Advent IV: Music and Favourite Things

In addition to the tea Advent Calendar, we keep going about four old-fashioned calendars with doors. At this point we must know what’s behind each individual door, but we still enjoy opening them. Today’s tea was a bit like that. It’s a black tea with candy cane pieces called Santa’s Secret. We knew it featured somewhere in the calendar, but not where and when.

It’s a good black tea. We’ve used it before now as a breakfast tea stand in. And after a day running between musical functions, we needed it. There was church in the morning, and then a singing lesson, The Messiah afterwards, where we were good and resisted the muscle-memory impulse to sing the choruses. We were less good at tonight’s Nine Lessons and Carols, where we defected to the descant at Hark the Herald. On the other hand, the alto next to us was having no qualms about singing the harmony line to every verse ever, so it wasn’t just us.

For a tea that’s familiar and predictable, here’s a poem to match. It wouldn’t be Advent if we didn’t give The Darkling Thrush an airing. And besides, there’s still no one who writes winter in England like Hardy. Unless we’re missing someone, in which case, please send material our way.

The Darkling Thrush

Thomas Hardy

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.

In keeping with the Hardy, here’s a bit of Holst to go with it that ought to be better known than it is. It’s Hardy-adjacent, but on the other hand, we’re tolerably sure that of all Egon Heath’s many moods, winter was one of them.

And because it’s still Advent, specifically Rorate Sunday, we’ll leave you with the Advent Prose. We would sing them on a loop through the season, if we could, but apparently that’s considered odd. So here’s a choir to do that instead.

Advertisements

Advent III: the Jocundity of Dachshunds

As if in proof to yesterday’s declaration that it’s not spices in tea, really, we swear on a bible, that we take objection to, today’s selection was called Gingerbread. Straight and to the point. It’s a robins packed chock full of ginger, and it smells and tastes like gingerbread in a cup. So much so that we investigated the ingredients for traces of molasses. We found none. Low on caffeine and richly flavoured, it’s a perfect evening tea. This is how you do spiced teas properly.

In other news, it’s Advent III, the Sunday when the rose vestments come out and we relax whatever Advent discipline we have going. We always think that if ever there was a day we could let the blog slip, it’s this one. But we enjoy the blog, and Gaudete Sunday happens to be our favourite. Even if we still haven’t sung Hills of the North Rejoice this season.

In perpetual embodiment of jubilation though, are the Dachshunds of Dawlish. We owe them a poem, not least because Miss Marschallin has had two this season to their none. But also, no one does unbridled joy like a Dachshund leaping around your knees. We don’t even have to do anything for it. If we look vaguely in the direction of the kitchen from three o’clock onwards, they leap in jocund fashion at the prospect of food. If you go into the kitchen any time after half three, they run in giddy circles. Open the gate to the family room and they race to see who can crush the sofa cushions fastest. It’s like being perpetually bombarded with optimism, and it’s contagious. So here’s a poem to the Dachshunds, with love and affection. We really are sorry we insisted on bathing them earlier today.

img_3077

Lost and Found

Ron Padgett

Man has lost his gods.
If he loses his dignity,
it’s all over.

I said that.

What did I mean?
First, that the belief
in divinity has almost
disappeared.

By dignity
I meant mutual
self-respect, the sense
that we have some right
to be here and that
there is value in it.
(Values are where
the gods went
when they died.)

My dog Susie doesn’t seem
to have any values, but she does
have Pat and me, gods
she gets to play with and bark at.

The Dachshunds have many values, if you’re curious. Fabulous Orange Ball is high on the list. It’s narrowly outranked by Food. Sun is crucial, and warm. We’re sort of in disgrace until the warm weather comes. But they bark anyway, because apparently part of being perpetually optimistic about the universe involves making a joyful noise unto the Lord at every possible occasion.

