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Otherwise my novels, short stories, verse, family, music, memories, vulgar interests, detestations,
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Wednesday, 21 December 2016


Door-to-door carol-singing is rare these days, a victim of uncharitable pragmatism.  Sung warnings gave way to a bell tinkle or a knock which had to be answered, leaving the resident face to face with a pair of ill-tuned teenagers in effect begging:

We wish you a merry Christmas,
We wish you a merry Christmas,

Now both bell and knock are ignored in the pious hope it's not the police.

For those who pursue the old tradition I am available as a soloist with a repertory of one. The tune is familiar and the libretto's sentiments are unchanged. But there is a political twist, intended as an indirect fraternity with those who recently suffered in Berlin.


Above, as a more direct gesture, daughter Occasional Speeder gazes out from our Cologne appartment at the twin spires of the cathedral which overlooks another innocent Christmas market.  


  1. Well sung. Welled up. A quick wipe and back to work.

  2. Lovely, and genuinely moving. Rolled up billet de vingt euros in the slot.

  3. Ach, war das schön, lieber Robbie! Vielen Dank!

  4. All: Going defensive about one's singing is as bad as telling a joke and then explaining why it's thought to be funny. But a word of clarification is in order here. Those with sharp ears will notice that the performance improves slightly in the second and third verses while still lacking throaty resonance. This is because post and carol were put together in the early hours while VR still slept. There were two closed doors between us but even so I felt constrained from giving it the full welly. Had Teacher V heard what you've heard she'd have said, in her most restrained voice, "Be careful when you... ", flagging the fact that what followed would be critical. Full welly combined with a greater distance between me and the mic would (should) have been better. As V is wont to say, "Singing quietly is harder" but I wanted to bring in a reference to Berlin ASAP.

    Thank you all for your responses. As you can imagine seeing those wrecked wooden cabins which seem to be standard at German Christmas markets reduced both of us to quiet contemplation.

  5. Berlin, Christmas,2016. What an utter mess we are in. If only the message of "love one another" was not only promulgated, but followed.

    We have had no carolers calling this year. I used to go around, a long time ago, with the Salvation Army, during my "searching" years. I was not a committed member, but agreed with their practical ethos of serving the community. I will always remember a cameo; the uniformed band playing in the street, whilst we all sang carols at the doors, early snow gently falling. Almost a subject for a Christmas card.

    I wish you well, RR. Thanks for your stimulating company every morning after breakfast.

  6. I listened, and as before with others of yours I have listened to I'm surprised, even as your brother, how low your voice is - I'm hopeless at distinguishing, but perhaps baritone or even base? The carol goes well in French. I genuinely thought before reading your own comments that there was some restraint - I would much like to hear you giving it the works.

  7. Avus: I appreciate your final comment and inevitably try to deconstruct it. What would happen, I ask myself, if you tried to read me "before" breakfast? Would the milk on your corn-flakes curdle? Your orange juice become acidic? Your bacon leak that awful white blood?

    My aim is to be original or, at the very least, to say commonplace things in an unexpected fashion. I have a disabling fear of cliché. This sort of striving often results in unforeseen side-effects which must have seemed wounding. I apologise profoundly for those and commend you for your astonishing resilience. Meanwhile we will, no doubt, stumble along in our divergent ways.

    Although I doubt I'd have been prepared to turn out with the Sally Army I suspect I can recognise why you did. Singing can be therapeutic and its sheer physicality might well have been a help during your "searching" years, an external counterpoint to those internal monologues. In the book I'm writing about my singing lessons (21,000 words done) I've tried to address the reasons why almost everyone seems able to draw comfort from occasional bouts of singing. I've always doubted that sport brings different nations closer but music is another matter. Just consider the number of Oriental soloists on the classical circuit who have, to some exent, forsaken their own culture and adopted ours, so different, so alien. There's some hope there, surely.

