Sometimes, I like to be a really evil choirmistress, and last Wednesday was one of those times. With our first performance on Thursday, I grinned evilly at my little work choir and suggested we give Gaudete – a piece we had never previously looked at – a try. It was, predictably, a disaster, mostly because the Latin goes by terribly fast, so that even if you get the hang of the tune (which my choristers did, quite fast), the verses are a shambles. So I laughed at them and said maybe we’d give that one a try next year, and then we went back to singing stuff we had actually rehearsed. And singing it very well, too.
(I don’t know why they put up with me, really I don’t.)
Anyway. This little carol is one I first encountered in an Adelaide pub back in my university choir days. It lends itself very nicely to pub singing, because it has a pleasingly bouncy chorus, and the verses – generally sung by a soloist – are a nice little rhyming iambic heptameter, which means that anyone can jump in for a verse and sing just about any humorous or scurrilis couplet they can make up. “Mary had a little lamb, the doctors were surprised / When Old MacDonald had a farm they couldn’t believe their eyes!” was one of the cleaner verses we liked to sing. Some of the less clean verses were known to get us kicked out of the pub.
If, however, one chooses to sing the actual lyrics as written – which really doesn’t come naturally to me, even twenty years later – one finds that actually, they are a Christmas carol. Fancy that. The chorus, in fact, translates as ‘Rejoice, Christ is born of the Virgin Mary, Rejoice’, which perhaps explains why the Mary had a little lamb verses were such a popular variant.
The King’s Singers version is, of course, on an entirely different plane from that of the pub version. For one thing, they vary the keys and harmonies in different verses. For another, they sing the lyrics as written. And for a third thing, they sing so beautifully that they probably wouldn’t get kicked out of the pub even if they were singing the dirty words.
(That’s how things work when you are that beautiful.)
And – did you notice? – we also get to continue the theme of Rejoicing for the third Sunday of Advent. See, I do pay attention sometimes…