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Subscribe to this list via RSS Blog posts tagged in Yule carols

Posted by on in Culture Blogs

Slush Bus: 1942 | Shorpy Old Photos | Photo Sharing

 As the Northern hemisphere enters Winter, a bit of seasonal humor from that bilious old Fascist, Ezra Pound, to the tune of Sumer Is Icumen In, the oldest song in English (circa 1350) to which we still have both words and music,.

Pound's piece, in mock Middle English, turns the original on its head. One is about the joys of spring in the natural world, in which humans appear not at all; the other evokes the discomforts of urban winter in a world entirely human, in which nature is reduced to the inconveniences that it brings. (His reference to "winter's balm [=ointment]" refers ironically to the road-slop with which the passing bus has just sprayed him.) The implied contrasts between the two offer a mordant critique of what the West has become. Even Fascists have their occasional points.

You can hear a spirited Winter Solstice performance of this modern classic by the Bayesian choir here (though the audience clearly doesn't get the joke).

Happy Winter!

 

Antient Music

Winter is icumen in,

lhude sing, Goddamm.

Raineth drop and staineth slop,

and how the wind doth ramm:

sing Goddamm!

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs

 

 

If you don't yet know Christopher Raible's no-holds-barred parody of the Christmas classic, from his 1964 Songs for the Cessation of Strife, you probably should.

 

God(s) Rest Ye, Unitarians

 

God(s) rest ye, Unitarians:

let nothing you dismay.

Remember, there's no evidence

there was a Christmas Day.

When Christ was born

is just not known,

no matter what they say.

 

Oh tidings of reason and fact,

reason and fact,

glad tidings of reason and fact.

 

There was no Star of Bethlehem,

there was no angel song;

there couldn't have been wise men,

for the trip would take too long.

The stories in the Bible

are historically wrong.

 

Chorus

 

Our current Christmas customs

come from Persia and from Greece,

from Solstice celebrations

of the ancient Middle East.

This whole damned Christmas shpiel

is just another pagan feast!

 

Chorus

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  • John Zelasko
    John Zelasko says #
    Yule tide greetings! Anyone curious about the true "reason for the season" may want to use the Youtube search engine with wordings

Posted by on in Culture Blogs

 

Our story so far:

Since the 17th century (at least) the rising of the Sun on Yule Morning has been greeted in Shetland with the plaintive and darkly beautiful fiddle tune The Day Dawn. For four hundred years (at least), the tune had words no more than the birdsong which greets the same dawn.

Then, a few years back, Jane Hazelden wrote lyrics for The Day Dawn. They're good, maybe even very good: as good a nutshell definition of Yule as any that ever I've heard and, indeed, better than most.

But they don't quite fit the tune.

To fit her new words to the old fiddle tune, Hazelden has truncated some of the musical phrasing, notably certain repetitions and, in so doing—to my ear, at least—thereby diminished something of the tune's integrity, and dulled something of its luminosity.

(Forgive me, giver, if I destroy the gift, the Goddess once, through Laura Riding, told Robert Graves: It is so nearly what I want, I cannot help but perfect it.)

So I've tweaked Hazelden's lyrics to fit the original tune by matching verbal repetitions to the musical ones.

Well, you be the judge. Maybe you're a fiddler and don't need words at all to sing the Sun his Old Song.

But out on the bridge, singing the Sun up out of the Mississippi valley on Solstice morning, these are the words that I'll be singing myself.

So join me if you will.

 

The Day Dawn

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs

 

 

Maybe it's the Norse influence.

Up in Shetland, where Yule is Yule, and no one ever bothers with that newfangled southron Christmas business, there's one tune that says “Yule” like no other.

It's called, variously, The Day Dawn or The Day Dawns Well (in Shetland dialect, that's Da Day Dawe, but if you're not a Shetlander, for gods' sakes, please don't try to say it that way), and of all the days of all the year, it's played on only one.

Yes, of course: you guessed it.

It greets the rising of the Sun on Yule morning, the bittersweet dawn song of one lone bird, and throughout that first day of the year, you'll hear it again and again.

And then, for a year, no more.

Shetland being fiddle territory, it's a fiddle tune, of course, and this much we can say: it's old, old; no one knows just quite how old. Seventeenth century, perhaps?

It's a haunting tune—you can hear it (played on concertina) here—expansive, horizon-gazing, with all the knowing sadness of the worldly-wise. Oh, bittersweet Yule.

I've always wondered: if, of all the days of the year, The Day Dawn is played only on Yule, how then do you learn it? How do you rehearse?

But there's an answer ready enough to hand. (We do the same with the song for the dead, which you only sing through when you mean it.) Play, rehearse, as you will, but never entirely through. That's for one day, and for one day only.

Though the tune has never historically had words, a few years back Jane Hazelden wrote some, and they'll do, they'll do.

So here's your song with which to greet the newborn Sun on Solstice Morn.

Well, you've all of a month. If you start the learning now, my friend, you'll have it down, and well down, by then.

 

The Day Dawn

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In the Castle of the Holly King

Nou Is Yole Comen: A 15th-Century Yule Carol

 

The “secular” carol is no new thing. Most of the oldest surviving Yule carols are thoroughly non-religious, describing the earthy joys of the festal tide with little (if any) religious content. The season, as they say, is the reason.

What follows is a 15th-century English carol, set to music by Early Musicologist Shira Kammen on her stunning 2003 album The Castle of the Holly King: Secular Songs for the Yuletide. For those of you who didn't happen to grow up speaking Middle English, a modern English rendering follows.

Note that personifying holidays as guests who come to visit is an ancient Indo-European poetic trope with its roots in deepest antiquity. Note also the playful AAAB rhyme-scheme, and the fact that the poet uses only two rhymes throughout the entire song. That's a pretty bravura performance, technically speaking.

 

Nou is Yole Comen

 

Hay, ay, ay, ay:

make we merry as we may.

 

Nou is Yole comen with gentil chere,

of mirth and gomen he has no pere;

in every londe where he comes nere

is merthe and gomen, I dar wele say.

 

Now is comen a messingere

of your lorde, Ser NuYere—

biddes us all be merie here

and make as merie as we may.

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  • Chris Sherbak
    Chris Sherbak says #
    Excellent pointer! I still cherish my 'Pro Dea' Winter Solstice songbook you all published so many years ago.

Posted by on in Culture Blogs
Warlock Carol

English composer Peter Warlock ( Philip Heseltine, 1894-1930) wrote this mysterious little carol, a variant on the traditional I Saw Three Ships, in 1923. It didn't get pagan words until nearly eighty years later, but—considering Warlock's lifelong interest in the occult—we can be sure that he would be delighted to know that the witches were singing his carol at their Yuletide festivities. Absolutely delighted.

As for the meaning of those three mysterious ships...well, all will be revealed.

Just watch this blog.

The Sycamore Tree

 

As I sat under a sycamore tree,

a sycamore tree, a sycamore tree,

I looked me out upon the sea,

a Midwinter's day in the morning.

 

I saw three ships come sailing there,

come sailing there, come sailing there:

the Horned One and His Lady they bare,

a Midwinter's day in the morning.

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