Advent Calendar – Christmas Day!

Merry Christmas!  Usually this is the point at which I go for all the big descants, but you have the entire internet for that.

Instead, I am going to be completely self-indulgent (and hopefully you-indulgent, too), because I was looking for a beautiful Christmas song by the King’s singers to end with and instead I found… an entire King’s Singers Christmas concert.  Merry Christmas indeed!

I wish you a day with the people you love, a day of delicious food and enjoyable conversation and a baby to hug, if that’s your sort of thing (or a cat to hug, if that is your preference), with no drama, no disasters, no politics and someone else doing the washing up.  And a nice book to read at the end of the day.

With love,

Catherine

Advent Calendar Day 16: Gaudete!

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…

Advent Calendar Day 1: Veni, Veni Emmanuel (The King’s Singers)

It’s December, which means it’s musical Advent Calendar time (and possibly also, oh look, I have a music blog, maybe I should stop ignoring it time)!

I’m starting Advent this year with a recording of The King’s Singers, singing Veni, Veni Emmanuel, a Christmas Carol – or, really, an Advent Carol – with medieval origins.

It is well known, I think, that I adore The King’s Singers.  They are, in my view, the best vocal group currently performing, and their harmony and clarity is so perfect that when you hear them in concert, their music often develops extra harmonics from the resonances.  Their work is, quite simply, sublime.

I’m particularly fond of Veni Veni Emmanuel, because of all the ways it has developed over the years.  In its purest form, it’s simply Gregorian chant (and one thing I like about the King’s Singers version of it is that they do start in unison, befitting the music’s origins, before developing the harmonies in later verses); it can also be sung as a big Christmas Carol with organ and descant à la Willcocks.  And in between you get thoughtful, countermelody versions by the Medieval Baebes, or solo versions by Celtic musicians like Enya.  And then there’s the version by Nox Arcana…  All different, and all gorgeous – very few people do this hymn badly, I find.

The text is a paraphrase of Isaiah, and properly belongs in the third week of Advent, but I like it as a starting point, since it is an invitation, after all.  And that is the start of any journey.

Advent Calendar Day 22: Spem in Alium (Tallis)

I have to confess that this is not exactly an Advent Carol. In fact, today was meant to be The Truth Sent From Above, but as I was looking for the King’s Singers version, I found their recording of Spem in Alium, a piece designed for eight choirs of five voices.

Since there are only six singers in The King’s Singers, I immediately had to see how they’d managed it…

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Advent Calendar Day 8: Lullay My Liking (Lawson)

After yesterday’s travesty, I thought you deserved something really gorgeous, and what could be more gorgeous than the King’s Singers?  I was fortunate enough to see them in concert earlier this year, as well as attending one of their masterclasses, and they really are the most perfect ensemble I’ve ever heard – their tuning is so perfect that you get harmonics, and the balance between parts is just amazing.  And they also seem to be lovely people, which is an under-rated skill…

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Friday Fun: The King’s Singers perform the Overture to Rossini’s Barber of Seville

I kind of have a crush on all of the King’s Singers, to be honest. I was fortunate enough to go to be in the audience for both a concert and a Master Class of theirs earlier this year, and in addition to having beautiful, incredibly well-trained voices, they are just generally funny and delightful people.  They do a lot of serious and less serious madrigals, and folk songs, and their version of The Band Played Waltzing Matilda was shatteringly good (that song is quite good at getting me teary in any case, but this was something else again).

And then they do things like this.

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