For educational homeschool entertainment this New Year’s Day, why not invite your students to listen to the great countertenor Alfred Deller singing, in true Renaissance style, an ancient carol that dates back at least as far as the 1640s, set to what is probably the most famous of all folk-tunes, “Greensleeves”:
We’re coming to the end of our Homeschool Holiday Music Month in the River Houses — it began on the first of December and will conclude this Tuesday on Twelfth Night. Throughout the month we’ve been 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 to help you teach little musical lessons all along the way.
Alfred Deller (1912–1979) was a key figure in the twentieth-century revival of authentic early music performance. He sang naturally as a countertenor — the highest male vocal register, overlapping the female contralto and mezzo-soprano registers — and he recreated for new audiences the popular singing styles of the Shakespearean era.
Carol for New Year’s Day
The old year now away is fled,
The new year it is enterèd;
Then let us now our sins down tread,
And joyfully all appear.
Let’s merry be this day,
And let us now both sport and play,
Hang grief, cast care away,
God send you a happy new year!
The name day now of Christ we keep,
Who for our sins did often weep;
His hands and feet were wounded deep,
And his blessed side, with a spear.
His head they crowned with thorn,
And at him they did laugh and scorn,
Who for our good was born;
God send us a happy New Year!
And now with New-Year’s gifts each friend
Unto each other they do send;
God grant we may all our lives amend,
And that the truth may appear.
Now like the snake your skin cast off
Of evil thoughts and sin,
And so the year begin:
God send us a happy new year!
And here’s a little elementary musical lesson you can teach this week. Different people naturally have different vocal ranges, from high to low. Professional singers can extend those ranges through training, but it’s always the case that some people naturally sing at a higher pitch and some at a lower. The adult male vocal ranges, from highest to lowest, are commonly called countertenor (like Deller, above), tenor, baritone, and bass. The adult female ranges, from highest to lowest, are soprano, mezzo-soprano, and contralto. Although these terms are used most often in the context of classical music and opera, they can be applied to singers in popular music as well: country star Dolly Parton, for example, has a strong soprano voice, while the late Karen Carpenter was famous as a contralto. The male countertenor voice is one of the rarest, which is why Deller was so celebrated in his day.
The tune “Greensleeves” is one of the oldest and best-known English folk tunes, first attested in print in 1580. It’s so old and popular, in fact, that it was even mentioned by Shakespeare (in The Merry Wives of Windsor). A great variety of lyrics, both sacred and secular, have been written for it, and it’s been subject to a great many instrumental arrangements, both popular and classical. (“Greensleeves to a Ground” is a particularly popular Christmastime instrumental arrangement.)
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 (riverhouses.org/newsletter) and get great homeschool teaching ideas delivered right to your mailbox all through the year. 🗞