Monday, 20 December 2010

carol service

The LGMC had a gig (as I have learned to say) last night singing at the annual candlelight carol service at St Leonard’s, Shoreditch. This is one of the churches that feature in the nursery rhyme Oranges and Lemons.
“When will you pay me?”
say the bells of Old Bailey.
“When I grow rich”
say the bells of Shoreditch.

The carols were all very familiar ones (to me), carols that I have known and sung every Christmas since boyhood. I was struck, though, by how many of my fellow choristers did not really know them. We were given a service sheet with the words but no music. Although we were encouraged to sing the tenor or bass part if we knew it, only a very few of us knew the four-part harmonies by heart. It is easy to forget that much of what people of my age think of as our common musical/religious heritage is no longer shared by everyone.

We also did two special numbers of our own (in my day they would have been called “anthems”), which we had all learnt by heart and knew thoroughly.

The church was packed out — apparently the regular Sunday congregation numbers only forty or so, but for this carol service there must have been three or four hundred present. Let’s hope everyone contributed generously to the church’s work with the homeless and rough sleepers.

I say the words of the carols were familiar. Well yes, but as well as modernization of the language (you instead of thou etc) the CofE’s recent drive for inclusiveness and gender-neutrality has left some odd results. It’s fine to change Good Christian men rejoice to Good Christians, all rejoice; but what about this?
What can I give him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb.
If I were a wise one, I would do my part,
Yet what I can, I give him: give my heart.

The older “if I were a wise man” alludes to the three wise men, the magi. “If I were a wise one” merely makes a weak line even weaker. And I don’t see why girls as well as boys shouldn’t be encouraged to imagine themselves as one of the three wise men.

As an English version of Puer nobis nascitur, in place of the usual Unto us is born a son we had a new text which I find is by Michael Perry (1942–1996), Jesus Christ the Lord is born. You’d think that someone so contemporary would have shied away from one awful eye-rhyme:
Soon shall come the wise men three,
rousing Herod’s anger;
mothers’ hearts shall broken be
and Mary’s son in danger,
and Mary’s son in danger.

Er… ˈdeɪndʒə really doesn’t rhyme with ˈæŋɡə, surely.

31 comments:

  1. And they're now singing 'a saviour WHO is Christ the Lord' updating Nahum Tate's archaic relative pronoun.

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  2. Isn't shepherd excluding 50.7% percent of the population? Ts, ts.

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  3. I like the term 'eye-rhyme'. There's one of those in a carol we're (hopefully) performing in our concerts on Wednesday and Thursday: G. R. Woodward's 'Up! good Christen folk, and listen'. Although coming in the middle of the line, I think it's clear that Christen is intended to rhyme in some way with listen: the corresponding lines in the other verses are 'Tell the story how from glory' and 'Born of mother, blest o'er other'. 

    There's been no comment on this word in rehearsal, and in fact the conductor always reads it out as Christian, which, as far as I can tell, is the way most singers around me are pronouncing it. I wonder what the writer's intention was. Did he expect singers to sing Christen like the verb christen ˈkrɪsən meaning 'baptize', thus rhyming with listen? Or did he want singers to sing ˈkrɪstən / ˈlɪstən to create a deliberate archaic effect? Or did he indeed intend a merely visual rhyme?

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  4. I wonder whether linguistic researchers in the year 2500 will conclude that anger must have been rhyming with danger in the past, based on these lyrics. :-)

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  5. @John Wells. I went to a carol service last night, and actually thought about asking you a question during "Hark the Herald Angels Sing". The lines were clearly written to rhyme, but come/womb doesn't rhyme at all in the lines.

    Late in time behold Him come
    Offspring of a Virgin's womb


    Did these words rhyme at one point? I am aware of an old dialectal pronunciation 'ku:m for "come", which would rhyme with "womb", although I'm not sure if that's the one Charles Wesley had in mind. According to Wikipedia, Charles Wesley was born in Epworth in Lincolnshire, near the Yorkshire border.

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  6. Perhaps "anger" and "danger" both rhyme with "Assange"...

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  7. @Steve Doerr: Christen does rhyme with listen, so I wouldn't call that an eye rhyme.

    The phrase good Christen folk is ungrammatical unless you treat Christen as an adjective - presumably some dialect or archaic version of Christian. But you need to pronounce it like the verb christen or it won't rhyme. Maybe if he'd spelt it good Christ'n folk Steve's choristers would be more inclined to use the intended pronunciation, however strange it sounds!

    Is the word Christen sometimes used as an adjective, an alternative to Christian? Or was it invented by Woodward to force a rhyme?

