Saturday, December 11, 2010

Winter's Shortest Days

Preparing for the yuletide festivities brings to mind scenes of holidays past.  The years in my early and mid-20’s were a particularly rich cultural smorgasbord, a blend of staying true to family traditions and giving birth to new ones of my own.  I was living in Portland, OR in my own apartment, and was discovering the art of making spaces and atmospheres for the magic of the season to happen.  Many musical events were offered around the city, then as now.  One that occurred annually for about five years in the early ’80’s was a holiday performance by the Elizabethan Balladry Ensemble called “Raynewynde.”  The group members were Timothy Swain, Susan Margaret Sargent, Grant Herreid, joined by Phil and Gayle Newman, masters of renaissance instruments (instrument makers and musicians), and Linda Bennett-Stief, shadow puppet master.

The performances were given at the Old Church in downtown Portland on 11th and Clay St.  This Carpenter Gothic Church had been ready for the wrecking ball when it was saved and restored, and turned into a community hall used for weddings and concerts.  For the Raynewynde event, the pews and stage were all garlanded with fragrant evergreen boughs, the lighting was by candlelight (or perhaps it was simulated).  The performers were dressed in period costume, one woman embroidered during the spoken word portions, pewter mugs of wassail sat in front of them (and wassail was served to the audience at intermission), its spicy fragrance mixing with the other seasonal smells.  The group of five musicians/actors alternated readings spoken in Old English and music sung and played on traditional instruments of the period.  In the second half of the program, a shadow puppet play was performed of the Story of Christmas--birth of Jesus, the shepherds and magi, following the star--with musical and spoken word accompaniment.  
One of the songs they sang has stayed with me all these years and I offer it to you here.  Good words for putting away strife, and celebrating life and the season in good fellowship with all.  Hatred is cold, love is warm.  Warmth is needed to sustain us through the winter months and beyond.  May Love and Peace abound!
All hail to the days that merit more prayse
  Than all the rest of the yeare.
And welcome the Nights that double delites
  As well for the poore as the peer!
Goode fortune attend each merrie man’s friend
  That doth but the best that he may,
Forgetting olde wrongs with carolls and songes,
‘Tis ill for a mind to anger inclined
  To think of small injuries now;
If wrath be to seek, do not lend her thy cheek,
  Nor let her inhabit thy brow.
Cross out of thy books malevolent lookes,
  Both beautie and youth’s decaye,
And wholly consort with mirth and with sport,
This time of the yeare is spent in good cheere,
  And neighbours together do meet,
To sit by the fire, with friendly desire,
  Each other in love to greet.
Twelve days in the yeare much mirthe and good cheere
  In every household is had.
The olde and the young doth caroll this songe,
----Traditional song
This is a link to another group singing this song.  Enjoy the season!
Posted by jackie.

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