You’ve had a busy few days! Ready to wind down? There’s no better way than with Percy Grainger’s beautiful piano arrangement of this old English carol. Turn the sound up and take a few deep breaths:
December is Homeschool Holiday Music Month in the River Houses, and throughout the month we’re sharing an assortment of seasonal favorites in a great variety of styles and genres — classical and modern, sacred and secular, serious and silly — along with a collection of easy educational notes that will let you teach little musical lessons all along the way.
The Australian-born British and American composer Percy Grainger (1882–1961) was a key figure in the folk-music revival movement in the early twentieth century, and he produced modern professional arrangements of many traditional melodies that folklorists had collected all through the British Isles. This piano composition is based on a folk carol known to have been sung in the county of Sussex at least as far back as the early 1800s, and probably much earlier.
Granger’s refined and peaceful arrangement is rather far removed from the original setting in which a carol like this would have been performed. All across Europe there are a great variety of carnival-like Christmas and New Year traditions that stretch back into the Middle Ages and beyond, and one of these is the tradition of “Mummery.” In many villages around the New Year it was customary for the townsfolk to dress up in harlequin-like costumes and go from door to door acting out traditional pantomimes and begging for money and food. These troops of Mummers — a bit like rowdy Christmas trick-or-treaters — would sing carols and other songs to inspire generosity on the part of their hosts (and to implicitly threaten trickery if gifts were not forthcoming).
Here’s a grand and slightly irregular (that is, realistic) performance of the original Sussex Mummers’ Carol by a winter festival group called the California Revels — it offers a glimpse of how such performances might have once looked in the wild:
You can perhaps see why we at the River Houses have a special fondness for the lyrics:
God bless the master of this house
With happiness beside;
Where e’re his body rides or walks,
His God must be his guide,
His God must be his guide.
God bless the mistress of this house
With gold chain round her breast;
Where e’re her body sleeps or wakes,
Lord, send her soul to rest,
Lord, send her soul to rest.
God bless your house, your children too,
Your cattle and your store;
The Lord increase you day by day
And send you more and more,
And send you more and more.
What marvelous musical discoveries have you been making in your homeschool during this delightful Holiday Music Month? 🎄 🎵
❡ Musical memories: If you’d like to fill your homeschool with some beautiful background sounds during the holidays, why not tune in to the 24-hour Holiday Channel from WQXR, the famous classical music station in New York City. “Enjoy the sounds of orchestras, choirs, brass ensembles and more as we celebrate the sacred and secular sounds of the season.” I have it on as background music almost all day. Won’t you join me? 📻
❡ Lift every voice: This is one of our occasional posts on Homeschool Arts & Music. Add your name to our weekly mailing list and get great homeschool teaching ideas delivered right to your mailbox all through the year. 🗞