Christmas Carols

singing-carolsFor many people, singing Christmas songs and carols is their favourite part of Christmas. It is a wonderful way of connecting with centuries of musical history and a great opportunity for a family sing-song.

Some carol facts…

The term ‘carol’ has its roots in an old medieval French word ‘carole’. One thousand years ago this was a lively dance in a ring with people singing, often with one person leading and the rest of the singers answering. One of our most popular carols has come down to us in this form, with its questions and answers and dancing rhythms –

I saw three ships come sailing in
On Christmas day, on Christmas day
I saw three ships come sailing in
On Christmas day in the morning.

And what was in those ships all three?…
Our saviour Christ and his lady…
And whither sailed those ships all three?…
O they sailed into Bethlehem…

Carols were very popular as dance songs from the 1150s to 1350s, after which their use expanded as processional songs during the festivals which occurred throughout the year, not just at Christmas. Sometimes they were to accompany religious mystery plays. The beautiful Coventry Carol dates from the 16th century and was traditionally performed as part of the Nativity play in Coventry. (It followed the angel’s announcement to Mary and Joseph that they must flee to Egypt.)

Lully, lulla, my little tiny child.
Bye, bye lully lullay

Throughout the centuries, Christmas songs have been sung by groups ‘wassailing’ or going from house to house to raise money or a tasty supper.

Carols and caroling became a popular courtly activity in Tudor times. The lovely three part carol Green Growth The Holly is said to have been written by Henry VIII.

Much of this music was passed down from one generation of singers and dancers to another and never written down. However, we can thank keen musical enthusiasts of the 17th, 18th, 19th and 20th centuries for searching out, collecting and publishing tunes and texts that had been written down in the previous centuries. They wrote new words to old dance tunes and sometimes new tunes to old texts. Consequently many of our carols have very ancient roots.

While Shepherds Watched was very popular in the 18th century. The tune first appeared in 1592 in a book of psalms. The text was added in 1700 and a carol was born.

The Victorians were very keen on reviving the tradition of caroling and used many of the old tunes with new texts. Along with their newly invented Christmas cracker, Christmas tree and Christmas card, the Christmas carol became part of the seasonal family entertainment. Composers took advantage of its popularity and composed many new carols that we still sing today.

In 1853, J. M. Neale was given a rare copy of a 16th century collection of songs and he used one of the tunes (13th century Spring carol, Now Is The Time For Flowering) with new words for his now famous Good King Wenceslas.

The concept of the 9 lessons and carols Christmas Eve service was not born until 1880. (The Bishop of Truro drew up the format for a 10pm service on Christmas Eve – apparently with the purpose of keeping the men out of the pubs!)

350 years separate the tune and words of ‘Ding Dong Merrily On High’. The tune originated as a lively 16th century dance in which the women jumped up high into the air! (a ’Branle’) The words were written in the 20th century.

Last fact!

In Australia, one of our favourite carols has been revised to fit the Australian context…

On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love sent to me: 12 parrots prattling, 11 numbats nagging, 10 lizards leaping, 9 wombats working, 8 dingoes digging, 7 possums playing, 6 brolgas dancing, 5 kangaroos, 4 koalas cuddling, 3 kookaburras laughing, 2 pink galahs, and an emu up a gum tree.

Try that on Christmas morning!

Guest Blog by Marion Shuster
BA hons (Cambridge) LRSM

Marion Shuster has been teaching music, conducting and performing locally for over 30 years. She currently has two choirs based in East Grinstead, the Greenstede Singers and Choirpower, as well as a busy teaching schedule.  www.learn2sing.org

It’s All About Kindness

christmas-shepherdsIt’s about that time of year when our thoughts turn to Christmas and goodwill to all men. It’s also a favourite time of year for most children for obvious reasons. Traditionally we also seem to relax a little, cut the kids a bit more slack and generally try to be nicer to each other.

