Remembering The Old Songs:


by Bob Waltz
(Originally published: Inside Bluegrass, December 2002)

Ah, Christmas. The season of joy. Of giving. Of goodwill to our fellows.

The season of struggling like mad to find some traditional song with something to do with the holiday.

For a long time, I gave up. It's worth remembering that, for many years, Christmas was a minor holiday in Anglo-American tradition. (One reason Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol was to try to make Christmas a holiday in England.)

But I quite accidentally gave myself an opening earlier this year when I printed a piece by Thomas Ravenscroft. For Ravenscroft wrote a good many Christmas-like pieces. And this one has been recorded by Jean Ritchie (though she didn't learn it from tradition), so it seems like a suitable thing to print.

It's worth remembering that this dates from the early seventeenth century. Most of us, these days, don't talk in terms like this. And yet, it's all pretty Biblical. No heresy here; just archaism.
I'm not going to say much more about this, except to note that I, rather sadly, trimmed the words to those used by Ritchie, and also gave modern spelling.

It is interesting to note that Ravenscroft gave this almost a bluegrass harmony, with the tenor usually a third above the melody. For those who wanted to see it, I've provided Ravenscroft's full setting as best I could (with a couple of corrections where the copy seemed to have errors). Unfortunately, you can't really split this into his SATB score, because he some-times flipped the alto and tenor. But you can at least play it on the piano (or the computer) and hear the parts. I also moved it from Gm to Em for payability.

I've shown it ending terpsichore (on E rather than E minor). You can do this on each verse, but it's better to save it for the last time through.


Complete Lyrics:
Remember O thou man, O thou man, O thou man,
Remember O thou man thy time is spent.
Remember O thou man how thou art dead and gone
And I did what I can, Therefore repent.

Remember God's goodness, O thou man, O thou man,
Remember God's goodness and promise made [to thee].
Remember God's goodness, he sent his son doubtless,
Our sins for to redress, be not afraid.

The angels all did sing on shepherds' hill.
The angels all did sing praise to our heav 'nly king,
And peace to man living with a good will.

To Bethlem they did go, the shepherds three.
To Bethlem they did go to see if 'twere or no,
Wheth'r Christ were born or no to set men free.

In Bethlem he was born for mankind sake.
In Bethlem he was born for us that were forlorn
And therefore took no scorn Our flesh to take.

Give thanks to God alway, with heart most joyfully,
Give thanks to God alway on this our happy day,
Let all men sing and pray, Hallelujah.

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