Thursday, March 23, 2056

Monday, December 24, 2012

My Christmas Eve Blog



It was a Wednesday on December 22, 2004 when Drummond and Monique came down to Tacoma with tickets to see the Christmas revels at the Rialto theater. It was a magical night! The music, the dancing, the participation. I felt as we were doing something ancient, something somehow lost in the folds of time.

Being the pack rat that I am, I took the program and threw it in my Jakarta-bound suitcase. It ended up getting buried in the thousand of things that clutter my drawers. Last week, during the middle of a major archeological excavation, I found the programme, and decided to resuscitate that evening using today's wonder of Blogging, what is available on YouTube and the Internet. The following musical program is a remake of that evening.

Forgive me for copying the following from a program I did not write. Please be reassured that I am not doing this for money but for the pure joy and passion of bringing back to life the memories of a magical evening and sharing that with the visitors on my blog. Think of it as a compliment. I wish I knew the name of the author who wrote the program, so I could acknowledge him or her with all the respect due to his or her intellectual property. 

"WELCOME TO The Christmas Revels. For centuries people have come together at the dark time of year. In the face of the fragility of life, they have celebrated the strength of the community and the abiding promise of renewal in the land. At the dark turning point of our year, Revels remembers those people and reminds us that the joy of the community and the promise of renewal is ours as it was theirs. In 2012, you join us in a king's great hall for a grand celebration. In the midst of the revelry we all (even he king) unexpectedly find ourselves relying on the king's fool to face down an extraordinary foe and restore the kingdom."

"THE FOOL is a complex and ancient character found in folk plays around the world. Unpredictable and unbound by society's "irrational rationalities", the fool pokes fun at the powerful and self-satisfied and at the norms and conventions by which the rest of us live. The fool's gift is an intuition of truth that the rational mind cannot perceive. And from this comes the fool's power to heal and restore. Four hundred years ago author Cervantes had his character Don Quixote express this insight of a fool: 'Perhaps the greatest madness is not in failing to see things as they are, but in failing to see things as they should be'. We couldn't be more pleased to have (the fool)... with us - seeing things as they should be. Steeped in the fool's foolishness, he shares with us wily innocence and mirth - the deep heart of the fool."

"SO WE GATHER again in cold, dark, rainy Tacoma to revel. In the words of The Shortest Day poem, we gather to "carol, feast, give thanks, and dearly love our friends, and hope for peace.... this year and every year. We welcome all - old friends and new. Enjoy our feast for ear, eye, and heart. "
The First Part

 1. Brass Fanfare
Vive le roi was written for King Louis XII by Josquin des Prez in the late 13th Century
 2. Agincourt Carol
Deo Gracias Anglia, an anonymous carol (Selden MS. Bodleian Library, Oxford) written immediately following Henry's victory at Agincourt in 1415.

3. Deck the Hall
A Welsh New Year's carol, Nos Galen.


Deck the halls with boughs of holly,
Fa lalala laa lala la la;
'Tis the season to be jolly.
Don we now our gay apparel.
Troll the ancient Yuletide carol.

See the blazing Yule before us,
Fa lalala laa lala la la;
Strike the harp and join the chorus
Follow me in merry measure,
While I tell of Yuletide treasure.

Fast away the old year passes 
Fa lalala laa lala la la;
Hail the new, ye lads and lasses.
Sing we joyous all together. 
Heedless of the wind and weather.
4. Step Stately
A courtly English country dance from John Playford's collection The English Dancing Master, ed. 1650. Its tune is Jack Pudding.
5. Strike Up your Instruments of Joy
Words and music written by John Edmunds to a tune by 17th century composer, John Barrett, here transcribed for brass by Brian Holmes. The singers' text includes references to early instruments: rebecs, shawms, curtals, duleian, clarions, rackets, drums, cymbals and tambour. 
 6. Lilliburlero

Number 6 was missing from the program so I decided to fill it with Lilliburlero, that catchy tune that used to announce a BBC Broadcast. This is a scene from Kubrick's Barry Lyndon. You may wonder why I would choose such a martial tune for this Christmas celebration. War is a terrible reality and every community on Earth regardless of race, country, or religion, has shared the worries, the sorrows of loss, the hope, and the joys of a soldier's safe return to his ...or her ...home and family. Here is a happier version of the same song:

 7. Traditional Songs

After the first wassail in the programme. I inserted some of my own personal Christmas favorites. Some of the songs were not available on YouTube, or their recording was just a bit too amateurish for my taste. A pity, because a lot of what you find on YouTube may be lovely music with lots of great young talent, but marred with horrible sound. This was the case with Villagers All and There Was A Pig Went Out to Dig.

