It was Hot Chocolate Tea tonight, for the shortest day. We don’t usually care for chocolate in tea, but we make an exception with this tea because the creaminess of it is a nice compliment to the chocolate. It’s also more black tea than it is chocolate, not a balance people always get right when they blend the two. It’s featured before on this blog, and at the time we wondered if milk would enhance the taste or confuse it. We still haven’t experimented, and don’t think we will. As a flavoured black tea it is rich and full-bodied, and we’ve mostly decided adding milk would make it cloying. It would also drown the hints of vanilla that run through it.
Now, we promised you a poem the other night, but you still have to wait on it. Don’t worry, no Apocalyptic Wailing tonight about technology. But we wanted something hopeful for the shortest day -it’s such a drear, dark occasion. We did dither about giving you this one, as we’ve used it before here, and haven’t established what our rules are about repeating a poem. But the dithering was before we got a repeated tea. We think that completely justifies us in going back to what is for us the most beloved winter-themed poem of the English canon. Read it, enjoy it, and carry a bit of light through the growing gloom with you.
The Darkling Thrush
I leant upon a coppice gate
When Frost was spectre-grey,
And Winter’s dregs made desolate
The weakening eye of day.
The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
Like strings of broken lyres,
And all mankind that haunted nigh
Had sought their household fires.
The land’s sharp features seemed to be
The Century’s corpse outleant,
His crypt the cloudy canopy,
The wind his death-lament.
The ancient pulse of germ and birth
Was shrunken hard and dry,
And every spirit upon earth
Seemed fervourless as I.
At once a voice arose among
The bleak twigs overhead
In a full-hearted evensong
Of joy illimited;
An aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small,
In blast-beruffled plume,
Had chosen thus to fling his soul
Upon the growing gloom.
So little cause for carolings
Of such ecstatic sound
Was written on terrestrial things
Afar or nigh around,
That I could think there trembled through
His happy good-night air
Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew
And I was unaware.
*Remember a while back we said you could sing most Hardy to any hymn tune? Try it with this one. Our especial favourite is Aurelia, but Repton is good too. Don’t cleave to those though -be inventive!
It was our Nine Lessons and Carols tonight, and we were an exceedingly good former chorister and resisted joining in the descants. Well, all right, we confess to fellow choristers and the body of the church et& et& to joining in on two separate lines to Hark the Herald. The thing is, we don’t know the melody to the third verse of that particular hymn. We’ve only ever sung the descant. So we were effectively sight-reading without the music this evening. And that’s a cruel thing to do to a soprano.
It’s also Gaudete Sunday, which means we can relax our Advent discipline a bit. ours, such as it is, would appear to be the blog, and to that end we’re doing something a bit different. We’re still thinking musically after the Nine Lessons, so we’re cobbling together more than the usual single anthem for you. Not to worry; not only will there not be nine of them, we promise no more earworms in the being of last night’s hornpipe.
We’ll start, because it’s Gaudete Sunday, with Hills of the North. This is far and away our favourite Advent hymn -who wouldn’t like a glad rush towards the Apocalypse? We’re being sincere there too, there are shades of Revelations about this hymn. And we’re giving it an airing because it’s woefully absent from the Anglican Hymnnal of the Church of Canada. We freely admit to grousing more than the average person about hymnals not called New English, but honestly, the selection in this one boggles us. It’s not just Hills of the North, the whole Advent section is weirdly curtailed. It doesn’t even have Lead Kindly Light. But that’s a rant for a different time. Here is Hills of the North -our version. There are two.
You’ll notice it’s slow enough to turn the choir blue. That’s not usual. But our only alternative was Songs of Praise not only with the wrong words but at such a clip as to be still more lunatic. There is an average between the two -we’ve sung it -but it’s not prerecorded apparently.
To follow it, here’s one we used to air with regularity this time of year. It came with a good deal of gentle ribbing from the choir (all 5 of us) about Stainer’s lack of subtlety, but we love it anyways. Even if it does stick in our head for weeks after the fact of singing it.
You see what our choir meant about the subtlety? Even so, we miss it. But we won’t leave you to the endless musical loop that is that particular anthem. We’ll close with another omission from the Canadian Hymnal.
Nt quite Nine Lessons -more a ramble through music we miss this year. There are others too -we haven’t had any antiphonies – but these are high on our list. We’re listening to them accompanied by caramel shortbread tea. It would be heresy if it didn’t put us in mind of another thing we can’t get over here, Millionaire’s Shortbread. It’s the one aberrations to our rigid shortbread recipe we have time for. And the tea tastes the way we remember Millionaire’s Shortbread, though without the chocolate. It’s another sweet, dessert tea that doesn’t cloy, and it’s a lovely way to cap an evening of music and fellowship.
After all that, we can’t quite break with discipline after all, so here’s an irreverent thing that used to circulate through choir circles we knew whenever performances were coming due. Sing it to the tune of Immortal, Invisible and see if you ever sing the normal words again. We still have to think fractionally too long about it.
Immoral, impossible, God only knows
how tenors and basses, sopranos, altos
at service on Sunday are rarely the same
as those who on Thursday to choir practice came.
Unready, unable to sight-read the notes,
nor counting, nor blending, they tighten their throats.
The descant so piercing is soaring above
a melody only a mother could love.
They have a director, but no one knows why;
no one in the choir deigns to turn him an eye.
It’s clear by his flailing, he wants them to look,
but each singer stands there with nose in the book.
Despite the offences, the music rings out.
The folks in the pews are enraptured, no doubt.
Their faces are blissful, their thoughts appear deep,
but this is no wonder, for they are asleep.
*We would like to stress that whatever his sins, our conductor never flailed. Seemingly though, Thursday is the universal day for choir rehearsal. Funny the things that are unfailingly the same.