Esperance Morris Book vol 1 - online book

A Manual Of Morris Dances Folk-songs And Singing Games With Sheet Music And Instructions

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IT is a great pleasure for one who is not musical, and has been in his time much harassed by scholarly compositions, to attend a concert and find that every song has melody, and simplicity, and charm. Such was my experience a few nights ago, when I listened, in a kind of trance, to some score of old English songs sung by a little company of sweet voices from a girls' club. If all music were like this, if all singing were like this, I said, I would lose my heart to sound ; I would haunt concert rooms with the assiduity with which I now avoid them.
The contemplation of the most satisfying work of art, in whatever medium—the recognition of perfection— always carries with it, with me, a smarting of the eyes, a tendency to gulp. And since I have noticed in a theatre that whereas intentional pathos rarely touches me, yet if, after various vicissitudes, a consummation devoutly to be wished is achieved, I am for a moment quite un­manned, I am constrained to believe that the feeling of satisfaction has a closer association with the lachrymose gland than is either dignified or convenient.
Sorrows, whether my own or another's, I can bear with more or less composure, but confront me with a perfect thing in literature, art, or music, and I am momentarily a wreck. This is absurd, but there it is. Hence for a good half of this evening of old English song I could not see the platform at all, except through a mist, such was the effect of these lovely, lovely airs. Music, when it touches me, touches me too deeply for words, and has me utterly at its mercy.
Here, however, it was not only the music ; it was the idea too. It was the thought of this lost England of ours —the exquisite freshness of the early days— the old simplicities and candours. I do not suppose that human nature has changed very much, but there must, all the same, have been a very different spirit abroad when these were the people's songs than inspires us to-day. What do we hear sung in the villages to-day? Last year's music hall successes. It was the thought of the loss of that spirit that perhaps formed part of my emotion. I do not know that the words had much to do with it; one did not hear them all, except the refrains. But the idea of a sweet and simple England was intensely vivid, and
possibly one was conscious, too, of the contrast between these songs and the singers themselves—the songs all lucid open-air gaiety, and the singers the members of a club for working girls in the north-western district of this grimy latter-day London. Here, at least, for an hour or two, they seemed to be doing what they were born to do—so different a lot from that which circumstances have given them. " Blow away the morning dew " they sang, with all the vigour and happiness that young girls can display, waving their innocent arms as they did so ; while one knew that some of them had never seen a dewdrop.
Since that evening I have come into possession of the four series of " Folk Songs from Somerset " which Mr. Cecil Sharp has already published through Simpkin & Co., to be followed, I hope, by others. Of course, they want the fresh young voices of these eager children to do them full justice ; but even on the piano they are wonderfully moving and beautiful. No songs could be simpler—a single note to a single syllable, as it should be—but only rarely are they at all obvious. In most cases the next note is not the note that one expected ; at least not the note that I expect. Perhaps if one had to pick out the most distinguished and beautiful of all, one would say " Lord Rendal ; " but it would be with a very fond and lingering backward look to " Mowing the Barley" and " Midsummer Fair " (the Somerset version of " Widdi-combe Fair " with a less rollicking but tenderer setting) and " Seventeen come Sunday," and the haunting " Keys of Heaven," and the wistful cadence of " How do you do, sir? " the refrain of one of the best of the morrice dances.
These morrice dances alone would draw me by invisible threads to any hall where they were given—not only for their own unusual alluringness and gaiety, but for their essential merrie Englandism. Merrie! Only super­ficially, I fear, for here again I was carried into the realms of melancholy. The revival of an old dance must perforce bring with it thoughts of the old dancers. There is always a certain wistfulness about the memory of old dancers, as Thackeray knew well; but how much more so when they are not the dancers of the ballet but the dancers of the village green? Perhaps if there were a more general singing of these songs and more dancing of the dances
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