We've Been Awhile A-Wandering
A wassail song from Yorkshire, sung by the street waits from house to house on Christmas Eve.

Adeste Fideles
Sung by the Vienna Boys Choir
Two versions here: the English version with the London Symphony Orchestra and the Latin version, accompanied by the sound of some animals in the manger - particularly the geese who like to honk along! I have provided the Latin lyrics below.

Adeste Fideles,
Laeti triumphantes;
Venite, venite in Bethlehem;
Natum videte,
Regem Angelorum;

Refrain :
Venite adoremus
Venite adoremus,
Venite adoremus Dominum !

Hark the Herald Angels Sing
Charlotte Church

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel
During the Christmas season, as children, we used to sing this every morning at St Frances Cabrini school. It has left a special place in my heart. This is one of my favorite Christmas carols, a song that is sung in a sad, minor chord, yet inviting the singer to rejoice. Like an expectation of something major to come - The major chord of the birth of Jesus which is the very last chord to be sung. 

Thine Be The Glory
Handel from Judas Maccabeus
This is is a beautiful piece by Handel. Originally part of his great oratorio Judas Maccabeus with the title "Behold the Conquering Hero".  This lovely melody was adapted and given new lyrics. Choirs often perform this song during Christmas.

"To the Hills and the Dales" from Dido and Aeneas, followed by Jubilate Deo in D, by
Henry Purcell

I will never forget the day I was listening to Henry Purcell's opera Dido and Aeneas in my college dorm room. It was around late October. My roommate came in and remarked, "Don't you think it's a bit too early for Christmas music?" That was hilarious! In retrospect, I cannot blame my roommate - Purcell's music ...just sounds like Christmas! "To the Hills and the Dales" happens to be a pagan dirge to celebrate the nuptials of Aeneas and his Carhaginian queen.  All one has to do is change the lyrics around to make it a perfectly singable Christmas carol! Let me show you what I mean. forget for a moment that it is a secular opera.

Now to set things back on track, let me play Purcell's Jubilate Deo in D (c. 1690), which is standard material for a Yuletide concert. As you see, the melodious Purcell very much indeed sounds like Christmas!

8. Nottingham Ale

I couldn't find Tappster Drynker, a 15th century drinking song described in the programme; so I replaced it with Nottingham Ale, a 16th century English drinking song sung to the tune of "Lilliburlero". Here are the lyrics:
When Venus, the goddess of beauty and love
Arose from the broth that swam on the sea
Minerva sprang out, from the cranium of Jove
A coy, sullen dame, as most authors agree
But Bacchus, they tell us, that prince of good fellas
Was Jupiter's son, pray attend to my tale
And those that dost patter, mistake not the matter
He sprang from a bottle of Nottingham Ale!
Nottingham Ale, boys, Nottingham Ale
No liquor on earth is like Nottingham Ale!
Nottingham Ale, boys, Nottingham Ale
No liquor on earth is like Nottingham Ale!
Now you bishops and deacons, priests, curates and vicars
When once you have tasted, you'll know it is true
That Nottingham Ale, it's the best of all liquors
And none understand what is good as do you
It dispels every vapor, saves pen, ink and paper
When you've a mind from your pulpit to rail
It can open your throats, you can preach without notes
When inspired by a bottle of Nottingham Ale
Now you doctors who more executions have done
With powder and potion and bolus and pill
Than hangman with noose, a soldier with gun
A miser with famine, a lawyer with quill
To dispatch us the quicker, forbid us malt liquor
'Til our bodies consume and our faces grow pale
But mind who he pleases, what cures all diseases
'Tis a comforting bottle of Nottingham Ale
 9. Gloucestershire Wassail
The wassailers and their descendants, the waits, traveled from house to house, singing, with a wassail cup their hosts were expected to fill. The word "wassail" comes from the Anglo-Saxons wes-bal, meaning "be whole" or "be well".
 10. Lord of Misrule

