wish lists. Here's the version I saw today:
Christmas is so much worse as you get older. It's like, "What do you want?"
"Financial security. A career. A sense of purpose. A nap would be nice."
I can relate.

When my daughters were small, the rule was that they had to make their holiday wish lists when the TV was turned off. The idea was to have them put down things they actually wanted, and not whatever new shiny thing was featured in whatever commercial they happened to be watching at the time. It wasn't that they never asked for a thing they'd seen advertised on TV, but at least the desire for it had stuck with them after the show was over.

Then they wanted a list from me. I had several problems with this request:
  • I knew how big their allowances were.
  • I was doing the "simple living" thing, or trying to, so I didn't want to encourage anyone to buy me a bunch of stuff I didn't need and wouldn't use -- least of all my kids, in whom I was supposed to be instilling values and whatnot.
  • The stuff I actually needed -- grownup things like a new car or enough money pay off a credit card -- I knew they couldn't afford to get me.
  • And to make things even more complicated, my birthday is a little over two weeks before Christmas, so I had to come up with enough realistic gift ideas for both occasions.
So I would compromise. I would list a few things I could use that I knew they could afford, and then I'd add some ringers. World peace made the list every year. "An end to hunger" did, too. Sadly, I never got either one.

Now that the girls are much older, we still exchange wish lists -- but these days, filling them out is usually a matter of poking around on Amazon plus a hobby-specific website or two. Too, we try to buy local and support small businesses. And as I head closer to retirement, I'm once again considering stuff with an eye toward whether I'll want to move it in a couple of years -- not to mention whether I'll have space for it when I downsize.

But two things will always make my list: world peace and an end to hunger. Who knows? Maybe some day I'll get 'em.

A nap would be nice, too, though. Too bad Amazon doesn't sell them.

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Speaking of holidays, Hanukkah starts tonight. We here at hearth/myth wish peace, joy and love to those who celebrate it -- and everybody else, too, for that matter.

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Oh, by the way, I won NaNaWriMo. And the book has a name at last. The series title is Elemental Keys and the title of the first book is Rivers Run. I've already started writing book two, which shall remain nameless for now, mostly because I came up with the title before I wrote the book outline and now I'm thinking I might change it. Stay tuned...

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These moments of bloggy generosity have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.