On which note, we’ll end with Hills of the North, just so someone sings it this year. The important thing to note here is that there are two sets of lyrics, and ours are right. Well, we think so. The people who sing the other ones probably disagree. Both are quite good in their own way though.

The Messiah, Music and Metre

We can tell Christmas is hurtling ever closer by the fact that today’s broadcast of The Hallelujah Chorus was followed immediately afterwards by I Know that My Redeemer Liveth, thus tipping the musical hand, had we not already caught on, that this was The Messiah in full. We resisted the urge to protest at the radio that it had just trespassed into Easter and that technically you can no more say ‘Hallelujah’ in Advent than you can in Lent, the liturgical year being ever symmetrical. Instead we made tea and enjoyed the music.

The tea was Chocolate Orange, which does exactly what it says on the tin. It’s a black tea with essence of orange (don’t ask; we’re afraid to) and chocolate. It’s a good combination, or at any rate, we’re less likely to grouse about it than we are about other chocolate-and-tea blends. Though the strength of this one comes largely from extracting the tea infuser after the first cup. While the orange is flavourful, the chocolate and tannins conspire to drown it. It could very quickly become the kind of tea to take paint off a car if left to steep unchecked.

The Messiah on the other hand, was top-heavy, that is, biased towards the soprano, a fact which delighted us. Modern editors being what they are, no two editions can agree on who sings what when, and often include appendices. Thus we have previously sung How Beautiful are the Feet as a chorus, and it’s a good chorus too, if overlooked. We mention it only inasmuch as the all-hands-round approach is itself highly interpretive; the vocal colour a soprano brings to And the Glory of the Lord Shone all Around Them is brighter and lighter than it is in the hands of an alto, or even a tenor. Not necessarily better, but certainly different. And this was a bright, light Messiah. More like sleigh bells, say, than trumpets, and a lovely accompaniment to tea. Perfect, as it were, for rapidly-approaching Christmas.

It turns out we’re hard-pressed to find good poetry on music. It’s a tricky subject, and since describing it well is a bit like trying to catch moonlight, we’re not sure we blame the poets of the age for the omission. Instead, here’s Thomas Hardy on dancing. Taught the fiddle as a young boy, you can practically here the triplets in this piece.

The Night of the Dance

Thomas Hardy

The cold moon hangs to the sky by its horn,
And centres its gaze on me;
The stars, like eyes in reverie,
Their westering as for a while forborne,
Quiz downward curiously.

Old Robert draws the backbrand in,
The green logs steam and spit;
The half-awakened sparrows flit
From the riddled thatch; and owls begin
To whoo from the gable-slit.

Yes; far and nigh things seem to know
Sweet scenes are impending here;
That all is prepared; that the hour is near
For welcomes, fellowships, and flow
Of sally, song, and cheer;

That spigots are pulled and viols strung;
That soon will arise the sound
Of measures trod to tunes renowned;
That She will return in Love’s low tongue
My vows as we wheel around.

For more on Hardy and music, try his Fiddler of the Reels. It’s the kind of short read that will lose you an afternoon, and the descriptions of music are radiant. Just don’t, whatever you do, read it for the characters. Never read Hardy for the characters. That way madness lies.

Advent II

This afternoon we opened our Advent door to White Cranberry tea, which was really an infusion. The white turned out to be chocolate, though we only know this from an examination of the ingredients. Pour out too early and it makes for lovely, pinkish cranberry-flavoured tea. Pour out later and its darker pink, tastes more strongly of cranberry, and the chocolate still isn’t in evidence. We don’t mind, not being people who much fancy chocolate in tea. We also happen to have a taste for tart things, so the cranberry flavour agreed with us. For anyone with more of a sweet tooth, we decline to pass judgement.

Instead we lost our half-hour teatime to mulling over Advent, and why exactly we’ve spent the last week or so protesting the renaming of the Advent Calendar. We don’t do it, you understand, out of contrariness. Well, not sheer contrariness anyway. Partly we really are baffled by the idea that Advent is somehow exclusive to church-goers. Doesn’t everyone observing the season, even the ones observing in secular fashion, by counting down the days ’til Christmas?