The King and Fool trade places during the Feast of Fools, an irreverent and high-energy medieval holiday that exalted the lowly and parodied the powerful. Fools became kings and choirboys prelates. Although condemned by the council of Basel in 1431, the holiday survived until the 16th century. The musical selection is the London song "Mad Tom of Bedlam"; often sung by mummers in the Feast of Fools.
 11. Now is the Time of Christmas: Lully Lulley (The Corpus Christi Carol)

A medieval manuscript found at Balliol College, Oxford, said to be connected with the festivities associated with the Lord of Misrule. I posted instead the Corpus Christi Carol, text from ca. 1505 from Balliol College. The name "Corpus Christi" is used only for reference, as the text appears in the manuscript without a title. Here are the lyrics:

Lully, lulley, lully, lulley,
The faucon hath born my mak away.

He bare hym up, he bare hym down, 
He bare hym into an orchard brown.
In that orchard ther was an hall, 
That was hangid with purpill and pall.
And in that hall ther was a bede, 
Hit was hangid with gold so rede.
And yn that bede ther lythe a knyght, 
His wowndes bledyng day and nyght.
By that bedes side ther kneleth a may, 
And she wepeth both nyght and day.
And by that bedes side ther stondith a ston, 
"Corpus Christi" wretyn theron.
 12. La Morisque

A spirited Susato dance tune. Two versions. The one above is with a small group led by a hurdy gurdy. The second one is with a larger orchestra. Susato wrote the Morisque in 1515.


13. Boar's Head Carol
This feasting carol has been sung at Queen's College, Oxford since the 17th century as that culinary triumph, the boar's head, is borne into the dining hall.
 14. The Wren Song
This ancient song about the hunting of the wren, the magical bringer of luck to the New Year, survives in Ireland, Scotland, and the Isle of Man. The wren was carried from house to house traditionally on December 26th. This variant comes from County Armagh in Northern Ireland.
 15. Ave Maris Stella

Originally there was supposed to be a Te Deum here as an anonymous 13th century English Marian hymn, but it was not very clear. I almost posted a Handel Te Deum, until I found something even more ancient, beautiful and mysterious- an anonymous 9th century hymn to Mary called the Ave Maris Stella or Hail to the Star of the Sea. The following is an English translation:

Hail, Star of the sea! 
Blessed Mother of God, 
yet ever a virgin!
O happy gate of heaven!

Thou that didst receive 
the Ave from Gabriel's lips,
confirm us in peace, 
and so let Eva be changed
 into an Ave of blessing for us.

Loose the sinner's chains, 
bring light to the blind, 
drive from us our evils, 
and ask all good things for us.

Show thyself a mother, 
and offer our prayers to him, 
who would be born of thee, 
when born for us.

O incomparable Virgin, 
and meekest Or the meek, 
obtain us the
forgiveness of our sins, 
and make us 
meek and chaste.

Obtain us purity of life, 
and a safe pilgrimage; 
that we may be
united with thee 
in the blissful vision of Jesus.

Praise be to God the Father 
and to the Lord Jesus, 
and to the Holy  Ghost:
 to the Three 
one self-same praise. 
 16. The Contest - King Lear (Lawrence Olivier) and the Fool (John Hurt).

