Sunday, 28 December 2008

The fourth day of Christmas (as Joseph trod and Mary rode and Matt danced)

Today is one of the traditional Feast Days for the Holy Innocents (the other days being the 27th and the 29th). Such a strange feast commemorating a massacre of children which is also an event that cannot be confirmed in any historical record outside the Bible. Not that it matters, children are being massacred on a depressingly regular basis around the world. Now is the time to sing The Coventry Carol and feel the helpless sorrow. However, one of my very favourite, favourite carols is "The Band of Children", words by Frank Samuel Herbert Kendon, the tune an ancient French carol Laissez paître vos bêtes. I first heard it years ago during one of those strange gem-like Christmas specials which I've never seen again and can't find any reference on the Internet for. It was an animated special in which six carols were illustrated while an actor read the lyrics with the tune playing in the background:

The stars shall light your journey, your mother holds you close and warm;
The donkey's pace shall rock you, sleep baby, dream no harm.

What songs are these, faint heard and far?
The wind maybe in palm trees tall, or running stream or nightbird's call;
The dark lies deep on the desert where Joseph and Mary rode,
The dark lies deep on the desert, sleep well, thou child of God.

What songs are these, faint heard and far?
'Tis neither wind in palm trees tall, nor waterbrook, nor nightbird's call,
It is the voice of children where Joseph walked and Mary rode,
The fierce wild beasts are friendly, sleep well, thou child of God.

What forms are these, clear on the dark,
That shine and yet are flesh and blood, that laugh and sing along the road?
It is a crowd of children where Joseph walked and Mary rode,
A singing band of children, sleep well, thou child of God.

O, never was seen so strange a guard:
About the footsore travellers they in lovely circles moved, till day,
Until the baby awakened, while Joseph trudged and Mary rode.
Such lullaby be all men's, sleep well, thou child of God.

I searched far and wide through YouTube for this song which I have in front of me in The Oxford Book of Carols, but it's not under "Band of Children", "Laissez paître vos bêtes" nor any combination of the lyrics or its author that I've tried. I did have limited success in finding an Advent version of the carol, Venez, divin Messie. The tune is not quite right, but it might give you a faint idea: Now, it occurs to me that this does give the rather spooky impression that it's the spirits of all those slaughtered children circling and protecting baby Jesus, but there it is.

And if the Holy Innocents sing, how about if they dance? About a week before Christmas, my Friend of the Right Hand sent a video link which I did not open. (It was, I repeat, the week before Christmas.) Yesterday, I finally got around to it and was at first bewildered. It's a video with a bunch of comments posted beneath, a recent one from a woman who lost her soldier son in Iraq and says she was able to sleep through the night for the first time. What the dickens? I started playing it. A tall, teddy-bear kind of guy gives directions to whoever is holding the camcorder and begins a strange loping short of dance in the middle of a Mumbai street. The background changes; he's doing the same odd dance in various places around the world, in the desert, on a beach, in a market. Then, oh my God, the music builds and he's not alone. And to my utter astonishment, I burst into tears. I now know this has received a great deal of media attention, but it was new to me and if it's new to you, I beg you to watch it. I'll wait....
Where the Hell is Matt? (2008) from Matthew Harding on Vimeo. So tell me, am I a blubbering sentimental idiot? My favourite bits are his stately variation with the Indian dancers in Gurgaon and the poignant lonely little dance in the demilitarized zone in Korea. And of course, the dances in the three largest Canadian cities: Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal. (Toronto is not labeled, but they're the first group that rushes in to join Matt. And yes, it does rain that hard in Montreal. Ottawa is a two-hour drive west; a downpour will fill your shoes in seconds.)

Matt Harding apparently used to design computer games, got put off by the violence, and set off to travel the world. Somewhere in there, he got funding from Cadbury's, and the rest is internet history. Dance well, thou children of God.


Vanessa said...

OK. Now I'm all weepy, too! It struck me how some journeys were all warm and friendly, and others far lonelier. And this bear of a man keeps on dancing. I think that's my 2009 motto.

Happy New Year, P!

Persephone said...

Did you feel an extra surge of joy when the Philippines came up? I felt so happy to see Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto, as well as all places where I have friends, family, and former students.

Happy New Year, yourself, with plenty of warm and friendly journeys! Will you be searching out Jaywalker in Brussels?

mapleservo said...

5 years late, but I stumbled across this post tonight while searching for the name of the carol mentioned in the first paragraph. The Band of Children! THAT'S IT! (he exclaimed in his best Lucy Van Pelt voice.)

I first heard this carol during one of those strange gem-like Christmas specials which my wife asked me to watch tonight, and which she also remembers fondly from her wee years.

The name of the special is "The Christmas Messenger" and it features Richard Chamberlain in the title role. We watched a version of it on youtube - definitely not a high definition experience but memories filled in what the pixels lacked.

You can find it in 3 parts here... (this carol is in the second part)

Apologies if this is now old news, but I'm grateful to you for helping me solve a mystery. I hope I returned the favour. :)

Persephone said...

Oh golly, mapleservo, you so very did! I had forgotten about Richard Chamberlain, in fact, I only vaguely remembered the other carols -- it was The Band of Children that spellbound me and watching it again after all these years, I got a little tearful. Thank you so much and Merry Christmas to you and yours!

mapleservo said...

It's a Christmas miracle! Glad we could help, Persephone.

I'm not sure if I saw the special when I was younger, but I'm taken by the quiet comfort of the thing. The Band of Children was a standout for us as well.

It looks like it may be available legitimately online through a company called Pyramid Media. I might take a chance and order a copy.

BTW, as a recent Whovian (Did you see the docudrama "An Adventure in Space and Time?") and a long-time Vince Guaraldi fan, I've really enjoyed your recent posts. I may have to stay and lurk a while.

Thanks again, and the best of the season to you and yours as well.

Persephone said...

You're always welcome to visit, mapleservo! Yes, I did see AiSaT, but it's my husband (who ain't called the Resident Fan Boy fer nuthin') who is the Classic Whovian. He really enjoyed it. I'm more into New Who.