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Sunday, 24 January 2016

Ambushed by age

Ron above, RR below, many years ago
On Friday something old and odd.

Ron lives up North  and had just attended a funeral service at Hereford Cathedral. I'd picked him up in the car and we were off to a rural pub.

A long-time, tenor-voice chorister, and still influenced by the cathedral's music, Ron burst into Jerusalem along the Belmont Road. I joined him once he'd lowered the pitch. We knew each other's habits having started out in journalism in the early fifties with the same newspaper group in Bradford.

Jerusalem despatched, Ron now switched to a black-humoured rock-climbing song based on the tune of Carry Me Back To Green Green Pastures. He and I had both attended Outward Bound Mountain School and had subsequently climbed together. So I sang along too.

We reached the final verse:

Lay down my head towards old Gimmer,
My feet towards Bowfell,
A chunk of granite for my headstone,
An ice-axe to sound my knell.


I winced at the misplaced stress in those last two lines. Rubbishy verse.

Tectonic plates shifted in my mind. I turned to Ron: "Didn't I write that song?" He nodded.

I'd completely forgotten. Was glad I had.

11 comments:

Blonde Two said...

Ah but the reason behind the singing Robbie; testament to a friendship forged partly in the outdoors maybe, in adventure and adversity? Music does that so well, speaks without the embarrassment of emotional words.

Roderick Robinson said...

Blonde Two: You're right of course. Even though I was rotten at it climbing was an important part of my life. But because climbing was important I'd prefer it to be celebrated skilfully; those defects grate. In summary I am two things at least: a low-grade climber and a slightly better wordsmith, elements that are perpetually in conflict.

Natalie d'Arbeloff said...

Never mind minor failings, I love the image of you and your friend bursting into full-throated song while driving along the Belmont Road...Jerusalem of all things! Wonderful. I hope passing drivers could hear you.

Last night,trying to clear my flu-ridden head, I leaned over a bowl of steaming hot water infused with Olbas oil, a bath towel serving as a tent to keep the steam in. I tried saying a few words to check whether my blocked sinuses were clearing and the baritone voice which emerged was so pleasing that I began to sing Christmas carols.

This vignette is totally irrelevant but I thought it might do as entertainment.

Roderick Robinson said...

Natalie: Not such a minor failing: stress is an essential part of verse, although perhaps I may forgive myself, given I was in my late teens/early twenties when I cobbled together the words in italics.

Your vignette had a pleasing circularity which ensures it is far from irrelevant. At my first singing lesson (see: No longer just a listener) my teacher identified my voice as baritone which helped give this whole latterday singing project of mine some kind of legitimacy. I hope you remembered to include "In the bleak midwinter" in your carol concert. Words by Christina Rossetti, it seems to be a favourite among Tone Deaf commenters. Sonorous, employing an undemanding range, it stands somewhere above the more familiar merry/holly carols.

Natalie d'Arbeloff said...

Alas my baritone croak å la Marlene Dietrich/Tallulah Bankhead only had enough steam for Adeste Fideles, Noël Noël and Silent Night. I essayed Je Ne Regrette Rien (it's in my normal-voice repertoire) but nothing came out. The lovely "In the bleak midwinter" didn't stand a chance.

Of course I read your post about your first singing lesson and am following your progress with interest.

mikeM said...

My two cents: "Es ist ein Ros entsprungen" is matchless.

Roderick Robinson said...

Natalie: It's the French rs that defeat the non-native with Je Ne Regrette Rien though I assume this isn't a problem for you. I notice you sang Adeste Fideles as I would have, even though the majority in mainly-monoglot Britain would have sung Oh Come All Ye Faithful. The Latin has several lyrical advantages (notably: Natum videte, regem angelorum and also Lumen de lumene) although VR thinks I'm a bit of a ponce doing that.

MikeM: Checked out the King's Singers (just four of them) singing this on YouTube. You don't need many notes to make a terrific tune, do you? Loved the purity of their voices, their absolute precision and their total lack of fuss.

I am a long way from having this kind of voice but today (for Monday is my music day) I sang a Ghanaian folk song - of which more later - which V has prescribed as a throat warmer. Except that this time we sang it as a round with V entering two bars in. I can't pretend I covered myself with glory, even though as a treble choirboy I used to do descants. Even so mixing things with V's soprano voice was yet another exhilarating experience and I look forward to more of the same.

Lucy said...

That you remembered and sung the words having forgotten that you'd written them strikes me as remarkable, an admirable kind of abandonment of self consciousness and ego. It sounds a lovely moment of connection with the past and an old friend, may you have many more.

'Es ist ein Ros' is indeed wonderful, quite as good as ITBMW without the slight squirm the breastful of milk always provokes in me (I know, I should get over myself). I like carols in foreign, that other German one 'O du froeliche' and 'Quel est cet odeur agréable' which it amuses me to translate very directly (what's that nice smell shepherds?) has a lovely tune, which I've heard played on church tower carillons.

Roderick Robinson said...

Lucy: The sense of detachment was complete; as if I'd been another person then. I couldn't decide whether this was good or bad but, on reflection, I'm proud that my least "mystical" reaction was the instinct to correct.

Then more memory became clearer and I remembered being dissatisfied with those lines at the time but lacking the vocabulary to say why they were faulty.

A minute later and I realised that the most remarkable thing about this tiny event was that someone else had set it in train. A bit like one of those miracle shots in snooker when the cue ball hits the cush then two other stationary balls before doing what the player intended. A frozen, inevitable destiny. Of course Ron and I had sung it at the time but his resurrection of it had a strange impartiality followed by a fairly evident partiality. Followed by my oh-so-slow recognition.

You're entitled to squirm about breasts of milk. Your sense of aesthetic is well established, admirable and wide-ranging; you've bought the right to have whims and anti-whims. And of course this one seems to fit your own template even though I can't ever remember you referring to it previously; if asked out of the blue I'd have pondered then concluded this was likely to have been one of your antipathies. As to foreign language carols I'd say Stille Nacht was preferable to Silent Night on the grounds that the German adjective can be - should be - whispered, thus working at two levels

Roderick Robinson said...

Lucy - part two: Just played "Quelle est cette odeur..", How bloody wonderful. First verse I detected echoes of familiarity, second verse I was convinced it was all utterly and brilliantly new. Then found myself asking: Is it a complex or a simple melody? Couldn't decide and quickly didn't care. The version I heard was conducted by Sir David Willcocks and sung by Ensemble Corund with the lightest of touches and perfect sectional balance that can only be achieved through grinding discipline. I was moved as I am so often these days, hearing music from a different perspective, yearning to be part of it as in that quote you recently supplied. Danke.

mikeM said...

I've listened to dozens of renditions of "Rose". The(4) King's Singers version is breathtaking...I hadn't seen it before...thanks Robbie.