In some quarters in the folk music world you are invited to a ‘come-all-ye’; a traditional way of describing an open mic night (or, since this is folk, an open ‘finger-in-ear’ night). I’ve always liked the expression ‘come-all-ye’ whilst finding it faintly risible at the same time, an attitude which pretty much sums up my response to the folk music world in general. So, I guess if a singalong in folk is a come-all-ye, then a Christmas carol singalong would be an ‘O-come-all-ye’ – geddit? And it was to two such events that I came – or went – yesterday, one Quakerly and one ecclesiastical.
The Quakers in Loughborough gathered for carols and readings – the readings were mostly poems – after meeting yesterday. We had all the traditional carols in the tunes I like, some a capella but most accompanied by a harpist, a flautist, a bass guitarist and an acoustic guitarist. It was terrific fun and quite moving at the same time, and I read a poem of mine about global warming called ‘In the Deep Mid-Autumn.’ Then in the evening at Emmanuel there was the traditional Nine Lessons and Carols which began with a single voice singing ‘Once in Royal’; the choir on the second verse and the congregation rising to their feet with a hushed movement to sing the rest.
If there is one thing I miss in being a Quaker, it’s the music. Traditional hymns and carols have laid down patterns in my brain from a very early age; patterns which relate to poetry and maths and emotion and spirit. But the thing that lifts the roof off my head is to sing ‘O Come All Ye Faithful’ with the descant. You get to the penultimate verse and you begin with your pedestrian melody. You wait: and in the chorus it comes; the first voice going up like a rocket into the sky and hovering in the air; then the secong going up, following it and doing some pirouettes before reaching its final high note and ceasing to blackness. When that chorus comes I can’t sing; I just have to listen.
Sadly yesterday we did not sing the tune I love the best to ‘In the Bleak Mid-Winter’, which is this one by Harold Darke: