Saturday, 16 January 2010


I'm off out to dinner this evening. To be precise, a three course meal with music provided by the excellent Ebor Singers. To quote directly from the invitation...

"if you wish to celebrate the end of Christmas in style, join us for our Wassail Dinner 2010, on Saturday 16 January at the Merchant Taylors Hall, for a 3-course meal, music, readings, and our own Mummers Play - if you think you've seen the choir perform, think again!"

I've been to these before, and it's always been a splendid evening's entertainment with a good meal provided too!

For those of you unfamiliar with Wassailing traditions in this country, any Google search should soon put that right. Here's an excerpt from a site I came across.


Wassailing has been associated with Christmas and New Year as far back as the 1400s. It was a way of passing on good wishes among family and friends.

What is Wassail?

Wassail is an ale-based drink seasoned with spices and honey. It was served from huge bowls, often made of silver or pewter. The Wassail bowl would be passed around with the greeting, 'Wassail'.

There are three main ways of wassailing.

The filling of a common bowl or cup often referred to as a 'Loving Cup' and passing it around a room to be shared.

Taking a bowl of Wassail around houses

A celebration of the apple harvest and the blessing of the fruit or trees.

Where does the name Wassail come from?

Wassail gets its name from the Old English term "waes hael" meaning "be well" It was a Saxon custom that, at the start of each year, the lord of the manor would shout 'waes hael'. The assembled crowd would reply 'drinc hael' meaning 'drink and be healthy'.

As time went on, the tradition was carried on by people going from door to door, bearing good wishes and a wassail bowl of hot, spiced ale. In return people in the houses gave them drink, money and Christmas fare (special foods eaten during Christmas time e.g. mince pies) and they believed they would receive good luck for the year to come.

What was in the Wassail?

The contents of the bowl varied in different parts of the country, but a popular one was known as 'lambs wool'. It consisted of hot ale, roasted crab apples, sugar, spices, eggs, and cream served with little pieces of toast. It was the toast floating on the top that made it look like lamb's wool.

A Wassailing Carol

One of the most popular Wassailing Carols went like this:

Here we come a-wassailing
Among the leaves so green,
Here we come a-wassailing,
So fair to be seen:
Love and joy come to you,
And to you your wassail too,
And God bless you and send you,
A happy New Year,
And God send you,
A happy new year.

There's more, all from this site which you can explore at your own leisure, but I think this gives you a rough idea of what the evening will be about! Should be great fun, but I can't be too late back because I'm going over to Gtr Manchester tomorrow to celebrate Theophany (incidentally the traditional date of celebrating "Wassail" in the Old English Calendar!) with my Ukrainian friends now that the weather's improved.

Until next time...

Waes hael!

Monday, 11 January 2010

Frustrated again....

I am not happy. Having booked 3 days leave ages ago in order to celebrate Christmas according to the Julian Calendar with my Ukrainian friends - what happens? We get the worst winter for nearly 30 years! Needless to say, venturing across to the other side of the Pennines on 7th January was a non-starter, hence my disappointment yet again, having previously missed out on the only Solemn High Mass of Christmas [Midnight] in the EF to be celebrated in Yorkshire (& quite possibly the entire North of England.) I shall make up for missing out on the Ukrainian celebrations by going to the Ukrainian Cathedral in London at the end of the month. It will be the Sunday of the Prodigal Son by then, so not quite the same as Christmas, but as it will also be my first Byzantine Catholic Liturgy since June, I'm not going to lose any sleep over it! ;-)

I'm in London principally to attend this, believed to be the first meeting of its kind. Looking at the map that Joseph has so kindly created (& put a lot of work into), it's quite clear that there's a distinct lack of organised singers who provide music for the EF in North/North-East England. There are other groups around, I can think of one on South Tyneside, the Leeds Schola Gregoriana - the first chant only group that I joined over 20 years ago & the fledgling Schola founded by the indefatigable Fr Bill Charlton based at North Ormesby whose name escapes me at the moment. The harsh reality is though, that the only opportunity for people to hear a Chant Mass in either form with the full Propers taken from the Graduale Romanum or Liber Usualis is from groups like ourselves who travel miles to sing by invitation & therefore put a lot of hard work & money into ensuring that the services are given the due musical solemnity that they deserve.

