Friday, 2 May 2008

The Folk Song Suite

Encapsulating the mood, the emotion of the time, and setting it forth right there in the concert venue, that's what we do, and last time we looked at the strange attractors of nostalgia and patriotism as the domain for a concert band's command. Here today I'm digging a little deeper, off into a topic that occurs over and over with our music, the whole sense of the deeper meaning of a repetoire piece, in this case Ralph Vaughn Williams' military band tapestry called the Folk Song Suite.

Today's film sets this so-typically-English tune where we normally encounter it, as a statement in nostalgic patriotism, an opus from over 'ome, the iconic epitome of England. That's how many approach the work, as a stately grand and respectful thing, woven from ancient quaint folk songs.

The real story, on the other hand, is quite different. To begin with, these are not just any folk songs; most are old baudy ballads, barrack-room tunes of lusty wenches and trickster maidens and the soldiers who woo both!

You see, in the historical perspective, we have Vaughn Williams as a soon-to-retire commander of a post-war peacetime army band, which is to say a squad of bored young men lead by a man with little or nothing to lose.

"But if you come round to my mummy's house, when the moon shines bright and clearly,

I will come down and let you in, and my mummy shall not hear me.

So I went down to her mummy's house, when the moon shone bright and clearly,

She did come down and let me in, and I lay in her arms till morning."

Ok, hardly competitors to Salt'n'Peppa lyrics, but remember, only the soldiers know the real lyrics of the tunes -- to the bystanding public, it is a quaint english ditty they may have heard hummed by grand-dad at work in the garden. We also have Lazarus and Dives which is the familiar barracks tales of Officers vs Enlisted Men where only one of them is going to find St. Peter's favour, There is the Green Bushes which one might parallel to Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree from WWII swing-era, John Barleycorn, a song about beer and the sad-sack Baffled Knight slyly outwitted by the maid of his (lusty) dreams. For the lonely-hearts, My Bonny Boy could well be the lament of the sweethearts left behind, or those yet to be. If you ask me, it's Soldier-Boy material all the way,

Amazon: Ralph Vaughn Williams