中文摘要：“Early One Morning”西方民謠音樂會將於2018年5月5日晚上8時正假香港銅鑼灣禮頓道119號中華基督教會公理堂舉行；表演時間為75分鐘（不設中場休息），節目結束後亦設表演者與觀眾對話環節，讓聽眾就聲樂及演唱曲目與演唱者交流，歡迎有興趣人士免費報名留座參與。
In my high school days, songs likes Greensleeves and Scarborough Fair were famous tunes. They still are. Then early in my singing days when I was a vocal student at the McGill University, I was very much attracted by songs like Early One Morning, The Ash Grove and Down by the Sally Garden. I cannot remember where I learned these songs. I just knew that they were called folk or traditional songs that had been passed down to us from the past so long ago that no one knew who the composer was. When I sang in the Music Faculty Chamber Choir, I came across choral settings of other folk songs like Blow the Wind Southerly, I Love my Love, The Water is Wide (O Waly, Waly), The Turtle Dove (Fare Thee Well) and She’s Like a Swallow. Where McGill was, being close to the rich base of traditional song culture of the East Coast of America, there were also songs like the lullaby All the Pretty Little Horses and sea shanty Oh Shenandoah that appealed to me very much. Singing in church with my friend with a folk guitar, I sang a lot of so called folk hymns like Morning has Broken, Love Was When and He (can Turn the Tides). I grew up in my singing life with all these songs that I love to this day. They are simple songs with great melody and lyrics that are human. Along with all the opera arias, Bach cantatas and Lieder that I had to learn as part of my vocal training in McGill, these songs gave me a break from the seriousness of the classical repertoire, a language that I could speak directly from my heart and an escape for me to enjoy what I sang from the soul, not from the mind.
Thus, when the idea came that I should put together a western folk song concert, all these songs came to my mind at the same time: they (except the folk hymns) are ALL included in this upcoming Concert on May-5-2018 (Early One Morning – an evening of western folk songs with Rosaline Pi and members of the New Chamber Choir). The Concert ends with Stephen Foster’s Some Folks which is the only non folk song item because, there, the composer is known. This is a very uplifting song to end the Concert after all the protagonists in the preceding songs have mourned over his/her lost love or missing lover. For those who come to the Concert, I hope the songs can bring back old time memories to some and arouse new interests in the others.
The Research Work
Prompted by the other side of me (the scientific side), I could not help but had to find out where and how these centuries old songs came to us. This is not so much as to whether the song is an English, American or Canadian song which is a piece of information that is readily available from the internet, but how the songs get to come to us in its present form. As it turns out, for most of these several century old songs, it was the lyric (or something similar) that first appeared (in printed form) as a broadside ballad several centuries ago. “A broadside is a single sheet of inexpensive paper printed on one side, often with a ballad, rhyme, news and sometimes woodcut illustrations. They were the most common forms of printed material between the 16th and 19th century, particularly in Britain, Ireland and North America.” (Wikipedia) The term “ballad”, in its simplest definition, means a form of verse. But when someone, whose name has already been lost in history, later wrote music to the verse or simply sang it repeatedly with the same or similar tune and the tune with its words got passed from generation to generation, the result is that today we have a traditional song (folk song). For an example of broadside ballad, please refer to Figure One (a broadside ballad taken from the Bodleian Libraries from which the folk song “Early One Morning” is said to have originated.)
Folk or traditional songs are not treasures to us only for their musical values: they tell us customs over the long past period of our time and common people’s daily life that is usually not entered into any formal literature record. A nation or country’s traditional songs is indeed a true account of its culture. Just for the English language alone, scholar and librarian Steve Roud has collected English folk songs from the oral tradition from all over the world and compiled them into a database (Roud Folk Song Index) of more than 25,000 such songs.
A Few Words on the Songs Themselves (in the order these are performed)
All the Pretty Little Horses (also known as Hush-a-bye) is a traditional American lullaby where the “mother” promises the child that when he wakes up, he will have all the pretty little horses. It was suggested that the song was originally sung by an African American slave, who had to leave her own child unattended, to sing to her master’s child.
The Ash Grove is a traditional Welsh folk song. Although similar tunes have appeared before, the tune as it is today first appeared in 1802. Since then, it has been set to different lyrics, the most famous version of this was written in English by Thomas Oliphant. The singer mourns over his lover’s death.
The lyric of Down by the Sally Garden comes from a poem by William Butler Yeats published in 1889. There, Yeats was trying to re-construct the text from a song that he once heard from an old peasant woman. “She bid me take love easy…But being young and foolish, I would not agree with her…and now I am full of tears.” The song we hear today comes from Herbert Hughes. He set the Yeats poem to music using the traditional air The Moorlough Shore.
Greensleeves is a traditional English folk song. The name “Greensleeves” first appeared in a broadside ballad in 1580. The tune can be found in several places in the late 16th century and early 17th century music. It tells of a lover’s rejected love by Lady Green Sleeves. There are, however, different sayings as far as who this Lady Green Sleeves was. The tune was written in the favorite Dorian tonal mode back then. However, today, the Dorian modality is often modified to sound more like a minor key.
The Water is Wide (O Waly, Waly) is a Scottish folk song based on a lyric dated in the 1600s. The text tells the different phases of a love relationship: “O love is handsome and love is kind; Gay as a jewel when it is new; But love grows old and waxes cold; And fades away like the morning dew.”