And yet, for all that, Christmas is only part of the point to us. At the end of the day there’s a flatness to Christmas that we don’t find with other holidays. Easter is triumphant and Lent is majestic and sombre. But Advent, that four-weeks journey of counting down until Christmas, is complex. It’s Little Lent to some people, all grey and solemn. There’s a theological school of thought that says it’s apocalyptic. But it’s also the liturgical New Year. Above all those things though, it’s expectant and hopeful, and giddy with blossoming gladness. It comes into fullness at Christmas, we suppose, but to us the exciting part is really the anticipation. It’s watching for the Christ-Light, or any light, on a grey sunrise, or a three o’clock sunset, or on a monochrome winter day.

Advent to us is full of shifting light as we move ever nearer to Christmas Eve. It’s why, although the candles aren’t the most Anglican of traditions (terribly Lutheran, according to a chap at last week’s Agape) we continue to love them and all they stand for. Who doesn’t need light in the darkness? To know that however grim or bleak the hour, there may yet be something coming to buy the spirit? That’s the gist of Advent to us, the nutshell version. And why it matters so much that we’re doing something more here than the 24 Days of Tea. It’s not just about the tea and the boxes, but about what is coming, and more than that, how we get there.

After all that, here’s a well-loved bit of Yeats. Normal people remember it for it’s closing lines. We remember it for the glorious descriptions of shifting light – perfect for Advent whether you see it in rushing to a half nine choir rehearsal by Scottish sunrise, or from some comfortable Canadian fireside, or indeed, somewhere else entirely.

Aden Reaches for the Cloths of Heaven

William Butler Yeats

Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

Other revelations that came today included the rather eclectic one that Wake, O Wake  is excluded from the Anglican Hymnal of Canada. This dawned on us when listening for the second time in as many weeks to Wachet Auf on the organ, we went in search of the words. We’re not sure why they weren’t there, and we’re convinced we will never parse the logic of this particular hymnody compiler. In compensation, we’re sending you on your way today with the hymn for an ear worm. It’s early in Advent for it, we know, but it’s also lovely, and we’re starting to think there are a shocking number of Canadians who have been cheated of the fun of singing it. This must be rectified.

This is the Record of Tea

Query; if we’re calling this thing 24 Days of Tea, do we have to start reworking the header along the lines of ‘The 12 Days of Christmas’?

Make that the nth reason why we persist in talking about an Advent Calendar, shall we? Apologies to the atheists and agnostics out there, sincerely, but we still go to church, still observe Advent, and we really, really, really hate playfully inventive headlines. Writing them, that is. Look ye elsewhere for those.

Other notes include the observation that while we’ve now tried the new plastic-wrapped tea approach by the calendar, we prefer the tins. Yes, the tins were hard to open. Yes, they frequently vexed us. But we had a whole system. Take a teaspoon, gently lever it under the lid, prise the lid up, and twist open. It was a good system. It worked. What can we say? No one has the market on Grumpiness and Apathy to Change cornered quite like the Anglican Communion.

Our working theory is that this too is about inclusivity. See, ever since the sharp decline in church attendance, we swapped the icthus for the tea tin. The Anglican Inquisition now covertly hands tins of tea to its members to signify fellowship. It’s a superior option to cake or death, but it does rather leave people out in the cold. We will now bond over the experience of the fiddly plastic tea bag, atheist and Anglican alike. All while singing The 24 Days of Tea. Tell you what, give us time and we promise to warm up to this brave new world where tea is plastic-wrapped and Advent is bad marketing. We’ll try really hard. Tomorrow.

Today has been long. It was Advent I, so Mass had everything including the kitchen sink at play. We lunched with a friend and attended a Christmas concert that, while lovely, had clearly been read the same marketing memo as the tea people. On the other hand, they stuck doggedly to the ‘original’ lyrics to ‘Deck the Halls’ (inasmuch as these things have original lyrics) so maybe that balances out the ‘Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy’.