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  8. Speaking of 'Hark the herald', verse two contains the word Deity. The most widely used books of carol arrangements for choirs - OUP's Carols for Choirs in multiple volumes and the later, single-volume 100 Carols for Choirs - both have a helpful footnote: 'Deity  pronounced Dee-ity'. Despite this, virtually everyone in the choirs I sing with sings ˈdeɪɪtiː

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  9. @Pete: christe/cristen is given in the OED as an obsolete synonym of Christian. Also, the compound christenman. The word being obsolete (latest quotation 1640 except in the phrase Christen name 'name given at christening'), it is not given a pronunciation. One variant spelling, marked as dial[ectal], is cursen, which lends support to the idea that the t in the standard form was silent.

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  10. In my last post, the opening sentence should begin 'christen/cristen'.

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  11. For deity, see my blog for 16 Dec 2009 and 3 Dec 2008. LPD BrE poll: 80% for ˈdeɪ-.

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  12. I'm presuming Michael Perry used that 'eye-rhyme' (yes it *is* a lovely term!) to make his verse feel more olde-worlde (i.e. could have been written long ago)? In which case, maybe 'womb' and 'come' never did rhyme, but Wesley (or one of the many who fiddled with his original version since its first airing) included this rhyme for the same effect? Just a thought...

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  13. @Steve Doerr:

    I have always sung "Up! Good Christian folk, and listen", and I would have sworn that those were the actual words. However, checking both the original publication in the Cowley Carol Book and the version I sang from in Carols for Choirs, I see that both have "Christen". I agree with Pete that Woodward must have intended /krIs@n/. The text also includes

    In a stable
    ('Tis no fable)

    So it's pretty obvious that Woodward was scraping the bottom of the barrel in search of rhymnes.

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  14. @JW:

    The carols were all very familiar ones (to me), carols that I have known and sung every Christmas since boyhood. I was struck, though, by how many of my fellow choristers did not really know them. We were given a service sheet with the words but no music. Although we were encouraged to sing the tenor or bass part if we knew it, only a very few of us knew the four-part harmonies by heart. It is easy to forget that much of what people of my age think of as our common musical/religious heritage is no longer shared by everyone.

    I wonder whether it is really a question of age. I would also have known (all four parts of) most of those carols by hears, but I am only in my mid-thirties. I did, however, sing in church choirs for most of my youth.

    I remember you saying that your father was an Anglican priest, so I wonder how much this is a matter of your background rather than your age. It is possible that your fellow choristers simply didn't have a background in the church?

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  15. The older “if I were a wise man” alludes to the three wise men, the magi. “If I were a wise one” merely makes a weak line even weaker. And I don’t see why girls as well as boys shouldn’t be encouraged to imagine themselves as one of the three wise men.

    Well, it is only by tradition that the μαγοι of Matthew 2 are assumed to be male, is it not?

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  16. @accidentobizarro: Yes, that is plausible. I believe that the Wesleys moved around the country a lot, so they might not have preserved the speech of their locality exactly. I mentioned it just became ku:m/wu:m would be a nice rhyme, and it seems plausible that ku:m was used at the time the poem was written in north Lincolnshire.

    Peace/righteousness is not a very good rhyme either. The fact that "peace" takes up two beats in the song would fit with the dialectal pɪəs to make a rhyme with a "righteousness" where the -ness was a nəs.

    This is all just my guesswork, but it's fun to create the speech of the time when a song was written. I enjoyed those Shakespeare on Toast shows in the pronunciation of Shakespeare's day.

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  17. @Ed: I've noticed that righteousness, although pronounced /'raɪtʃəsnəs/ in normal English, is usually sung /'raɪtʃʌsnɛs/.

    As a general rule I'd say that in song, weak vowels (or at least the schwa) are often replaced with strong vowels, based usually on spelling. Angels, for example, is often sung /'eɪndʒɛlz/ rather than standard /'eɪndʒəlz/ - both in popular music and in carol-singing. The plural prefix -es, too, becomes /-ɛz/ where it would normally be /-ɪz/.

    Has anyone else noticed this?

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  18. I see I've never mentioned the carol "The Holly and the Ivy" on this blog. It was first printed about two centuries ago, but the internal evidence of the rhymes (in the verses, not the chorus) argues for a much older date: grown/crown, flower/Saviour, blood/good, thorn/morn, gall/all. Particularly notable is the second pair, which in Middle English was /flur/ ~ /sav'jur/, but nowadays does not begin to rhyme. Then again, these could all just be eye-rhymes after all. Does anyone have insight on this?