I would like to suggest that we also take some time to consider the whole idea of kindness. We might think of kindness as being generous of spirit, being good to another, supporting and nurturing them. Often people have this strange idea that children need to be taught some harsh lessons about the reality of life. You often hear, for example, that life is unkind and that kids should learn that sooner rather than later. Continue reading

Kitchen Timer Homework

robotThis week we had a real crisis on our hands with a grandson in tears and parents completely ‘losing it’ over undone homework on a Sunday night! I was called in to have a chat with a very upset young man.

To sum up – too much homework: why did he have to do it all the time and especially on Sunday, one day before he was back at school again?

One of the main problems – the daily diary! Far from getting done on a daily basis, this (in his view) pointless activity all happened late Sunday afternoon when he couldn’t think or care about a single thing to write. Continue reading

Emotional Impact

emotion-in-storyIn the last of this series comparing writing with the work of a theatre director, let us look at emotional impact. What does this mean? Essentially, it is involving the reader in the character’s story and allowing them to experience that person’s emotional life.

When you tell a story from within your main character’s head, and tell it moment by moment, that is exactly what you are doing. You invite the reader to see with the person’s eyes, hear with his ears and share his reactions. The reader then identifies closely with that character and the story becomes his for the duration. Continue reading

Music and Fireworks

amazing-fireworksHandel’s Fireworks Music, performed at his Grace the Duke of Richmond at Whitehall and on the River Thames on Monday 15 May 1749. A hand-coloured etching.

As the dark nights draw in, our thoughts go to celebrating Bonfire Night and its attendant fireworks.

The familiar explosions of light and sound that go along with bonfires and firework displays have inspired many generations of musicians and artists since the first bonfires were lit around London in the months following the discovery of the infamous gunpowder plot in 1605. We are all familiar with the story – barrels of gunpowder waiting to be lit under the House of Lords, the capture of Guy Fawkes and his fellow plotters, King James I and Parliament rescued from a constitutional disaster. Continue reading

Walk A Mile In Their Shoes

walking-shoesI am not sure whether or not, now that we are adults, we pause to consider what it was once like when we were a child. As a teacher or parent our expectations of children are often at odds with each other. In the first instance we don’t want them to grow up too fast because we want them to ‘enjoy their childhood’. But in the second instance we want them to buy into adult values and codes of conduct.

The world of a child is very different to ours in the way they view it. A story I once read concerned a child who was accused of stealing some coins but from his point of view he had seen the shiny coin as symbol of his mother’s heart and he wanted to keep her heart close to him. The adults applying their codes of conduct punished him for stealing but to the child a great injustice had been done to him. Continue reading

Blogs Are For Use!

spellingI sometimes wonder how many people actually use what they read in these blogs! Yet that is what I intend. They are for use. They are all based on actual experience and the ideas do really work!

I am prompted to write this because yesterday I suddenly found myself in at the deep-end using ideas from one of my earliest blogs and it worked like a dream. While helping the young person concerned I hardly realised it, but afterwards it struck me – almost step for step – I had used what I recommended in a blog about helping your child with a learning task. Continue reading

Creating A Character

directing-sceneStill working here with our directing analogy and the moment by moment scenario, let’s look at characterisation.

In a script, a director will look for what a character says about himself, what others say about him and how he reacts to others. These things dictate who he is and how he will act.

In a story, the reader should be able to recognise who the character is by what he says and does and how others react to him. The difference in writing is the need to let the reader know what is happening during any interaction. Continue reading

Mozart

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) – the greatest composer of all time?

Of all classical composers, Mozart is almost certainly the most universally popular composer. His music appeals to young and old. It can be appreciated on a superficial ‘easy listening’ level, but those seeking emotional depth, technical brilliance and sheer musical grandeur will not be disappointed.

Mozart’s prodigious childhood is well known. Continue reading

Children Should Be Heard

child-attentionThere is an old saying that children should be seen and notheard, but I would like to update that into just this; children should be heard. When you talk to someone you expect him or her in some way to indicate that they have indeed heard you, it’s the civilised thing to do. You probably would be upset if they looked as if they had not paid any attention to what you said. Many marital arguments have probably started in exactly this way. Continue reading