Notespinner

Thoughts on composing, teaching and performing music, by Fergus Black

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The West Front of Westminster Abbey with Union Jack projection.

The impact of Brexit on the Church musician

This humorous article about putting together a Lessons and Carols service for Christmas in the brave new world of the UK leaving the EU, first appeared in the December edition of the Stamford All Saints' December 2018 magazine.

There is much uncertainty about the UK's position vis-a-vis the EU, and the impact this will have on trade and the UK economy as a whole. However, the effects of Brexit, will also be felt in many other areas of life, including church music.

Lessons and Carols

The situation is well-illustrated by the Festival of Lessons and Carols on Christmas Eve (5pm). So many of the carols that we think of as typically English, are anything but, so our repertoire will have to be reassessed. After Brexit, of course, it will not be possible to perform works that are European, and we will have to work hard to replace our common market of carols with home-grown British ones.

Out will go Ding Dong Merrily on High (French tune), Silent Night (Austrian), Hail Blessed Virgin Mary (Italian), The Zither Carol (Czech), Sing Lullaby (Basque), and a plethora of others from all across the continent.

Poor old Good King Wenceslas will have looked out for the last time (since he comes from the Finnish carol collection Piae Cantiones of 1582). Some carollers may feel that he will be no loss, since they will know the Good King as a precursor of the EU, having had his page carry logs to a peasant who lives next to the forest.

There is talk of a special music trade deal with the Americans, which would allow us to keep We Three Kings, and various gospel numbers (Say Hello to "Go Tell it on the Mountain").

However, some carols may not be heard again for years due to ongoing legal arguments. A case in point is "Joy to the World", which, although by the American Lowell Mason, is based on a theme by Handel, who was German, but lived in England.

Commonwealth Carols

On a positive note, we can rely on the Commonwealth countries for some hitherto unexplored gems ("Mek Di Chrismus ketch yu in a good mood" is very popular in Jamaica), and we mustn't forget the Australian version of the Twelve Days: sadly there is only space to quote the first five days:

5 kangaroos,
4 kookaburras,
3 jabirus,
2 pink galahs,
And an emu up a gum tree.

It says it all, really!

Traditional English

There will be other good points: The First Nowell, will be re-introduced (having been squeezed out of our hymnbook by Eurotrash). As Michael Linton points out in the First Things blog, this fine English carol covers a wide range of subjects: "In the nine verses of "The First Nowell", we have the economic condition of the shepherds (poor), the weather report (cold), the star (bright), the homeland of the wise men (far away), their mental condition (assured), the gifts (you know the list), the local livestock (ox and ass), the nature of divine creation (of naught), and, in a verse mercifully found in no hymnal, the doctrine of salvation through good works ("If we in our time shall do well / we shall be free from death and hell / For God hath prepared for us all / A resting place in general)". Surely not even the most avid little-Englander would insist on that.

I haven't yet chosen all the music for our service of Lessons and Carols on Christmas Eve this year, but I am thinking we should cram the service with European carols before they are prohibited, and revert to a traditional English next year. We all like a Traditional English.

With best wishes for a Happy Christmas, whatever your politics,

Fergus Black 14.11.2018

-Thanks to The Penguin Book of Christmas Carols by Ian Bradley, The Twelve Days of Christmas, illustrated by John McIntosh and written by June Williams, published by Akers and Dorrington (a delightful book), and the internet.

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