Monday, November 26, 2007

Carol Singing

A long time ago, in a country far away...


Let's start that again.

A long time ago, I had high hopes of being a Musical Person. Someone who could fling themselves daintily around in meadows whilst trilling melodiously. A sort of Julie Andrews, sans nun's garb. Those hopes, sadly, were dashed after listening to myself on my guitar-playing then-boyfriend's tape recorder. I console myself with the fact that I was not the only one singing thusly, but there it was: I did not sound like Julie Andrews. I didn't even sound like a nun.

But I digress! I haven't let a less-than-delightful voice stop me from singing, or from helping my kids enjoy singing. We sing to Billy Bragg (what other 6 year old do you know who can wail "Shuuuuuurrrllley" in a Cockney accent?), we sing to Ron Sexsmith, we sing to the Beatles, we sing to the Beach Boys, in our last city home we sang hymns in a glorious, stained glass-drenched church, and now, with Christmas fast approaching (only 28 money-draining, err, shopping days left, O Gentle Reader), we have started singing Christmas carols. I wish I could teach my kids to do the Roches' version of For Unto Us A Child Is Born, but there's only two of us who have any hope of carrying a tune right now, so we're sticking with carols that don't require so many sopranos. And I, being possessed of many a carol book, have been singing all kinds of obscure carols with my kids, most of them not known to AM radio, and teaching them all the verses, although we've found some carols take the odd tack every now and then. Take We Three Kings, for instance:

Myrrh is mine; its bitter perfume
Breathes a life of gathering gloom;
Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying,
Sealed in a stone cold tomb.

Cheery, isn't it? I usually sing this verse alone, while FDPG* peers closely at the words in case they've changed to something more in the Jingle Bells vein. Max looks uneasy and shuffles a lot, worrying no doubt why people are bleeding gloomily and why he has to sing about it.

Here's another unusual song we came across, and I am somewhat abashed to report that initially we laughed rather immoderately, well, after we first gaped in disbelief. Do you know Here We Come A-Wassailing? I've always been partial to this song, mostly because of the lilting aspect of the verses, but let me draw your attention to the last verse:

Good master and good mistress
While you're sitting by the fire,
Pray think of us poor children,
Who are wandering in the mire.

Charming, wouldn't you say? After I explained to my kids why other kids might be wandering in mire somewhere, begging food from rich people, we felt almost too depressed to sing this carol ever again, then decided to stick with the first, third, and seventh verses (and yes, there were more than seven verses of this stuff, no wonder the Victorians were depressed).

Happily, our clouds of gathering gloom were chased away by the inexplicably bizarre. Remember Jolly Old St. Nicholas? Well, listen again, O Gentle Reader, to the last verse. Max and Dominic are completely unable to hear this, let alone sing it, with a straight face:

Johnny wants a pair of skates,
Suzy wants a dolly.
Nelly wants a storybook,
She thinks dolls are folly.
As for me, my little brain,
Isn't very bright.
Choose for me, old Santa Claus,
What you think is right.
(emphasis mine)

Well, you have to love someone who owns up to their feeble brain, right?

And since I should probably cease with the irreverent and end on a more dignified note, I will leave you with a truly atmospheric verse, even if it's usually sung too low for my croak. I like the themes of hope and light and renewal here. Plus, it's just plain poetic. This is from O Come, O Come Emmanuel:

O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death's dark shadows put to flight.

(* Fairy-Diva-Pony-Girl)


Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Hilarious! Love this one! I can see why Max and Dominic smirk at the line "my little brain isn't very bright." I'm reminded of another beloved children's character of "very little brain," and this thought suggests another rhyme for the next line: not "right," but the rude Scottish pronunciation of a synonym for POOH.

Becky said...

My rule is no Christmas carols til December 1st. But I can still hear my children humming under their collective breath.

That said, I'm looking forward to my two new (well, new to me) Christmas CDs -- Diana Krall and and Verve's Very Best of Christmas Jazz. I'll have to listen carefully to those pesky lyrics!

sheila said...

"Rude scottish pronunciations," eh? Can I do the Heeland Fling for you while I say that, perhaps, O Anonymous?

Goodness me, what KIND of homeschooling mother would I be if I taught my kids to rhyme things with shite? Would it be right? Would I give them a fright? Or am I being too trite?

lightly yours / sheila

sheila said...

Becky, when we lived in SoCal, our neighbour worked for Rhino Records, so we were able to get a lot of CDs at a very good price, and one of them was very like the Verve compilation you have. I love it.

I also managed to get a lot of Jonathan Richman, Billy Bragg, and eclectic "world music" CDs, which perhaps accounts for my kids' strange tastes in music right now.

cheers / sheila

Sara said...

Love it! Puts the Christmas carols in a whole new light. We don't celebrate Christmas but I love Christmas carols.