Now we’re unwinding after it all drinking cinnamon roibos. It’s the perfect way to relax, and comes highly recommended. It also doesn’t taste terribly of cinnamon, which is odd, because when we wrestled the tea from plastic wrap to tea infuser, we definitely saw cinnamon pieces. It smells of cinnamon though. Given the history of these things to smell of things they are not, this is no small victory.

This isn’t necessarily the fault of the tea. Roibos is the kind of tea that comes naturally spiced; taste-wise, certain varieties aren’t miles from cinnamon-flavoured anyway. To overwhelm that and bring secondary flavours through, this is a tea that has to steep an exceptionally long time. Twenty minutes later and the second cup had definite notes of cinnamon to it. It was lovely, but you won’t be making this up for a quick cup of anything before breakfast.

If you survived all that, have tea and a biscuit. And then, just to prove we don’t take it all too seriously, have a poem that pokes fun at any Anglican that dares try.

What’s The Use?
by S.J. Forrest

transcribed by Father James Siemens, AF

‘Oh just the usual thing you know; the BCP all through,
Just pure and unadulterated 1662;
A minimum of wise interpolations from the Missal,
The Kyrie in Greek, the proper Collects and Epistles,
The Secret and the Canon and the Dominus Vobiscum,
(Three avesand a salveat the end would amiss come);
To the “militant” and “trudle” there is little need to cling,
But apart from these exceptions, just the ordinary thing.’

‘Oh, just the usual thing you know; we’re C of E of course,
But beautify the service from a mediaeval source,
With various processions, and in case you shouldn’t know,
There are tunicled assistants who will tell you where to go;
And should you in bewilderment liturgically falter,
Just make a little circumambulation of the altar.
The blessing, like a bishop, you majestically sing;
But apart from these exceptions, just the ordinary thing.’

‘Oh, just the usual thing you know; but very up to date,
Our basis is the liturgy of 1928,
With lots of local colouring and topical appeal,
And much high-hearted happiness, to make the service real;
Our thoughts on high to sun and sky, to trees and birds and brooks,
Our altar nearly hidden in a library of books;
The Nunc Dimittis, finally “God Save The Queen” we sing;
But, apart from these exceptions, just the ordinary thing.’

‘Oh, just the usual thing you know, we trust that you’ll be able
To mingle with the reredos and stand behindthe Table;
(For clergymen who celebrate and face the congregation,
Must pass a stringent glamour-test before their ordination!)
Patristic ceremonial; economy of gesture,
Though balanced by a certain superfluity of vesture;
With lots of flanking presbyters all gathered in a ring,
But, apart from these exceptions, just the ordinary thing.’

And because it’s Advent I and a Sunday, that means music. We move from the ridiculous to the sublime, because, while we can be irreverent about tea and even the liturgy, music is definitely sacred. Here’s a piece we play on a loop right through until the calendar says it’s officially Christmas. Enjoy.

The Trees on the Mountain are Accented?

Do we need to add accents to music? We ask because some years back we were introduced to the strange and weird world of Albert Herring. We didn’t think much about the accent question at the time; we were in Scotland and all the singers sounded British, inasmuch as singing is ever accented.

But then we were introduced to what must be one of our favourite pieces of music in all opera, The Trees on the Mountain. It comes from Carlyle Floyd’s Susannah, and while it’s based on the apocryphal book of the same name, Floyd relocates the action to the heart of Southern America. It’s not nearly well-known enough elsewhere, though it put Floyd on the musical map. This means there are precious few recordings of it that we can find – and the ones we can are full of the South. Not surprising, if, as with our Albert Herring the cast was Southern, but the singers of Floyd aren’t. Yet, every one of them feels the need to adopt the soft-spoken Southern accent as they negotiate the music, and every time we here the dialectised words, we’re pulled out of the music for a second.

