And I don’t know that this will satisfy you, but I have two small things to say.
First: My friend Karen New has done it again. Go listen to her rendition of “My Faith Should Not Come Easily.” This is another song from Seraphina, the one her mother’s writing during one of the maternal memory scenes. Love (I command thee) the draconic, orderly harpsichord obbligato! Marvel at the soaring flute, and notice the fluttering and the possible snatches of birdsong! Just lovely, although harder (I suspect) to sing.
Second: Today’s earworm, courtesy of author Max Gladstone’s blog (where I ventured to read Avengers criticism and stayed for the music videos).
It’s poppier than I usually like, but the lyrics and the video are talking right at me today. Go out, they’re saying. Go out and get your errands run.
Oh, wait, that’s my conscience. My bad.
My friend Karen New, a fabulously talented composer, has written music to “Blessed is he who passes, love,” the last set of lyrics in Seraphina. And not just a melody, no, but a madrigal in four voices which we will sing in Inchoiring Minds next quarter. It’s beautifully done, very Renaissance-y (pretty sure that’s a word, since I’m a writer and all).
My babbling intro is inadequate, so you’re just going to have to go have a listen and then join me in marvelling awe-struck at it.
The Soundcloud version sounds like a woodwind quartet; obviously, the choral version will have words. Here are the lyrics from Seraphina so you can sing along in your own head (Karen’s version requires these words to be sung all the way through twice).
Blessed is he who passes, love,
Beneath your window’s eye
And does not sigh.
Gone my heart and gone my soul,
Look on me love, look down
Before I die.
One glimpse, my royal pearl, one smile
Sufficient to sustain me,
Grant me this
Or take my life and make it yours.
I’d fight a hundred thousand wars
For just one kiss.
The lyrics, in fact, were directly inspired by two other songs. One is “Chi passa per ‘sta strada,” by the 16th century Italian composer Filippo Azzaiolo (here’s a spiffy instrumental version with Yo Yo Ma). The first line of the song expresses a sentiment similar to my own – what a blessing it would be to be able to walk down the street without sighing – and was my jumping-off point for creating the rest of the lyrics (I also did this with “A thousand regrets,” earlier in Seraphina, riffing off the title of another famous Renaissance song).
My other inspiration was “Deh veni alla finestra,” from Mozart’s Don Giovanni. Here’s Samuel Ramey singing it, the version my sisters and I used to sing along with. Singing under someone’s window with your lute was apparently the romantic thing to do, once upon a time, and hyperbolically insisting you were about to die was just par for the course.
Oh yes we do indeed.
Sometimes you gotta. Couldn’t be helped.
So this week I am enjoying the heck out of Spock’s Beard. My darling husband got their album Day for Night for Saturnalia, and I’ve been listening to it while doing all kinds of annoying chores. “Gibberish” is my favourite song so far:
It’s like YES and Kansas had a big goofy baby. In fact, there are a few sections, first at 0:26 and a couple more times after that, where they seem to be blatantly quoting Kansas (instrumentally) (I’ll go find the Kansas song, if you need me to, although it might be more than one, kind of mashed together, because I can’t immediately put my finger on it).
Anyway, enjoying it immensely. I’m not well acquainted with most latter-day prog rock, so it’s fun to hear and know that it’s still a thing. And here’s a question for the people: do you know of any female prog rock bands? The don’t have to be all-female; a vocalist would do, or a couple band members. I was just thinking about that this morning: I’ve know of more female cookie-monster-voiced death-metal singers than female prog rockers. I’m happy to believe this is my own ignorance, because I haven’t gone looking for them, but I’d really like to be corrected on this point!
Here’s another of my favourite wintertime songs. Sorry the visuals aren’t much; there were surprisingly few versions to choose from on the old YouTubes.
That’s by Thomas Weelkes, whom you may know as the composer of such popular hits as “Hark, All Ye Lovely Saints Above,” and “O Care, Thou Wilt Dispatch Me.”
I don’t have much to tie this one in with writing, except to say that the Madrigalians sing it sometimes, and singing helps keep me writing happily and well. Singing is Old Nappy to my writing’s Black Stallion.
Suddenly realizing that a) that’s a pretty obscure reference anymore, and b) “Old Nappy” is not exactly a pleasant-sounding name for anyone, even a horse. OK then! Thanks for reading. I’ll be over here in a corner, gazing upon other horrors from the catacombs of my brain.
I know it’s not winter everywhere now. My sister, who spent a couple years in Australia, never fails to chide me for being northern-hemisphere-centric. This song, however, is about summer, and if you could use a little bit of warmth right now, this is for you:
It’s an ancient and famous Irish song, and the title as given means “Summer, Summer.” It is more commonly named after its refrain, “Thugamar Féin An Samhradh Linn,” which means “We bring the summer with us.” The song is traditionally sung upon Lá Bealtaine (Beltaine) in May to mark the beginning of summer, but I actually think it works well as a winter song in this wistful rendition. Summer seems more remembered than present here.
We bring the summer with us. We have to, in wintertime.
I listened to it this morning as I wrote before the sun came up. I half wonder whether this might be my new Iarla song for the next novel. I’ve had go-to Iarla songs for each book — “A Nest of Stars” for Seraphina, “Glistening Fields” and “Foxlight” for Shadow Scale (which was such a perilous book it needed two).
This song is so simple that it’s a particularly good introduction to Iarla’s voice. What amazes me is the control he has, the precision and deliberateness of it. The voice is an instrument, as surely as the piano or fiddle, and there are years of training and practice behind every ornament. It’s very nuanced singing, very controlled, and yet it’s not stiff or obscuring. He’s so skilled that he makes it seem like there’s no artifice at all, only transparent, honest emotion.
I’ve learned a lot about writing voice from listening to him, as unexpected as that sounds. I’ve learned that I have all the tools I need at my disposal; that I can choose which ones to use, depending what I want to create; that there are times to hold back and times to fling everything open; and that you should always know more than you show.
Writers — singers, artists, all — bring the summer with us in full knowledge that somewhere else it’s winter. We don’t forget, but make sure each echoes into the other, wistfulness and warmth all intertwined.
We’re singing this in Madrigalians, and it’s totally stuck in my head:
Our version has juicier harmonies, but I’m kinda digging the crumhorn and pipes here. I’m not entirely sure why this version comes from a Christmas album, though, as this is a straight-up paean to beer, nothing Christmas-y about it.
But the best (or possibly worst) thing about this song is that you could keep on inventing new verses for it until the end of time. You just follow the pattern, “Don’t bring us X, because Y, but really bring us ale, because Z.” Maybe that’s how it pertains to the holidays: you can sing it endlessly on long car trips! Grandma and Grandpa will be so pleased when their grandchildren arrive, singing loudly about ale.
Hey, it’s better than “99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall.”