The programme had the following entry, "In many cultures, the testing of the king in combat is a necessary ritual to preserve the power and spirit of the office. The chant is an incantation of unknown origin." Unfortunately, you cannot mention the word "combat" on a search engine without being swamped by references to video games! I decided instead to bring more of the relationship between King and Fool to light by showing a scene from Shakespeare's play "King Lear". There is some excellent dialogue here and the acting; well, with Sir Lawrence Olivier and John Hurt, one cannot go wrong. c'est la crême de la crême!
 17. L'Homme Armé

"Beware of the armed man: it is being announced everywhere that everyone should arm himself with iron chain mail." -This is the only existing verse ofa  once much longer Medieval song. The song would have been based on an anonymous Medieval tune that features polyphony. I could not find it. So I turned to Josquin Desprez instead and found this long playing (forty minutes) a gem. 
18. "Winter Wakeneth All My Care Not Found" - Replace with When the Nightingale Sings

One of the richest sources of medieval English lyrics, both secular and devotional is the Harley M5 2253 (1320). Though no musique survives with the poems, many of the pieces were set to music popular at the time. I managed to find one of these poems on YouTube. It was not the one I was looking for, but at least I hope to give my viewers the flavor of these beautiful poems in Middle English.

 19. The Lord of the Dance

This traditional song  has the same tune as the Shaker song Simple Gifts. This was one the most memorable part of the Christmas Revels. Everybody in the theater joined hands and danced to this tune. It was lovely! This particular video features that Irish folk group The Dubliners. 

The Safety Dance - Men Without Hats

One of my favorite videos from the 80s is the "Safety Dance"made by that Canadian band Men Without Hats. This dance, albeit contemporary, is actually in the same spirit as the Revels. "The music video for the song, is notable for its English folk revival imagery, notably Morris men, Mummers, Punch and Judy, and a Maypole" (Wikipedia). That refrain that it is "safe to dance" has a personal meaning for me: the freedom and safety to express myself.


 20. O Cruor Sanguis

This antiphon is one of the many chants by the influential German abbess, visionary, composer, poet, artist, theologian and diplomat Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179): Blood that bled into a cry! The elements felt its touch and trembled, Heaven heard their woe. O life-blood of the maker, scarlet music, salve our wounds.
 21. Abbots Bromly Horn Dance 1
An ancient mid-winter ritual dance of the hunt still danced every year in the little village of Abbots Bromley in England. Carbon dating the reindeer antlers used today at Abbots Bromley dates them to 900 CE, about the time of the Danish invasion. Accompanying the dancers are the traditional Folk Fool, Man-Woman, Hobby-Horse and Boy Archer figures as they process the the village and outlying farms "bringing in the luck".

Abbots Bromly Horn Dance 2

 22. L'Homme Armé - Fool's Reprise
Sword Dance 
The above is another related video to the King in Combat and L'homme armé - a traditional sword dance from Northern England.

 23. Danse Macabre
A variant on the medieval dance of death that underscored the cycle of life, death and rebirth. The tune is Douce Dame Jolie by Gillaume de Machaut (c. 1300-1377). The pictures in the video are from the television series The Tudors. Gorgeous!

Ethan James - The Danse Macabre

This is a true Danse Macabre from the album of Ethan James titled Learning Chinese the Hard Way. Ethan James has a remarkable way of tying the modern with the ancient. He plays the hurdy gurdy; his album features other medieval instruments.

Saint Saens "Le Danse Macabre"
No danse macabre would be complete without Saint-Saens's most famous version!  Listen to the violins - it is delightfully wicked!
 24. Sun Turning
Traditional English street chant. Not 
 25. I Saw Three Ships

This carol, with its many variants, stems from apochryphal legends. The melody is a dance tune from the village of Helston in Cornwall.
 26. Please to See the King
A traditional carol from Pembrokeshire, South Wales. The sound of the harp is often associated with angels; in this video, you can see why this is so!
 27. Alle Psallite Cum Laya
A 13th century conductus from the Montpellier Codex.

 28. Salutation

I salute you. I am your friend and my love for you goes deep. There is nothing I can give you which you have not got. But there is much, very much, that while I cannot give it, you can take. No heaven can come to us unless our hearts find rest in today. Take heaven! No peace lies in the future which is not hidden in this present little instance. Take peace! The gloom of the world is but a shadow. Behind it, yet within our reach, is joy. Take joy! Life is so full of meaning and purpose, so full of beauty . . . that you will find earth but cloaks your heaven. Courage then to claim it, that is all! . . And so I greet you, with profound esteem and with the prayer that for you, now and forever, the day breaks and the shadows flee away.

