Sunday, 24 July 2016

If music be the food of love, play on

That's the opening line of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night - just to demonstrate what a show-off I am, but what I really thought was along the lines of music soothing the savage breast.  That should be a quotation, or a misquotation, of somebody else but I haven't the foggiest idea who it might be.  You see, there popped into my mind this morning, quite unbidden and from goodness knows where, the lines:
The shades of night were falling fast,
The snow was falling faster,
When through an alpine village passed,
An alpine village pastor.
No, that's not right.  The lines were:
The shades of night were falling fast,
Yid-eye-dee, yip-eye-day,
When through an alpine village passed,
A youth who bore through snow and ice,
Yid-eye-dee, yip-eye-day,
A banner with a strange device.
That is, I think, the first verse of a song we sang round the camp fire when I was a Brussels Sprout.  Unfortunately, I can't remember any more of it.

Anyway, it stirred up all sorts of memories from half a century ago, when the world was a gentler, kinder place.  (No, it wasn't really.)

So, back then when I was a Brussels Sprout we had a scout master who was keen on camp fire singing.  So much so that our scout troop learned a good many songs during our scout meetings in the winter months.  Harold, or Bosun as we knew him, considered that a camp fire leader needed to prepare the order of songs before the fire started rather than just take pot luck.  The idea was that the first songs were easy ones to get everybody singing, then in the middle would be louder, more raucous songs, before calming things down with quieter songs towards the end.

I was running the troop before I was 20 and I carried on the (new) tradition of camp fire songs.  One night, at summer camp, I achieved what was almost nirvana.  That night the atmosphere really got to the boys and after the last song there was complete silence.  Nobody even twitched.  After a few moments, I said - almost in a whisper, "Goodnight, lads," and without a word, every boy got up and went off to bed - in complete silence.  I never managed it again.

Footnote: Excelsior, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.  You can read the poem here and listen to the tune here.  A E Houseman's parody is fun.

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