Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Once upon a time, a long time ago, I was a voice major in college. And even before that, I was a big-time music nerd in high school. You name it, I did it: marching band, jazz band, stage band, madrigals and chorus. Oh, and I auditioned for district band and chorus, too. I went to districts and regionals on tympani (aka kettle drums) and to districts in chorus one year, too. My audition piece was "Black is the Color of My True Love's Hair", a traditional Scots folk song in a setting by noted folk singer, John Jacob Niles. My friend Tom tried out, too, and sang "The Vagabond", in a setting by Ralph Vaughan Williams. (Note to newbies: his first name, like that of the guy who plays Voldemort in the movies, Ralph Fiennes, is pronounced "Rafe").

For the past few weeks, this one comes to mind most days while I'm in the shower. Why? Who can say how the brainradio truly operates? But it is so much fun to sing the vocal line that goes with "Wealth I ask not, hope nor love,/nor a friend to know me/All I ask, the heaven above/and the ground below me." (Oh, and the parallel line: "Bed in the bush with stars to see,/bread I dip in the river/There's the life for a man like me,/ there's the life forever.") And yet the line of the poem that best fits my feeling as I've been singing in the shower on these past grey wintery days is: "Not to autumn will I yield,/Not to winter even!" But if you watch the video link later in the post, you'll see that in the song setting, it's in the bridge, which I haven't been singing in the shower because I'd, um, forgotten it. By the way, singing this one is a true joy. Not just because it's fun to navigate the odd jumps, but also because it's sung with a gusto bordering on bravado, and a feeling of immense swagger — thank goodness the neighbors can't hear me.

The Vagabond
by Robert Louis Stevenson

Give to me the life I love,
  Let the lave* go by me,
Give the jolly heaven above
  And the byway nigh me.
Bed in the bush with stars to see,
  Bread I dip in the river —
There's the life for a man like me,
  There's the life for ever.

Let the blow fall soon or late,
  Let what will be o'er me;
Give the face of earth around
  And the road before me.
Wealth I seek not, hope nor love,
  Nor a friend to know me;
All I seek, the heaven above
  And the road below me.

Or let autumn fall on me
  Where afield I linger,
Silencing the bird on tree,
  Biting the blue finger.
White as meal the frosty field —
  Warm the fireside haven —
Not to autumn will I yield,
  Not to winter even!

Let the blow fall soon or late,
  Let what will be o'er me;
Give the face of earth around,
  And the road before me.
Wealth I ask not, hope nor love,
  Nor a friend to know me;
All I ask, the heaven above
  And the road below me.


*lave: leavings; what is left; the rest (completely unrelated with "to blave, and as we all know, to blave means to bluff, heh?")

The poem comes from Stevenson's collection, Songs of Travel and Other Verses, published in 1896, and was intended to be sung to an unspecified "air of Schubert". Wondering what air Ralph Vaughn Williams wrote for it? Check out this performance by a young man named Louis Riva over at YouTube.

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