You have to understand; it’s not written that way. Oh, there’s the odd bit of dialectic phrasing, take ‘The sky’s so bright and velvet-like,’ for instance. But relaxed vowels are all interpretive -not written into the text. That’s not to say, of course, that it can’t be done – otherwise cry heresy to every rescoring of Bach and Rameau through history. We’ve been putting our stamp on music forever, adding dynamics were there were none, taking them out where an editor we disagree with wrote them in, ornamenting and decorating and offering suggestions for grace notes. But accents? Even ones not ours?

It’s an odd thing. Undeniably a large part of Susannah’s musical identity is its Southernness. But when we sing Trees on the Mountain, or even its companion, Ain’t it a Pretty Night  – and we have – we find it distinctly unnatural to assume an accent that isn’t our funny hybrid of Canadian-British-Scots-whatever-people-guess-at-the-moment. The fact is when we sing we sound neutral, and turning ‘my’ into ‘ma’ makes harder already challenging intervals. It also makes us sound and feel absurd, since we still sound Canadian-Scots-British-et&. Would it be different if that was our natural speech pattern? Very possibly.

And then there’s the music. We’ve already said this is an opera steeped in the South. Floyd wrote the culture into the music. However you sing the words, there is no getting around the lilting lyricism of this opera with its roots in folk revival. It’s the music of a people turned grand opera. It isn’t easy music, but it is music with the kind of fluid tessitura that allows it to sit comfortably in any voice.

Albert Herring isn’t quite the same. It’s brittle and spiky, even chaotic. It doesn’t sound of England in quite the way Susannah sounds musically southern. Except that it does. It’s not Elgar, but it’s clipped and precise in a cut-glass way that is beautifully evocative of the posh, stratified society the eponymous Herring wants to throw off. As he tries to eschew it the music grows wild and chromatic. So not only does it sound of a place, it sounds of the particular social sphere being depicted. Does it need the cut-glass accents singers often bring to it? Does Trees on the Mountain need its dialectic stresses? For our money this is a case of music first, then words. Place, history, class: it’s all there; one only needs to listen.

White Cranberry Bark and Advent Carols

We spent this afternoon catching the last performance of The Messiah for this season’s run. It was wonderfully done, with zest and energy even in the slower pieces. The orchestra had a light touch, and the highlight of the performance for us was the choir. (No, we’re not biased at all, why would you think that?) Their diction was good, their sound bright, and they were -oh rarity -always together. In a large choir, that’s no easy feat.

As ever with The Messiah there was a fair bit of elasticity, and pieces were sung by parts we normally associate with others. On that note, we wanted to give you this communion hymn that ambushed us the other week. We never expected to like anything with a tambourine (they’re too often used to soppy effect) but the jocundity here is contagious. You may or may not recognise the text as Comfort Ye My People. We associate it with Handel’s Messiah, but that’s about all they have in common -well, that, and as it happens, we love both arrangements. We hope you will too.

 

Now, the concert over, we’re drinking a tea billed as being White Cranberry Bark. It’s herbal, pink, and tastes tart -the cranberry, presumably. You have to let this one steep. Our first effort was impatient and it tasted mostly of hot water, but about ten minutes into brewing the cranberry came through, and the white chocolate is merely a culinary afterthought. So you see, we can like a tea with chocolate in it after all. Though we still think it’s a bit odd.

And on the subject of oddities, we’re taking a risk here and giving you a poem we haven’t made up our mind about. We first heard it two or three years ago when the St Salvator’s Chapel Choir, St Andrews, premiered a carol cycle arranged by a composer we now forget -possibly John MacMillan. It was interspersed with poetry, and we found this Advent Carol in verse. See what you make of it.

The Midwife’s Carol

Michael Symmons Roberts

Deserts freeze and oceans glaze,
The polar sun turns blue,
Then on winter’s whitened page
A single star prints through.

