Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Shortest Day

On the darkest day of the year, in hope the sun returns

The Shortest Day, Susan Cooper

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Dark Season

Hi, folks. It's been a while, I haven't had much time to follow all of you bloggers, or post much of anything. Lost a good friend recently, and I've been working hard to keep my head above water and my house in working order. Life is upside down and backwards, and I don't have much of a positive feeling for the future.

I really wanted to do some blogging this season, covering the wide variety of historical guising and begging traditions of which Trick or Treat was the sole survivor. Unfortunately I haven't had the time to do the research and writing on it, so perhaps next year.

Instead I wanted to share some great, dark classical music with you.

My family was weird, and we didn't really do the usual American tinsel drenched Christmas.

Most years, we would attend the Christmas Revels at Oakland's Scottish Rite Temple. More than a stage performance, it is sort of a historical preservation show, renacting traditional Winter celebrations from around Europe and the near East.

This is where I developed my taste for the slightly melancholic music of Christmas and Solstice in the middle ages. I thought I would share a couple of particularly poignant tracks:

The Coventry Carol

The Coventry Carol was performed as part of a mystery play about the birth of Jesus, and specifically refers to the period after Jesus' birth, when the three magi accidentally reveal to King Herod that the messiah who will overthrow him has been born.

In order to preserve his throne, Herod orders the slaughter of all the newborn children in Bethlehem.

The carol is a lullaby sung by a mother to her doomed infant child. Luckily, Jesus was smuggled away to Egypt land.

The Abbots Bromley Horn Dance
(Wheelwright Robinson's Tune)

In the little village of Abbots Bromley in Staffordshire England, a curious tradition is upheld each year.

Dancers bearing enormous reindeer antlers, a hobby horse, a man woman or "maid marian", and a fool dance through the town, from tavern to tavern, then snake their way through the countryside going from farm to farm.

The significance of the horn dance has been lost to time, and even the original music played to the dance was lost for a while, before it was rediscovered and incoporated into the yearly Christmas Revel's performance.

It's thought to relate to the tradition of The Wild Hunt

At the darkest point in the story, when night has fallen on the shortest day, the stage descends into darkness, and the haunting Wheelwright Robinson tune is piped or fiddled, as strange figures march through the gloom in their serpentine dancing.

This song has stuck with me for years, and now perhaps it will stick to you too.

Happy Holidays everyone.