The Carol and the King

O’ Come All Ye Faithful is one of the most popular Christmas carols ever written. No carol service is complete without it and Raunds Choir will undoubtedly be singing it this year.

But this most traditional of Christmas carols may have a subversive past.

In the 18th Century Roman Catholicism was still illegal and life wasn’t much fun for Catholics. The Puritan era had ended but many professions were still barred to them, including medicine, teaching and law. In addition extra taxes were imposed so Catholic landowners paid twice as much as their Protestant neighbours. There were few places Catholics could worship safely and because of this they were attracted to the chapels attached to the embassies of Catholic countries, because those buildings were protected under international law.

John Francis Wade was a music and liturgical scribe and publisher, who worked and worshipped in these embassy chapels in London. He produced beautifully illustrated manuscripts in an elaborate medieval style. Wade was also a Jacobite – someone who believed that the Stuart kings should reclaim the British throne. Many Catholics supported the Jacobite cause as they hoped that Charles Stuart – known as Bonnie Prince Charlie – would return and abolish the laws that made their lives so hard. Wade’s publishing activities afforded him the opportunity to provide an underground press to his faith community. Some historians claim that his books contain coded Jacobite messages.

O’ Come All Ye Faithful is generally attributed to Wade because it first appeared in written form, in the original Latin, in his manuscripts. The reality is that similar to many carols, it was probably a reinvention of an old folk tune.

Adeste Fidelis, as it was originally named, literally means ‘Draw Near Ye Faithful Ones.’ Some historians have interpreted the ‘faithful’ as those loyal to Bonnie Prince Charlie. One of the original lines read, ‘Come to Bethlehem triumphant,’ and Bethlehem was common Jacobean parlance for ‘England’. ‘Regem Angelorum,’ or King of Angels can be read as a pun on ‘Regem Anglorum,’ or King of England. So the line could be read as, ‘Come and behold him, born the King of England.‘ Certain historians point out that in its earliest printed forms the hymn tended to be sited in close proximity to prayers for the exiled monarch, thus lending weight to their argument.

The coded-message theory is an interesting one and there isn’t universal agreement among historians, but whether it is true or not O’ Come All Ye Faithful is such a beautifully crafted hymn that by the mid-19th century it had migrated outside of Catholic churches, and had been enthusiastically adopted by Protestant congregations. I wonder what the Jacobean Wade would have made of that. Would he have been annoyed, or quietly amused and satisfied to hear Protestants calling for the return of Bonnie Prince Charlie!

The Other Side

Chris has kindly contributed this week’s blog post:-

Ever thought what it’s like being on the other side and conducting a choir? I’ve got to say its one of the most rewarding and enjoyable experiences that I have participated in, you might be able to spot that from the smile on my face! But equally, it’s one of the hardest things I have done and the most scary.

It goes back to the time when Annie first rang me asking if I would cover for Sally on a couple of occasions. I hadn’t been living in the area for very long as I had recently moved down here from Yorkshire for my job. I’d seen the advert in the Nene Valley paper and not got round to ringing. So I guess Annie beat me to it, and I am very glad of that!

So, that was it, the first time I met the choir was when I stood in front of you and led that first session. I hadn’t had much experience at that point, I had led the odd choir rehearsal in the past, but nothing on the scale of Raunds Community Choir. It took a lot of preparation, and that is true of any choir rehearsal. Finding the music we are going to sing is never easy, and if you don’t know the group before hand it’s even harder. So much goes through your head, will they like this? What happens if I can’t please everyone? Will they boo me out the room, or chase me out of the building waving their music books at me? What if they sit there and just stare at me, or I forget how to play the piano?

Well I’m very glad to say that never happened, or has happened, but these thoughts constantly go through your mind as a musical director. You eventually realise that you can never please everyone, no matter how hard you try, and how many hours you put into searching every possible source of music you can think of. So it ends up being something that you know you love and can deliver passionately and confidently. And that’s the exciting thing about being in a choir, as well as singing the songs you love, you get to learn new pieces of music you have never heard of before.