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  19. Pete said...
    > As a general rule I'd say that in song, weak vowels (or at least the schwa) are often replaced with strong vowels, based usually on spelling.... Has anyone else noticed this?

    Yes, the original editor of the Oxford English Dictionary (or New English Dictionary as it was originally called) certainly noticed this and devised a pronunciation scheme to reflect this phenomemon.

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  20. @Pete: Yes, you are correct, I've noticed that. I've discovered that "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" has a rare fourth verse, and I have given up on trying to fit this into any rhyming framework.

    http://www.allchristmaslyrics.com/hark-the-herald-angels-sing-lyrics.htm

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  21. @Ed: the lines of verse 3 on that site seem to be in a different order from the version I'm used to (which is their lines 8, 7, 6, 5, 1, 2, 3, 4 in that order).

    Head may rhyme with seed in Scots.

    Come rhyming with home also occurs in a well-known harvest hymn, 'Come, ye thankful people, come, / Raise the song of harvest home'.

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  22. John Cowan

    The Holly and the Ivy is a traditional folk carol with no affinity to RP. I've heard it sung in an accent that does rhyme flower with saviour.

    Among my favourite versions is one that rhymes

    Mary bore Jesus our Saviour for to be
    And first tree in the greenwood it is the holly
    /ˌhɒ⁠ˈli:/

    Another has the refrain

    The rising of the sun
    The running of the deer
    The playing of the merry orgon
    / ˌɔ:ˈgɒn/
    Sweet singing all in the choir

    with an almost-rhyme between deer and choir.

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  23. It's probably relevant to note that the author of "In the Bleak Midwinter" ("if I were a wise man," etc.) was a woman, Christina Rossetti.

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  24. @ Thomas Widmann: That makes me wonder about today's research.

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  25. It made me wonder too, Tyler.

    David,
    "Green growth th'holly", attributed to the singer-songwriter King Henry VIII, also has a wonderfully extended cadence on the liː.

    Did my reply to your query about debugging your post on "the old ones are the best" throw any light on anything?

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  26. Mallamb

    Well, many thanks for the suggestion but no, alas.

    My version of Word is 2011. The only thing in Help on the subject on Unicode characters is that you can type, display and print them from a variety of keyboards and other input methods.

    Did you just mean the facility that's always been in Word to make visible the signs of paragraph breaks and the like? That's the most basic Show/Hide command. Would that serve to display nasty intruder characters?

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  27. That's the only Word Show/Hide command I know of, David. It does display at least some nasties, but I had hoped to have got rid of most of them by disallowing formatting. How intrepid of you to be using W2011. The worst nasties for me are the fixes of the unbroke.

    I see that 'growth' of th'holly makes it look as though I'd copped out of deciding between 'groweth' and 'growyth', but it's just a typo, and I've seen both for this.

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  28. I've dug out one of the recordings I had in mind of The Holly and the Ivy. The singer, from near Ross-on-Wye, has more orthodox rhymes than I remembered. He has a knack of singling the end of a syllable in a way that makes the rhyme sound nearer than it actually is when you listen more carefully.

    The text is similar to that collected by Cecil Sharp, so has the same near-rhymes noted by John Cowan. The tune is different — better, in my view. This suggests that the carol circulated in printed form, as well as in purely oral tradition.

    Listen to thorn and morn. Does anybody detect a less than perfect rhyme? I thought so at first, but now I'm not so sure.

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  29. @David Crosbie:

    Wonderful stuff - thanks for uploading!

    I've only listened on my iPhone, but he does seem to pronounce "thorn" with START rather than NORTH. It would be interesting to compare it with his vowel in "bark".

    The use of "the" with the happY vowel before "wood" (with pronounced /w/) had me scratching my head, though. Is that a well known feature of West Country accents?

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  30. A couple more comments on eye-rhymes and Christmas carols, following last night's choir concert...

    We sang Percy Dearmer's translation of 'O Jesulein süß', 'O little one sweet, o little one mild'. Curiously, the word mild maɪld is rhymed throughout with words that end in ɪld: fulfilled, filled, distilled, willed. You might call this an imperfect eye-rhyme, as there is no identity even in spelling, but the spelling of one word (mild) looks as though it could be pronounced to rhyme with the others, even though it isn't!

    The other, of course, is the verse in 'God rest you merry, gentlemen' where the line 'Rejoiced much in mind' rhymes with 'In tempest, storm and wind'. I seemed to be the only person who followed what I thought was an established convention of pronouncing wind as waɪnd to make the rhyme. I'm sure we used to do that when I was at school. The OED confirms that that was the normal English pronunciation until a couple of centuries ago, and is (was) still used in poetry. 

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