Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Here We Went A-Caroling!

This past weekend I had the pleasure of performing not once, but three times with my friend Jeff Seager, to present our holiday program, Here We Come A-Caroling! It was great fun for us and I think for our audiences as well, as we shared songs, delved into the history of each one we presented, and sang along with our listeners to carols both familiar and not so well-known.

The weather was rainy, cold, foggy, and just generally miserable, so we didn't expect much of a turnout for our programs. Winter programming can be tricky; the weather can be your friend or foe. In this case, we did indeed have small audiences but they made up for size with their enthusiasm and participation. We began our day in the small Ohio River town of Paden City, where Jeff broke out the amazing flashing nose (guess which song we were singing?)

then journeyed downriver a few miles to Sistersville where we enjoyed lunch at one of my favorite places, the Wells Inn.

You know you're in a small town when a shop owner runs out to hug you in the the middle of the street! Terry Wiley, the owner of the Sistersville Candy Company, Farmer's Harvest and the Gaslight Theater and Gold Derrick Gallery, saw us passing by and came out to say hello in the drizzle.We had planned to stop in and say hello after lunch but as it turned out he was heading out, so I was glad to have a hug and a quick hello at least. As we left Terry, Charles, the owner of the Wells Inn, drove by and called out a hello. Small towns--I love them.

We left Sistersville and guess what? It was still raining, and raining hard. We need the rain as it has been an extremely dry autumn, but it made for slow driving along snaky Route 2.

We arrived in Ripley in time for dinner at the best Mexican restaurant in town (in my opinion, anyway) Cozumel, and then rushed over to the library for our last performance only to find a lavish spread of refreshments!

Once again, the turnout was small but we enjoyed the intimacy and informality created by a small gathering and explored perhaps even more deeply into the lore of the songs.

Jeff and I had fun planning this program. We kept some of our favorites, and the audiences' favorites but wanted to add some new songs to keep the program fresh. Our favorite addition this year was 'Twas in the Moon of Wintertime, also known as The Huron Carol (listen to the song in the original language). I do not recall ever having heard this particular song before. Written by the Jesuit Jean De Brebeuf in 1643, it is believed to be the first carol composed in North America (and probably on this side of the world). He was a missionary to Canada, working among the Hurons, and endured great hardship during his time with them. He was captured twice by tribes of the Iroquois confederacy and was tortured and burned at the stake following his second capture. Father De Brebeuf wrote his carol in the Huron language while recovering from a broken clavicle.

Father De Brebeuf was beloved of the Huron people, however, and they continued to sing his carol. It was translated into English in 1926, but the translation, it must be said, is a romanticized version of the original, containing language and imagery reflective of Longfellow's Hiawatha and the ideal of the "noble savage." Still, the melody is haunting and the words are quite beautiful. A more literal translation can be found here, which has little in common with the carol we sing today. Jeff played the song on his guitar and sang it so perfectly, it left me with chill bumps.

I will post more about some of the other songs included in our program in future posts, to share with you some of the surprising things we learned as we explored the songs we shared in this year's program. There are hundreds of carols and already I am making a list of some I'd like to consider next year. I expect I'll find some new favorites in the process.

Do you have a favorite song for this time of year?

Copyright 2012 Susanna Holstein. All rights reserved. No Republication or Redistribution Allowed without attribution to Susanna Holstein.

1 comment:

Sue said...

I would have enjoyed your program, I'll bet. And I do have several songs that I especially love at this time of year. Sweet Little Jesus Boy is a favorite of mine.


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