Deciding on the music is just part of the job though. It’s then a case of delivery, and that’s no easy task. Again, it takes hours of preparation and decision making, how am I going to teach it, where should I start, how am I going to keep everyone occupied? And so on. Actually, it’s quite handy being a teacher as the skills are interchangeable. Even behaviour management comes in handy sometimes, but only in a way to help me to engage you all, of course!

So, next time you’re sat in choir while another section is rehearsing something, watch what we’re doing and have a think about what is going through Sally’s or my head, and what has gone on behind the scenes. I’ve got to say though, it’s well worth the effort and I love every minute of it, I wouldn’t want it any other way!

Chris

It’s all about the strategy!

It’s all very well saying, ‘Learn this song by heart,’ but how do we even begin to go about the task?

Soprano Clare is Raunds Choir’s very own language tutor, so she’s an expert on teaching people how to approach foreign words and sounds. With the first of our concerts looming, she’s kindly put together this week’s blog post with the aim of helping us learn Dodi-Li.

*****

“When Sally asked us to learn the words to a Hebrew song, “Dodi Li”, I knew that that was quite a challenge! It seems a daunting task but it’s not impossible. I devised a plan of action to make sure that I know those words before our Christmas concert which isn’t long off now. Here are the steps I’ve taken so far.

1. I found an excellent video on Youtube which I can sing along to, because I can learn the words so much more easily if I know the tune well.

2. Because the choir on Youtube doesn’t repeat lines in the way we are doing, I stopped the video at the end of each line so that I could sing the extra line in between. Before practising this way, during our choir rehearsals I kept coming in too soon with the second line of the chorus, so I knew I had to be especially careful.

3. I copied out the words from the sheet music in a way which was meaningful to me. I didn’t find the sheet we were given with the words split into syllables very helpful when it came to learning them because I find it easier to learn fewer longer words than lots of short syllables, even if I don’t know what they mean. I also added extra dots after syllables to show if they had two notes to them and sometimes I sketched the movements up and down next to them if I couldn’t remember the tune.

4. I tried to put images to as many words as I could, so for example, “ni lo” became “knee low” and I imagined myself bending low to touch my knee.

5. I looked for patterns in the words and I noticed that every line in the first verse begins with the letter M.

6. I tried some word association. I was having trouble with “Li bav” so I imagined a man called Lee and his friend Bav (nearly Baz). For “Mi zot o la “ I think of “Me, it’s hot! Oh là (là)!”

7. I carried those words round with me everywhere and sang them over and over again, trying to memorize just the first five words to begin with. It would be a good idea to leave copies around the house and I might do that yet.

8. I made a practice record sheet with the days of the week written on it and I tick it when I have done a practice. That way I have an honest record of how often I am practising and if there is a day without at least one tick, I know I have to put more effort in. I’m aiming for at least three practices a day.

9. I recorded myself singing the words with the correct number of repetitions of each line so that I can listen to that instead of the Youtube video.

So how am I progressing? Well, after two weeks, I can now sing the song from beginning to end, occasionally without a mistake and at a reasonable speed but that’s not good enough for a concert. I have been told by a professional singer that an amateur learns words until they know them but a professional learns them until it is impossible to forget them and I’m nowhere near that stage yet!

As a language teacher, I very often ask my students to learn chunks of French and when I ask a beginner to do this, I always give the following advice:

It is perfectly normal to have difficulty remembering new words. It is normal not to be able to memorize anything much on a first attempt. It is normal to remember the new words one day and to have forgotten them the next day or to know them at 9am but not to know them an hour later. The key is to remain calm and accept this and not attach emotion to it. Let it go! Repetition is the answer. Try a variety of methods and use them all. We are all different and some of us will find this process easier than others but we are the Raunds Community Choir and we can do it! Even, in the end, if we have to use some kind of crib-sheet, all that practice we have done at home will make for a lovely sound.”

Clare

Dodi-Li (and other foreign language songs!)

Learning a song in a foreign language is tricky. There’s no doubt about that. The unfamiliar words trip us up and the harmonies are often very different to those we’re used to.

Clare kindly wrote out all the words to Dodi-Li last week, and also provided us with a link to a terrific YouTube version.

I found this lovely blog entry online, written by a guy called Chris Rowbury, all about how to tackle a foreign-language piece. I found it very informative and useful. I hope it helps others.

How to Sing a Song in a Foreign Language