    Sir Hugh: I am officially a baritone, a sort of catch-all category and another way of saying I can't manage all those thrilling arias available to tenors. You were right about the restraint. In fact when my guzzard is properly warmed up so that I'm singing almost effortlessly with my natural voice (only recently identified, by the way), I can go lower. Sarastro's aria "O Isis und Osiris" in The Magic Flute is for a true bass and requires a low D on two separate occasions. The astonishing thing was my teacher required me to sing this aria during my first lesson (I knew the tune from having heard the opera several times) and I was able to make a fair stab at those Ds.

    Perhaps in your new car while traversing the Trough Of Bowland?

    I'm amused that Oh Come All Ye Faithful sounds well in French. There's a refrain (Oh Come Let Us Adore Him, rendered as En Lui vien reconnaitre) which is repeated three times in each verse; you might like try saying it three times consecutively, at a moderately brisk pace while ensuring you give "vien" its proper double-vowel pronunciation and that the first e in "reconnaitre" gets the French sound and not the British. I'm not really convinced that French was devised for singing.

  8. For me, it's best in the original Latin:


    Adeste fideles læti triumphantes,
    Venite, venite in Bethlehem.
    Natum videte
    Regem angelorum:
    Venite adoremus (3×)

    Deum de Deo, lumen de lumine
    Gestant puellæ viscera
    Deum verum, genitum non factum.
    Venite adoremus (3×)

    Cantet nunc io, chorus angelorum;
    Cantet nunc aula cælestium,
    Gloria, gloria in excelsis Deo,
    Venite adoremus (3×)

    Ergo qui natus die hodierna.
    Jesu, tibi sit gloria,
    Patris æterni Verbum caro factum.
    Venite adoremus (3×)

  9. Joyeux Noël et bonne année, en chantant toujours.

    Oddly enough, I never heard it in French before. It was always Adeste Fideles whenever I sang along in churches here and there.

  10. MikeM/Nathalie: The school I went to left me grievously under-educated but was sufficiently pretentious never to considering singing Oh Come... in anything other than the Latin. Since I know it by heart I had recorded it and until Berlin (the guy's been caught and shot in Italy, by the way) I would have posted it. In some respects it's easier to sing (much easier than the French) but I've never entirely liked the gynaecological aspects of the translation (Notably "parturit Virgo" which doesn't figure in the version cited here). In any case, given the hideous assault in France about a year ago, which left nearly 100 dead, I felt that the French version underlined the links between the two countries better.

    My secular but nevertheless profound best wishes to you both.

  11. For Mike M - d'accord (I don't know how to say it in Latin).

  12. I was truly moved to hear this. Thank you, Robbie: well sung, and deeply felt. And yes, you sound truly basso to me! Well, I'm obviously catching up here, long after the fact. Here in Montreal, Adeste fideles was our recessional on Christmas eve, with alternating verses in French and English (thanks, Mike for the Latin!) and a descant on verse 2, "Verbe, lumiere" which I had to sing while walking. I felt like the service was somber this year, partly because of the weight of world events and uncertainty about the future, and also because our Dean and his partner have recently departed and gone back to England, and we're all a bit bereft. But we did our best with the music, including a tambourine-accompanied medieval "Gaudete" after communion and "Silent Night." Post-Christmas, I've collapsed somewhat, not feeling like doing much of anything, but I'm sure it's temporary ;-) Happy singing in the New Year - you've got a beautiful resonant voice, full of feeling, so keep on using it!

  13. Beth: A pleasing link: during my brief period, as a treble, with the church choir I too sang a descant for Oh Come All Ye Faithful, easily an octave up on what the congregation was mumbling. But which verse? Obviously as a Anglican choir we would have sung in English.

    I've just checked back (I'm more familiar with the Latin) and the choice is obvious. It must have been:

    Sing, choirs of angels, sing in exultation,
    Sing, all ye citizens of Heaven above!
    Glory to God, glory in the highest:

    The word "exultation" was surely written to delight sops. and trebs.

    Happy singing to you too. It is such support in my sere and yellow years. Especially in the kitchen during washing up.

  14. I almost missed this! Thank you. Much enjoyed your baritone. I think that I've only sung it in Latin and English... And now I shall think of you singing and scrubbing dishes at the kitchen sink.