Written to a friend by Fra Giovanni in 1513.
 29. Dona Nobis Pacem (Give Us Peace)
Johann Sebastian Bach from Mass in B Minor

Below is the Dona Nobis Pacem that was sung at the Revel:

 30. Un Sonar de Piva in Fachinesco

A 16th century piece by Rossinus Mantuanus. Lirum Bililirum. Absolutely gorgeous!
 31. Twelve Days of Christmas
Traditional English "forfeit" carol.


On the first day of Christmas, my true love sent to me...
A partridge in a pear tree,
Two turtle doves.
Three French hens,
Four calling birds,
Five gold rings,
Six geese a-laying,
Seven swans a-swimming,
Eight maids a-milking
Nine ladies dancing,
Ten lords a-leaping,
Eleven pipers piping
Twelve drummers drumming.
                   32. The Apple Tree Wassail

A true carole, which involves singing while dancing in a ring - in this case round the apple tree. This wassail ritual, often performed at night by firelight, ensured good growth and a full harvest. Amidst the singing and dancing bits of lamb wool were dipped in cider and hung on branches; cider was poured on the ground to nourish the roots.
 33. Saint George and the Dragon
A compilation of several medieval mummer's plays celebrating the rites of fertility, death, and rebirth. The sword dance and ritual execution survive from a time when the death of the hero or "Year King", also known as the "Sun King", was considered necessary to ensure the fertility. The "lock" formed by the dancers swords symbolizes the sun and the cutting down of the old so that the new can spring to life. The sword dance figures are from the village of North Skelton in Yorkshire.

 34. Poslan 
Sixteenth century Czech Christmas anthem: An angel is sent by God; his name is Gabriel. We know the angel is strong because of his name.
 35. The Shortest Day

The Winter Solstice is nearly here, the shortest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. For centuries out of time, people have celebrated this sacred festival of earth and sun, a special day shared by all inhabitants of this planet, no matter what other spiritual or religious beliefs may divide us.

Here is a powerful poem by author Susan Cooper that reminds us of the beauty of the Yuletide season. May it bring a bit of joy and hope to all our hearts. Read the poem here:

The Shortest Day
By Susan Cooper 

And so the Shortest Day came and the year died
And everywhere down the centuries of the snow-white world
Came people singing, dancing,
To drive the dark away.
They lighted candles in the winter trees;
They hung their homes with evergreen;
They burned beseeching fires all night long
To keep the year alive.
And when the new year’s sunshine blazed awake
They shouted, revelling.
Through all the frosty ages you can hear them
Echoing behind us – listen!
All the long echoes, sing the same delight,
This Shortest Day,
As promise wakens in the sleeping land:
They carol, feast, give thanks,
And dearly love their friends,
And hope for peace.
And now so do we, here, now,
This year and every year.
Welcome Yule!

A poem written for the Revels by Susan Cooper in 1977
 36. The Sussex Mummer's Carol

The traditional carol, sung from Horsham, Sussex. In each of the American cities where Revels is performed annually, it has become our parting song with the audience:

God blefs the Mafter of this Houfe 
With Happinefs befide;
Where e'er his Body rides or walks, 
His God muft be his guide,
His God muft be his guide.

God blefs the Miftrefs of this Houfe 
With gold Chain round her Breaft;
Where e'er her Body fleeps or wakes, 
Lord, send her Soul to reft,
Lord, send her Soul to reft.

God blefs your Houfe, your Children too,
Your Cattle and your Store;
The Lord increafe you Day by Day, 
And fend you more and more,
And fend you more and more.

Allow me to end this concert with my tear-jerker favorite Christmas song of all time: The Little Drummer Boy as sung by the Vienna Choir Boys for a TV animated special in 1968. For me, this song defines a whole existence, one's whole mission in life. As mediocre as a little drum may be, it should br played with love... all we can hope for is that the Good Lord smiles at us.

Voilà. C'est toute ma présentation. Merci.