Music for Advent II

Advent II and for the first time in over a year we were back in church. The last time we tried that it was Christ the King of 2020, singing wasn’t allowed, and the venture was purely exploratory to see how safe the return felt.

The answer was not all that much and turned out to be moot because the Monday following restrictions came back and it was back to online worship. We reopened around Lent but only the choir could sing, and if the blog title didn’t tip our hand, singing is a big part of our worship experience. So, we stayed home until they opened up the music to the congregation.

And it was nice. We have no idea if we’re supposed to sing the psalms, but our pointing is good, so until we get a memo saying otherwise, we’re joining in. But we were a model of good manners and did not join in This is the Record of John. We could have. It is our favourite Advent anthem ever and we sing it on a loop, especially this time of year.

Then we came home and spent the afternoon working, so apologies about that whirring noise you’re hearing, because that’s Great Grandmother Grace revolving in her grave at the thought of descendants who work on Sunday. Mind you, poor Great Grandmother Grace has probably been spinning eversince we went all High Church Anglican on her, so really…

That took all afternoon and left us to snatch our Advent tea around sixish. Today it’s called Blueberry Fields Forever, and courtesy of organising a tribute concert that probably took years off our life, we can tell you that’s a Beatles reference.

We can also tell you that as per the ingredients, this one is a veritable cocktail of more than blueberries. Apparently elderflower is in there, and violets. But we have to tell you, all we tasted was blueberry.

It’s a nice tea, but it clearly takes ages to steep, because ten minutes in it still didn’t have much colour, and as we say, we mostly tasted blueberry. We add that David’s Tea recommends this one as an iced tea, and we can see that. To brew good ice tea you steep it at double strength, and that would bring out more of the flavours.

On the other hand, it was freezing when we first made tea and then it snowed. Now, as we write, it’s raining torrentially so that tomorrow our Dachshunds will have to skate across the yard. Forgive us if iced tea isn’t exactly on the docket.

Maybe we’ll loop back to it in the summer when This is the Record of John makes an unseasonable appearance as an earworm. Until then, have this excellent poem by Thomas Hardy. No, it’s not hte one you think it is. This one is about music and so perfectly relevant to this Sunday.

The Choirmaster’s Burial
Thomas Hardy

He often would ask us
That, when he died,
After playing so many
To their last rest,
If out of us any
Should here abide,
And it would not task us,
We would with our lutes
Play over him
By his grave-brim
The psalm he liked best—
The one whose sense suits
“Mount Ephraim”—
And perhaps we should seem
To him, in Death’s dream,
Like the seraphim.

As soon as I knew
That his spirit was gone
I thought this his due,
And spoke thereupon.
“I think”, said the vicar,
“A read service quicker
Than viols out-of-doors
In these frosts and hoars.
That old-fashioned way
Requires a fine day,
And it seems to me
It had better not be.”
Hence, that afternoon,
Though never knew he
That his wish could not be,
To get through it faster
They buried the master
Without any tune.

But ’twas said that, when
At the dead of next night
The vicar looked out,
There struck on his ken
Thronged roundabout,
Where the frost was graying
The headstoned grass,
A band all in white
Like the saints in church-glass,
Singing and playing
The ancient stave
By the choirmaster’s grave.

Such the tenor man told
When he had grown old.

There’s lots we’d like to go into here on Hardy and music. We once wrote a paper on this, and talked about everything from devillish fiddlers to skimmity-rides. But we’ve kept you here long enough for one evening.

Suffice to say that while all choirs fantasize occasionally about killing the conductor, we’re really quite loyal and would probably kill instead anyone who didn’t give them the burial they asked for, as above.

Oh, and Hardy has a musical ear. So you hear that a lot in his use of metre. Some poems are set to specific tunes, most notably one to Schubert’s Lark and another to the German folk tune Bruderchen Komm Tanz Mit Mir. Try reading either aloud and they’re impossibly awkward. Sing them and they dance off the tongue.

This isn’t either of those. But one of this Advent’s delightful discoveries is that Benjamin Britten set all kinds of Hardy to music. Two of our favourites and no one said. And one of the poems he set was this one. So, pour your tea, read your Hardy and then have a listen to Britten. Unless, of course, you can think of a better combination of things to occupy you.

We can’t.

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