Sunday, November 24, 2019

Sarah Stone and friends perform English and Scottish music at Communitea.

On Friday evening Sarah Stone, on cello in the center of the GIF above, along with (left to right) Francis Liu on violin, Kevin Devine on harpsichord and hurdy gurdy (you can see him cranking it in the GIF), and soprano Madeline Healey, shown above tapping on a small drum similar to what in Irish music is called a bodhrán, gave a delightful concert of English and Scottish songs and instrumental pieces at Communitea, in Long Island City, Queens.

This was not "classical" chamber music, although some of the tunes were by classically esteemed composers like Purcell, but rather "pop" or "folk" music of its time. The first set began with three songs about drinking and food. "The Wine Was Made to Rule the Day" introduced us to the awesome (an adjective that actually belongs here) voice of Ms. Healey, with its crystalline clarity and precision. "A Song in Praise of Old English Roast Beef" had us joining in on the chorus. "Ye Mortals That Love Drinking" described all, or at least most of all, of us there.

Some of the remaining pieces in the set gave Mr. Devine a chance to show his skill with the hurdy gurdy. The first three of these were selections from the Scottish composer James Oswald's Airs for all Seasons, all of which are named for seasonal flowers: "The Fox Glove"; "The Periwinkle": and "The Rocket". There were five Playford Dances: "The Virgin Queen"; "Young Jemmy"; "Never Love Thee More"; "Coxes Dance"; and "Up Its Aily". John Playford adapted these from an informal folk dance tradition popular among "country" people, who had no time nor money for formal dance instruction. City sophisticates took to these because on a long evening they would tire of the elaborate formal dances typical for their class. A modern parallel to this can be seen in the "urban cowboy" craze of about forty years ago.

Playford dances are still done in England, as the video above shows.

After an intermission, the second set began with three Scottish songs, sung spritefully by Ms. Healey (I was searching for an adjective that would describe her singing while continuing an "s" alliteration; I may have been influenced by my first car's having been an Austin-Healey Sprite). The first song was a lullaby, "O Can Ye Sew Cushions", followed by the mournful ballad "Auld Robin Gray", written by Lady Anne Lindsay, but the third was much sprightlier.

"There's Nae Luck About the House" is a lively ballad with lyrics by the poet Jean Adam, sung in the clip above in its intended Broad Scots, by the Glasgow Irish singer Ella Logan, as it also was by Ms. Healey.

The set, and the evening's program, concluded with a series of short songs recounting the courtship of Jenny and Jockey. I'll quote here from Ms. Stone's notes, which lead to a sad conclusion:
Ending the program is the everyman story of Jenny and Jockey, told again and again by composers throughout England. Jockey is a shepherd. Jenny loves Jockey. Jockey is a wagg and doesn't want to get married. Someone should warn Jenny before her 'Maiden's Treasures' gone or (according to Purcell) 'she'll 'go to London-town... to Kiss for half a Crown'.
As with many a song tradition that has found root in various parts of the British Isles - see, for example, my summary of my late friend Nick Tosches'discussion of the evolution of the Greek Orpheus legend in British folk music (the summary is in the fourth paragraph of the linked post) - the Jenny and Jockey story has many variants. In Scotland,it may have a happier ending.

This was a most enjoyable evening, and we look forward to Ms. Stone's next performance at Communitea. We are also delighted that she has become a regular member of the Repast Baroque Ensemble, whose concerts we regularly attend (and I'm tickled pink that I'm quoted in the second paragraph on their home page).