Walking Backwards for Christmas: Between the Walls: Sing Gaudete

Walking Backwards for Christmas, Chapter 6, Part 10 — Between the Walls: Sing Gaudete

Bethany and Stan wandered in from the dining area and were watching Gramfer and me as they each took a chair on either side of the roaring fire that now added light, as well as heat, to the lounge.

GaudeteGramfer motioned to them to come over and sit beside us. “C’mon now, you two. We’re not letting you get away without a Christmas sing while Reggie here plays and sings along.”

Was he nuts?

Leaving aside the question of whether I could play any song at the drop of a hat, and assuming the guitar had enough magic to let me do so, or that St. Cecilia would have enough mercy on me to make up any deficiency in the guitar’s and my combined abilities, there was still the question of what to play. I knew Stan was bright enough to wing it, but he really didn’t know any Christmas carols.

And Bethany had died in 1648. I doubted she’d ever heard “Silent Night”, “In the Bleak Midwinter” or even “Joy to the World”, much less “White Christmas” or “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus”, and surely not “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”

Then I remembered a carol Stan and I’d done at school. We’d done both soprano and “angel descant” parts, since our choir had performed it on our own, as well as boy soprano adjunct of the scholars.

Thankfully, our choir director made us know the chords to every piece we sang, so we’d not only know what note to sing but why we were singing it. Doing little more than barre the chords I’d memorized, hoping Stan would join in on descant, I began to sing:

Gaudete, gaudete Christus est natus
Ex Maria virginae gaudete.

By the second time through, not only was Stan singing angel but Gramfer was singing a solid bottom harmony. The real payoff came when Bethany began to solo on the verses between the choruses. Like Stan and me, Bethany probably didn’t know enough Latin to fill a matchbox, and had additionally phonetically learned the words, memorizing them by rote.

“Very well,” I thought, “good enough for a start, but now what?”

A sheet of music appeared on a side table alongside my chair. I picked it up and looked at it. It was The Boar’s Head Carol, one with which I’d only a passing familiarity, but the melody and chords looked simple enough, with just enough Latin to maybe bring me a little luck. I again did little more than barre the chords as I began to sing:

The boar’s head in hand bear I
Bedeck’d with bays and rosemary.
I pray you, my masters, be merry
Quot estis in convivio

By the time I reached the chorus, The Screen had added recorder and viola da gamba. Bethany doubled melody, Gramfer sang bass and Stan sang angel:

Caput apri defero
Reddens laudes Domino
Caput apri defero
Reddens laudes Domino

Then Bethany chimed in with the next verse:

The boar’s head, as I understand,
Is the rarest dish in all the land,
Which thus bedeck’d with a gay garland
Let us servire cantico.

By now, it sounded like we had a full Renaissance band behind us as we took up the chorus. Now it was Gramfer’s turn at a verse:

Our steward hath provided this
In honour of the King of Bliss;
Which, on this day to be served is
In Reginensi atrio

By now, we had a full string section and Renaissance band behind us. “If this sound gets any fuller,” I thought, “we’ll need a bigger room.”. I had realized that all I needed to do was to trust the screen; it would put the sound behind me that I’d need.

I’d also figured out that I drove the rhythm and the screen followed along. When I slowed my playing at the end of the last chorus, the screen slowed down commensurately.

Another sheet of music appeared, another one with which I had a passing familiarity and which Bethany might know too.

I pushed my own skills, playing open chords, picking rather than strumming, as I began to sing:

Remember O thou man,
O thou man, O thou man,
Remember O thou man
Thy time is spent,
Remember O thou man,
How thou art dead and gone,
And I did what I can,
Therefore repent.

I was right. Bethany sang the next verse, The Screen adding flute and hammer dulcimer:

Remember God’s goodness,
O thou man, O thou man,
Remember God’s goodness,
And His promise made.
Remember God’s goodness
How He sent His Son doubtless
Our sins for to redress,
Be not afraid.

The Screen added a children’s chorus, singing largely a series of whole notes as Bethany continued to sing melody and I switched to angel descant:

The angels all did sing,
O thou man, O thou man,
The angels all did sing
Upon the shepherds’ hill,
The angels all did sing
Praises to our heav’nly King,
And peace to man living
With a good will.

The Screen had added harpsichord and viola da gamba to the mix. Stan joined in on angel, allowing me to slip below and do an alto harmony:

To Bethlem did they go,
O thou man, O thou man,
To Bethlem did they go,
The shepherds three,
To Bethlem did they go,
To see where it were so or no,
Whether Christ were born or no
To set man free.

Gramfer’s baritone harmony joined in:

In Bethlem He was born,
O thou man, O thou man,
In Bethlem He was born,
For mankind sake,
In Bethlem he was born
For us that were forlorn,
And therefore took no scorn,
Our flesh to take.

The Screen added organ and adult choir to the final verse:

Give thanks to God alway,
O thou man, O thou man,
Give thanks to God alway,
Most joyfully.
Give thanks to God alway,
For this our happy day,
Let all men sing and say,
Holy, holy.

© 2014, 2015 G. H. McCallum and Duvanian Press, all rights reserved.

Check out my new website at http://g-h-mccallum.com, leave your name and email address at the opt-in box. Look for announcements regarding the third edition of Walking Backwards for Christmas (the edition that’s being serialised) and Volume 1 of the sequel, The Bluebottle Boys will be coming shortly. Yes, you can still receive my ebook on Victorian post-mortem photography when you sign in at the opt-in box.

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G. H. McCallum

G. H. McCallum is author of the Reggie Stone series, the first of which, Walking Backwards for Christmas: A Tale of Woe from Soggyhall, was released on 12 December 2014; look for the second, The Bluebottle Boys, in late spring of 2016. He blogs principally on the 1960s, Victoriana and magic realism.