Scarborough Fair is a traditional English ballad. The background scene of the lyric is the Scarborough Fair, a popular fair in Yorkshire town in the late Middle Age. The Fair’s heydays stretched from the end of the 13th century to that of the 14th century. The tone of the lyric is very different from the other love songs: the man and woman who were former lovers take turn to pass words to each other that the other has to complete some impossible tasks before he/she would love her/him again. The song was, again, written in Dorian mode. The song was so popular that by the end of the 18th century, dozens of versions of it were created.
Early One Morning is a 16th century English ballad that tells the story of a “poor maiden” Mary who was badly treated, used and finally abandoned by her lover. “O don’t deceive me, O never leave me! How could you use a poor maiden so?” The source of the lyric seems to have come from a broadside ballad in 1787 under the title of “The Lamenting Maid” (see Figure One). The melody of this song that is known today was not found printed until 1855-1859 by William Chappell in his National English Airs in which he made Early One Morning one of the most popular songs among the servant-maids of Medieval England. (Wikipedia)
Fare Thee Well is an 18th century English folk ballad. It tells about a man who was bidding farewell to his lover before going away for a long journey. In 1919, Ralph Vaughan Williams re-arranged the song for baritone solo and SATB choir. He titled this song “The Turtle Dove”.
She’s Like the Swallow is a Newfoundland folk song. It is among one of the many Newfoundland songs about unhappy love. The song has such a beautiful tune that it has become one of the most performed songs by singers and choirs.
I Love my Love is a Cornish folk song. The version that is sung in the Concert is an arrangement for mixed choir by Gustav Holst (1874-1934). “In this story a young woman is sent to Bedlam by the parents of the man she loves, presumably so the young man could find a more suitably young woman.” However, the song has a happy ending. (Classical Odyssey)
Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) had great inspiration from folk songs in his compositions. Not only has he used the folk tunes freely in his works, he has published several sets of folk song settings for the German folk songs. This Concert includes four of these setting: (1) “Sagt mir, o schönste Schäf’rin mein” (Tell me, my pretty shepherdess); (2) “Da unter im Tale” (Down in the Valley); (3) “Feinsliebchen, du sollst” (My little love, you should not); (4) “Schwesterlein” (Sister dear).
Blow the Wind Southerly is a traditional English song in which a woman is desperately hoping for a southerly wind to bring back her lover from the sea.
O Shenandoah is a traditional America folk song dated back to the early 19th century. The song has originated from the Canadian and American fur traders traveling along the Missouri River. The lyric existed before 1860 and it tells about a trader who fell in love with the daughter of Chief Shenandoah. The song has become very popular as a sea shanty by mid 1800s.
The last song in the concert “Some Folks” is not a folk song: it has a composer. Stephen Foster (1826-1864) is known as the “father of American music”. As far as songs are concerned, he has written over 200 including some of the best-known ones such as “O Susanna”, “Beautiful Dreamer”, “Old Black Joe”, etc. “Some folks like to sigh, some folks like to die, some folks fear to smile, some folks fret and scold, they’ll soon be dead and cold, some folks get grey hair, some folks toil and save to buy themselves a grave… But that’s not me nor you! Long lives the merry heart that laughs by night and day, like the Queen of Mirth, no matter what some folks say!” After the whole evening of miserable lovers, lost love and abandoned maid, the concert ends on this merry note!
Compared with songs from the classical repertoire, folk songs are not as difficult to sing technically: they do not have big vocal range, the individual notes are not extremely high or low, there is no virtuosic singing requirements (like singing the runs, trills or ornaments), there is no orchestra accompaniment that one’s voice to cut through (that is, volume singing is not required) and the singer can also sing with an amplifying microphone. In fact, for someone to have sung folk songs like folk-song singing, he/she MUST NOT have used the bel canto (classical) singing techniques. Hence, a classical singer rarely performs folk songs or, when so doing, does it pleasingly. A folk song singer sings with her/his natural voice.
However, in singing a folk song in choral setting, because the different voices have to blend in tone color and the different pitches have to harmonize with each other, the singing volume of each voice part cannot be too small. And because amplifying microphones cannot be used effectively for a choir setting to help increase the singing volume, the choristers have to sing in a classical way, that is, not just using their natural voice. Also, since the song is set for voices of different vocal ranges (such as soprano, alto, tenor and bass), the vocal range expected from any voice part is like that of a choral piece from the classical repertoire: the choristers can no longer stay singing in the folk song’s original vocal range or pitch level. Hence, choristers singing a choral arrangement of a folk song cannot sing with their natural voice.
Natural voice singing versus bel canto singing
In this Concert, I shall be singing Scarborough Fair as a solo song using the natural voice. Then I shall be singing the song Early One Morning twice, first time sung with the bel canto technique and the second time with my natural voice. And in order to make the song technically demanding enough for the bel canto technique to have come into play, the first time singing is done at a third higher than the second. And to show the real difference between bel canto singing and natural voice singing, I will sing the latter into an amplification microphone.
All the Brahms songs are sung in the bel canto way regardless this is a genuine classical song or a folk song. This is a concert practice in singing Brahms and the other classical composers.
The “Early One Morning – an evening of western folk songs with Rosaline Pi and members of New Chamber Choir” is held in the China Congregational Church (119, Leighton Road, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong) on May-5-2018 at 8:00pm. The concert lasts about 75 minutes (no intermission). There will be a 30-minute free dialoguing session after the performance with the performers where the audiences can ask questions about the repertoire or the singing.
ADMISSION IS FREE. Pre-registration is preferred. Please send email to [email protected] to request for your reserved seats. Limited amount of tickets at the entrance starting from 7:45pm are also available for walk-in audiences. First come, first served.