New-made maker, helpless king,
Born to joy and suffering,
Our rescuer, our child,
Our rescuer, our child.

I haul my catch into the world,
I shake him into breath,
His cry, so clear it splits the skies,
Could wake a man from death.

He cries for milk who gave it taste,
He aches for touch of skin,
Yet he spun every human hair,
And ushered love begin.

I count his fingers, wipe

his eyes,
Then whisper in each ear.
I wrap him in my thickest shawl,
Bound tight to keep him here.

My hands have cradled many heads,
Cut countless cords and cauls,
But never held eternity
Within such fragile walls.

The maker of all worlds is made,
Infinity becalms,
From speed of light to feet of clay,
My saviour in my arms.

For our money, if you’re interested, if that italicised bit is a chorus, it’s unnecessary. Strictly speaking, its superfluous anyway, but if it’s meant to repeat, well, look for us cowering in a corner somewhere waving a cross in the general direction of all things uncomfortably sentimental. And yes, there are probably quite a few Victorian hymns that fall under that description too, we include them here. But strange italics aside, there are some lines here that give us shivers even on the nth rereading. For years people have been trying to articulate the strange duality of the infant Christ, and for us this comes as close as anything to articulating His humanity and divinity simultaneously. If nothing else, it has nerve. That’s a great thing in poetry.

What do you think? Are we too hard on the italics? Is it altogether gloopy anyway? Let us know. We’re collecting opinions.

Advent III: Gaudete from the Choir Stalls

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.

Immortal Impossible

 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.

Advent II: Roses, Skis and White Tea

We’ve said before we’ve never met a white tea we disliked. And while all rules allow of an exception, Walnut Orange Scone, today’s calendar tea, is not that aberration. It doesn’t taste of scone, but we weren’t really expecting a tea to do that. Scones are, for lack of a better word, solid-tasting. You feel the effort of eating them. Tea on the other hand, and this white tea in particular, isn’t like that. It’s delicate, and floral, and whoever thought to combine white tea with orange blossom is, in our book, akin to genius. The warmth of the walnut laced through it is a lovely touch, and gives an extra weight to the tea. The company behind the calendar errs in only one particular; they think this is a morning tea. It’s not. It’s a comforting wrap of a tea to be drunk before bed. That would henceforth be our routine, but for the fact that we don’t think you want to read everlastingly about Walnut Orange Scone white tea, though we put ever so many poems next to it.

In liturgical news, it’s Advent II, which means Mary and Joseph have joined the tabletop crib, and here and there people are beginning to attend Nine Lessons and Carols. Ours isn’t until Gaudete Sunday, but over the water in Lang’s Auld Grey Toon of St Andrews, the service has been and gone, held deliberately early so the students can catch it.

This news was passed on to us today by a friend as we chatted on Skype, and it got us thinking about our early memories of the service. We were still nominally Presbyterian then, so knew nothing of what to expect. (Theological quarry; can one be nominally Presbyterian still and be possessed of a rosary?)

We remember very little about that first Nine Lessons bar the crowd, the candlelight and Crown of Roses.  We talked last Sunday of the glad expectation of Advent: Crown of Roses is the flip side to that coin. It’s slow, solemn, and hints at the Crucifixion. It has a weight to it that explains as no priest yet successfully done for us, why Advent is so often folded into talk of the Apocalypse.

In the event that you, like us that first Nine Lessons, don’t know Crown of Roses, it’s an anthem by Tchaikovsky. Normal people hear ‘Tchaikovsky’ this time of year and think Nutcracker. We hear his name and think Crown of Roses. Practically speaking, it’s scarcely done because it calls for a divisi from the basses, and it’s a well-established truth that there are never enough men in a choir. Back in St Andrews, our three-person-choir dared not touch it because our Sometimes Tenor would have inevitably had to carry the baseline alone, and that would have been an unkindness. Speaking seriously though, and not as a tongue-in-cheek chorister, it’s a rare, rich anthem, and the world should know it better.  It’s sung here by the All Saints’ Choir of Northampton.

