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December 9, 2013

A Princely Sum for the King

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The OK Chorale has sung itself into performance mode: two down and two to go. You still have a chance to hear us if you live in Seattle.  We sang for Pinehurst Court, a senior housing complex, and home of the grandmother of one of our sopranos.  It was a hot, crowded, noisy venue but the audience was enthusiastic.  One man told us he heard the sound of angels.  I asked for a show of hands of the angel voices in the Chorale.  Their angel qualities escape me during rehearsals.

We sang at the Norse Home for an informal tree decorating evening, which was also hot, crowded and noisy.  A small boy began running his metal truck over a slate floor at about the time we began singing the anti-war carol, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.”  By the time we got to the sentimental “Auld Lang Syne,” I got up from the piano with every intention of kicking the truck right out of his hand, but, speaking of angels, my better one got to me, and I stood with the choir to finish the song a capella.

It was my intention, however, when I started this post, to tell you about a chap named Andrew D.R.Greenhill because we sing an arrangement of his every year during fall quarter.  I try to rotate it out but everyone complains when I do.  The song is called “The King,” and in the early 70s it was a hit of a British group called Steeleye Span.  We do quite a number of their songs through-out the year, some that I have arranged and some arrangements that I have bought from Andrew.

I discovered Steeleye Span in 2000, and loved their repertoire and their four-part harmony.  I had already arranged a few of their songs for the OK Chorale before I found a website that sold actual transcriptions of the voicing and progressions from the recordings.  Gold!  I picked out some titles I wanted.  But there was no shopping cart, and no order form.  I clicked away until I came to a page with ordering instructions from Andrew D.R. Greenhill.

Here was the routine: I wrote to him via snail mail and told him what arrangements I wanted.  (He lives in Leicester, which leapt into the news last year as the place where Richard III’s bones were discovered under a parking lot.) He responded “by turn of post” as is his wont:

“You may have copies of “The King,” “Gaudete,” “The Boar’s Head Carol,” and “The Holly and the Ivy” for the princely sum of ₤26.75. The aforesaid sum must be in sterling. The usual method of payment is by cheque or cash.  I look forwards to hearing from you again. Thank you for your enquiry.  Yours faithfully.  .  .”

In 2000 every little outpost bank couldn’t do international money orders. I had to travel to a bank in Wallingford to obtain the princely sum of ₤26.75 in the format required to purchase the aforementioned music. I sent off the money order.  A package duly arrived with a cover letter bidding me “find enclosed herewith the music which you ordered in your letter of .  .  .”

I ordered more arrangements from Andrew.  In fact, I ordered from him four times. Eight letters crossed the world. Their language became less formal.  Four times the price of the music was stated as a princely sum in pound sterling.  Four times I kicked my heels at the bank in Wallingford while a teller waited for his supervisor to get off the phone so he could learn how to do an international money order.  It was quite an adventure–one I could experience again because Andrew’s methods are still the same ten years later.

The song “The King” is charming, majestic and gruesome. Here’s the tradition: on Twelfth Night, a wren, symbolizing winter, is hunted and killed to symbolize the death of winter.  The dead wren is placed in a decorated box and carried from house to house.  At each house this lovely song is sung and people pay to have a dekko at the dead wren:

Joy, health, love and peace be here in this place,
By your leave we will sing concerning our king.

Our king is well dressed in silks of the best.
In ribbons so fair no king can compare.

We have traveled many miles over hedges and stile
In search of our king, unto you we bring.

We have powder and shot to conquer the lot,
We have cannon and ball to conquer them all.

Old Christmas is past, Twelfth tide is the last,
And we bid you adieu, great joy to the new.

We don’t sing the fourth verse in the Chorale.  I carefully excised that verse from Andrew’s arrangement. Literally, I scissored it out. It’s too much for our delicate American sensibilities.  My friend Terry and I like to sing it, though, just because we can. Here’s Steeleye Span singing “The King.” You’re welcome.

You can hear The OK Chorale sing it at the Green Lake Pathway of Lights on Saturday, Dec 14, 6:30 PM at the Aqua-theater.



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