Going for ‘Wassail, An Olde English Christmas’ experience

This year, the choir will travel to an England of days gone by to celebrate the Christmas spirit.

Sheila Whincup

Special to the Sooke News Mirror

Ekoos Vocal Ensemble will present its fall concert earlier than usual, on Nov. 29, which will be the first Sunday of Advent.

Whereas last year the choir was musically in Germany celebrating a Christmas in Leipzig, this year we’ll travel to an England of days gone by.

The program will feature sacred works such as the Advent motet “Ecce Virgo Concipiet” by the great William Byrd, and secular songs including the famous “Wassail Song” by Ralph Vaughan Williams.

The wassail song comes from an old English tradition of ‘wassailing’, or singing carols door to door and wishing good health.

Apparently the Christmas spirit often helped the rich to be more generous, so bands of beggars and orphans used to dance their way through the snowy streets of England, offering to sing good cheer if the householder would give them a drink from his wassail bowl of hot ale or mead, or a pork pie, or let them stand for a few minutes beside the warmth of his hearth.

How far the tradition of wassailing dates back is unknown, but the word wassail comes from the Anglo-Saxon toast Wæs þu hæl, meaning “be thou hale”—i.e., “be in good health”. Thus wassailing likely predates the Norman conquest in 1066.

In addition to the Advent motet by Byrd, the choir will perform motets by lesser-known English Renaissance composers Adrian Batten (“Lord We Beseech Thee”) and Richard Dering (“Quem Vidistis Pastores”).

The bulk of the concert will consist of settings of mediaeval texts by more contemporary composers.

These include Paul Bouman’s treatment of the 15th century carol, “A Babe is Born”, a setting by Joseph Wilcox Jenkins of two old British carols – “Balliol and Boar’s Head Carols”, and the traditional “Make We Merry” arranged by Karl Kroeger.

More familiar texts include settings of “Master in This Hall”, The Sussex Carol, and “While Shepherds Watched their Flocks”, the last sung in a traditional Yorkshire melody arranged by Arthur Warrell.

In addition, the choir will perform 18th and 19th century works including “Deus Tu Convertens” by HenrySmart, “Jesus Christ, The Apple Tree” set by Elizabeth Poston, and three verses of “Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day” each by a different arranger.

The Concert will conclude with “Wassail Song”, three secular songs for the season culminating in the last of a set of 5 English Folks Songs arranged by Ralph Vaughan Williams in 1913.

Come a-wassailing on Nov. 29 at 2:30 p.m. at Holy Trinity Church, 1962 Murray Road. Tickets $15 at the door, with youth 15 and under free.

 

 

 

 

 

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