Advent Calendar Day 9: Prepare ye the way of the Lord – Godspell

In vain I have struggled.  It will not do.  My feelings will not be repressed.  I cannot possibly end this sequence without earworming you all with Godspell.

I was going to apologise, but unfortunately any apology would completely lack sincerity, because I have loved Godspell ever since I was little and we used to play it on tapes in the car.  And I’ve loved if even more since my awesome primary school music teacher (Greg Mason, if you are reading this, you really were an inspiration) made Godspell the school production for the Grade 4-6 classes.

Which, in retrospect, was probably ridiculously cute.  But we thought it was fantastic, and my fellow Grade 4s and I all liked to see how fast we could sing the ‘Some men are born to live at ease’ song without getting completely tongue tied, and I’m pretty sure that every single one of us can still sing the entire musical, word for word, from beginning to the end.  Except for the Turn Back, O Man song, which was considered too Adult and Racy for 10-12 year old girls.  (It’s an awesome song, so yes, I know that one by heart, too, but not because of school.)

I really do think Godspell is an extremely good musical, and there are some great songs in there – I would love to sing the Godspell version of ‘We plough the fields and scatter the good seed on the land’ at church sometime, or, for that matter, ‘O Bless the Lord My Soul’, which is just a fabulous gospel piece.

Incidentally, the sound you can hear at the start of this recording is a shofar, which is the ram’s horn instrument mentioned in the Bible, which gets blown at Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.  So this post is not just about sharing the 1970s music theatre love – it’s also educational!  (For my non-Jewish readers, anyway.  Though I imagine I don’t have a *lot* of Jewish readers seeking out musical advent calendars…)

PS – if you really can’t bring yourself to listen to Godspell, here, have the King’s Singers singing ‘O Come, O Come, Emmanuel‘.  This is very nearly on theme for today, and it’s a little more classical and restrained…

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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.