Still on Chant matters, I had intended to resume the chanting og Compline & Vespers last week also, but due to the weather, postponed that to this week instead. At least it gave me an opportunity to change the times, bringing them more into line with what I'd originally intended. So, Compline will now be at 9pm on Fridays, and Sunday Vespers will be at 5pm. (Term-time only unless my arm's twisted by people desperate to take part....) Whether anyone actually turns up remains to be seen. As I've mentioned here before, York is a very secular city when it come to chant (& polyphony too) in it's proper context. The concert venues thrive with superb performances by the many talented choirs in the area. We also have the National Centre for Early Music here, as well as an excellent music department in the University, but the only full churches you're likely to see will be at Carol Services, or for sheer snob-value, the Minster at major Festivals. (The regular Minster congregation are completely exempt from this criticism!)

OK. Mini-rant over. Let's hope the meeting at the end of January bears the seeds of a gradual recovery to get quality music, not just chant, back into churches where it belongs.

Saturday, 2 January 2010

Happy New Year!

A day late maybe, but as this is the first entry, still justified methinks. In the month plus since I last managed to write anything here, I've recovered most of the work, photos, music and other files which were almost disastrously lost after what I now call the great crash.

Unfortunately all my work for the LMS Ushaw Conference bit the proverbial dust, so I've had to recreate all the planned services, which for added insurance purposes, I've now uploaded to my webspace! This is provisional at the moment, as some things may change, but the work is done so any minor alterations will be relatively easy. 'Tis a great relief to be at this stage now because last year I beat the publishing deadline for the booklet by only two days....

I have a large chunk of spare time now which I can devote to other things before I get around to preparing full music folders for the resident singers. We hope to have two full scale polyphonic Masses this year, and even polyphony [motets] during the chant Masses too. It promises to be magnificent!

So, I now plan to spend a bit more time reading [I have a pile of books, which at this rate will take me a decade to get through!], writing here more often & indulging in taking more photographs - not necessarily of church events, but I've just noticed that my set from St Alphonsus' North Ormesby have been published on their new website. Do go and take a look. Fr Bill Charlton is a wonderful priest who deserves all the support we can possibly give him.

I had hoped to be there for Midnight Mass, but unfortunately fog descended in the Vale of York, so it was to my intense frustration, but common sense prevailed - a 100 mile round trip at night in freezing fog is not to be recommended!

The Rudgates were busy just before Christmas though at our now Annual Carol Service. We did have a group photo taken beforehand, but I've yet to receive this from the photographer, so you''ll just have to make do with my mobile snapshot just before the service started of the East End.
It was, another huge success, and has given us the nice headache of "how do we follow that?" Well, I've already got some wonderful pieces for Next Year....

The full choir now has some respite between now and April, when we hope to persuade as many as possible to come and sing Victoria's glorious Requiem for 6 voices in the equally glorious St Cuthbert's chapel at Ushaw. It's a working day fo most people, and as the Mass is scheduled for 11.00am it means, taking a day's holiday. I'm pushing it like mad at the moment in the hope that we can get the required quorum. If the worst comes to the worst, we've always got the chant Requiem, but the Victoria would be just stunning in that location.

However, that said, we are trying to get a full choral Mass in York for the Chair of Peter on 22nd Feb. Depending on the church, & the availability of people it may or may not happen as it's a Monday evening & we'd be relying on quite a few people - not least our choral Director travelling many miles to York & back home again before work the following day. Watch this space..

Chant-wise Compline resumes on 8th January followed by Sunday Vespers on the 10th. Before then, I'm switching calendars to celebrate with the Ukrainians on the 7th, so if you use the Julian Calendar instead of the Gregorian, Happy Christmas for Thursday!