Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Dulce Domum

.My inner ear has been resounding with the wonderful selection of choral music that CONCORA will perform on “Christmas in the Americas.” We've had three fabulous rehearsals, and we'll finish our preparations on Friday and Saturday. The concert takes place on Sunday, December 13, at 7:30 p.m., at the historic Asylum Hill Congregational Church in Hartford. (Details and ticket information are at the end of this post. Tickets are selling briskly; call today to reserve your seats!)

The program annotations I provide for the printed program book are necessarily short, due to space constraints. When I have time, I like to prepare an expanded “program essay” for the singers that includes a lot of the information that I had to edit out for the short printed notes. Here’s the “long note” for one of my favorite selections on the program. I love the musical setting and the text, which is my favorite portion of one of my favorite childhood books, Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows.

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Readers around the world treasure Kenneth Grahame’s 1908 story The Wind in the Willows, the source for Joy Shall Be Yours in the Morning, a carol sung by field mice to their neighbors on a frosty December night. The hurrying, irregular rhythms in the 1998 setting by Canadian Malcolm V. Edwards (b. 1944) might bring to mind little feet hurrying through the snowdrifts to sing a wassail. Edwards, a native of Halifax, England, emigrated to Canada in 1967 and is Professor of Music (and former Head of the Music Department) at the University of Calgary.

Here is the excerpt from “Dulce Domum,” the chapter in which the carol text appears. “Dulce Domum” is the Latin for “sweetly at home” or “sweet home.” A lovely winter thought.

… Sounds were heard from the fore-court without–sounds like the scuffling of small feet in the gravel and a confused murmur of tiny voices, while broken sentences reached them–”Now, all in a line–hold the lantern up a bit, Tommy–clear your throats first–no coughing after I say one, two, three.–Where's young Bill?–Here, come on, do, we're all a-waiting––”

“What's up?” inquired the Rat, pausing in his labours.

“I think it must be the field-mice,” replied the Mole, with a touch of pride in his manner. “They go round carol-singing regularly at this time of the year. They're quite an institution in these parts. And they never pass me over–they come to Mole End last of all; and I used to give them hot drinks, and supper too sometimes, when I could afford it. It will be like old times to hear them again.”

“Let's have a look at them!” cried the Rat, jumping up and running to the door.

It was a pretty sight, and a seasonable one, that met their eyes when they flung the door open. In the fore-court, lit by the dim rays of a horn lantern, some eight or ten little fieldmice stood in a semicircle, red worsted comforters round their throats, their fore-paws thrust deep into their pockets, their feet jigging for warmth. With bright beady eyes they glanced shyly at each other, sniggering a little, sniffing and applying coat-sleeves a good deal. As the door opened, one of the elder ones that carried the lantern was just saying, “Now then, one, two, three!” and forthwith their shrill little voices uprose on the air, singing one of the old-time carols that their forefathers composed in fields that were fallow and held by frost, or when snow-bound in chimney corners, and handed down to be sung in the miry street to lamp-lit windows at Yule-time.


Villagers all, this frosty tide,
Let your doors swing open wide,
Though wind may follow, and snow beside,
Yet draw us in by your fire to bide;
Joy shall be yours in the morning!

Here we stand in the cold and the sleet,
Blowing fingers and stamping feet,
Come from far away you to greet—
You by the fire and we in the street—
Bidding you joy in the morning!

For ere one half of the night was gone,
Sudden a star has led us on,
Raining bliss and benison— [benediction]
Bliss to-morrow and more anon,
Joy for every morning!
[this verse is omitted from Edwards’ setting]

Goodman Joseph toiled through the snow—
Saw the star o'er a stable low;
Mary she might not further go—
Welcome thatch, and litter below!
Joy was hers in the morning!

And then they heard the angels tell
Who were the first to cry NOWELL?
Animals all, as it befell,
In the stable where they did dwell!
Joy shall be theirs in the morning!

The voices ceased, the singers, bashful but smiling, exchanged sidelong glances, and silence succeeded--but for a moment only. Then, from up above and far away, down the tunnel they had so lately travelled was borne to their ears in a faint musical hum: the sound of distant bells ringing a joyful and clangorous peal.

“Very well sung, boys!” cried the Rat heartily. “And now come along in, all of you, and warm yourselves by the fire, and have something hot!”

The carol appears in chapter five (“Dulce Domum”) of The Wind in the Willows where it is sung by the field-mice to Mole and Rat. Grahame, Kenneth. The Wind in the Willows. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1908.
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Over the next several days, I’ll continue to share snippets of the information I’ve gathered about some of the selections we’ll perform on "Christmas in the Americas." I do hope you can be in the audience to hear this remarkable program. You may view the entire repertoire list at the end of my first post about this concert, here: http://quodlibet-sarah.blogspot.com/2009/12/rich-choral-tapestry-concora-presents.html

Call today to reserve your seats!

“Christmas in the Americas”
Richard Coffey, conductor
Dan Campolieta (piano, organ, and percussion) and Christen Hernandez (percussion)
Sunday, December 13, 2009 at 4:00 p.m.Snow Date: Monday, December 14, 7:30 p.m.
Asylum Hill Congregational Church, 814 Asylum Avenue, Hartford
Tickets: http://www.concora.org/ or call 860-224-7500Preferred seating: $45; General admission: $25; Students: $10.
2-for-1 general seating tickets are available to those with a Let*s Go Arts! card from the Greater Hartford Arts Council.

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