Advent Calendar Day 10 – Gabriel’s Message (Joshua Shank)

I seem to have a bit of an accidental Basque theme going this week – yesterday’s carol was a contemporary setting of an old text by a Basque composer, and today’s carol is a traditional Basque carol.  I’ve always loved this piece of music, even in my primary school days when we used to giggle about the chorus (to this day, I have to work hard not to sing ‘most highly flavoured gravy’ instead of ‘most highly favoured lady’).  It’s such a lovely melody, and the harmonies are gorgeous – I love the way you have to wait for the dissonances to resolve. Also, I just like Mary songs.  (I should probably be Catholic.  Except that I would be a terrible Catholic.)

I’m teaching this to my work choir at present, and they are loving it too.  And doing a much better job than I am of singing the proper words.

I was going to give you a traditional arrangement of this piece, but then I got completely captured by this fascinating version by Joshua Shank, in which he tries to paint the scene of the annunciation with music.  It’s stunning – there is such a feeling of light and brightness in this piece, and somehow the way Gabriel’s words are set, with different voices and rhythms against each other, make me think of Madeleine L’Engle’s depiction of the cherubim as this unfathomable beast with so many eyes and wings that it almost seems plural even though it is only one creature.  Very otherworldly, and a bit intimidating and even overwhelming, as an angel should be.

Also, it’s rather lovely to hear a verse in the original Basque.  None of the other arrangements I’ve heard do that.

If you’ve never heard the piece before, my serving suggestion is to start by listening to either this version, sung by The Sixteen, or to this ethereal arrangement by All Angels, so that you can see where Shank’s arrangement is departing from.

And if you know this carol and hate it and want to see violence done to it, allow me to recommend to your attention this version, sung by Sting.  My husband claims that it isn’t so bad, but actually, he’s wrong about that.  It’s a shocker.  And yet, somehow, I can’t resist sharing it anyway…

(Oh my, and I just looked up the composer and he was born in 1980.  I feel ancient now.  Also inadequate.  How can anyone born in 1980 possibly be old enough to be writing music like that?)

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Advent Calendar Day 14: Remember, O Thou Man (Ravenscroft)

This carol holds a special place in my carol-infested heart, because it’s one of the first carols I sang at Wesley, and also because learning to sing this was, I think, the first time I ever heard the term ‘Advent carol’.

Also, I am just silly enough to enjoy the rather brilliant line ‘Remember how thou art dead I gone, and I did what I can…’, which in my head is always followed immediately by ‘but you wouldn’t listen, would you? No, you just had to know better, and now you come crying to me…’

This is probably not quite what Thomas Ravenscroft had in mind.

Musically, I love this piece for its haunting melody and the harmonies which change from minor to major at the end of each verse.  And the voices in this particular rendition are just lovely. I’ll have to keep an eye out for The Sixteen in future.