 

Advent though, as we’ve said, is a funny, twofold season. Solemn on the one hand, almost giddily ebullient on the other. This was best typified by the Presbyterian minister we grew up with. Faced with a near-empty church in the winter months, he didn’t wail doom and End of Days but urged everyone instead to Get off your skis and onto your knees. This in spite of the fact that no god Presbyterian is in the habit of kneeling. That’s dangerously Romish. (Cf our leap to Scottish Episcopacy by way of Marian devotion if you doubt this.) But in the spirit of his old idiom, here’s a limerick for Advent II.

Winter Weather: Drift Into Church

From The Church Year in Limericks, Christopher M. Brunelle

With skis, on foot or by sleigh,
Your arrive is welcome today,
And your timely behaviour
Improves on our Saviour:
The Christ Child is still on his way!

(N.B. In the course of annotating this poem for posting, we’ve discovered these limericks began as an effort to enliven the beginning of choir rehearsals. We’ve had our share of those, and we love this book of verse all the more for its testament to the wilful ecclesiastical humour of the choir stalls. Not to mention we feel doubly vindicated about pairing these limericks with anthems!)

A Round Reel of Poetry: Tea for Accompaniment

It’s elegance meets….well the slightly less elegant tonight, as you’re getting tea and a verse with a dose of tartan. Though next to the ceilidhs we learned on, Scottish Country is the elegant cousin, so it’s not too amiss. Mondays are our dancing evening, and we’re strongly tempted to land you with Mairi’s Wedding, because we’ve not done that one yet here, and it would fit the pattern of our day. You’re not getting it, because it drives us fairly batty, even sung.

Besides, we’re sipping Silver Dragon Pearls tonight, and really, there are limits. Sometimes this Advent Calendar comes through in high style, and a tea this delicate, floral -and yes, high-grade -really deserves dignified accompaniment. Alas, we never claimed to be dignified. And since we’re still thinking in reels and jigs, you’re getting a wee verse about Scottish Country Dancing, no names given. Trust us; it’s much funnier this way.

Black_Watch_-_Campbell_tartan

A New Dance

Part Batt

Guess who’s written a brand new dance,
With a brand new figure in it,
Not easy to learn – but worth a try,
As you’ll hear, if you give me a minute.

It is, of course, a “meanwhile” dance
And sounds, perhaps, complex,
But it’s quite straightforward as long as you know
Your number, your partner, and sex.

Threes and fours on the opposite side –
You’ll find it better that way.
You’ve curtsied and bowed, so now get set
And cross your fingers and pray!

An inverted rondel is how it begins
And then the new figure you’ll see
With simple instructions on sheets 1 and 2
And diagrams 1, 2 and 3.

Two highland settings, a knotted barette,
And end in the form of a square.
Crossing reels, look behind you, and with any luck
You’ll find that your partner is there.

Your partner is there, but ignore him or her,
The pattern now subtly alters –
You grab someone else and all promenade round
Backwards – but only three quarters.

The Mic-Mac Rotary bit comes next,
You loop and you loop again,
A quadruple figure of eight, and then
A five-and-a-half-bar chain.

A two-and-a-half-bar turn ends the dance,
An experience no one should miss.
Wherever, whenever, whatever you’ve danced
You’ve never met something like this!

I hope you enjoy it – I think that you will –
And I do hope you think it’s alright
To give yo this preview of what he might dream
When he’s having a very bad night!

(Previously published in Reel 204)

saltire

After all that, you’re getting Mairi’s Wedding after all. If nothing else, it will give you a flavour of what all those verses are on about. It was also the first Scottish Country Dance we ever had thrown at us, and if you can look at it and tell us even one way in which that makes sense, we’ll bow to your wisdom. Personally, we’re still boggled.