The least known Walt Kelly Christmas song

You’ve heard “Deck Us All With Boston Charlie.” You may even have heard “Good King Sauerkraut Looked Out On His Feets Uneven.” But have you heard of “The Twelve Days of Crispness“?

Three wench friends

No?

Me neither, until tonight, which kind of astonishes me. But after seven performances this season of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” with the Boston Pops, it sounds pretty good. There are actually two extant versions:

On the first day of crispness,
My true love sent to me,
One turkle dove,
Two pounds of ham,
An’ a parsnip in a pear tree!

On the secon’ day of crispness,
My true love sent to me,
Two turtle doves
an’ a parsnip in a pan-tree.

Or the more bizarre but equally satisfying:

Conifers stay of Crispness,
MacTruloff sentimie
A parsnip Anna Pantry.

Honor Sick an’ Davey Criss-Cross,
MacTruloff said to me,
Tutor Killduffs
Anna Pottage inner
Pair threes.

Under Thursday of Crispness,
MacTruloff sanity,
Three wench friends,
Tu-dors above,
An’ the parson
Up a psaltree.

I don’t know about you, but my three wench friends should love this one.

 

Star time with the Pops

We had an unusual Holiday Pops concert last night. It wasn’t the normal Monday night audience by any stretch of the imagination–unless your “normal Monday night audience” includes an active and a retired US Senator, the governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and more than your average number of glitterati.

Last night friends of Senator John Kerry “bought the house,” and the program was a mix of a traditional Pops Christmas program, including “Sleigh Ride,” “White Christmas,” singalongs, and the TFC’s famous “Twelve Days of Christmas”; patriotic program (“God Bless America,” “The Stars and Stripes Forever”); and encomium to the senator on the occasion of his 25th year in office. And the tributes came from a bunch of different directions: documentary filmmaker Ken Burns spoke and presented a short film about Kerry’s career that came off like a campaign puff piece. James Taylor sang three songs and expressed his congratulations to the Senator. Governor Deval Patrick gamely read “The Night Before Christmas” while tossing out his best wishes. Senator Kerry’s Swift boat crew came and his second in command offered a salute that left the senator choked up. Former Senator Max Cleland (who had been shamefully swift-boated himself) did not speak, but got about as much applause as Kerry did. All the time the Tanglewood Festival Chorus was at the back of the stage, watching or singing.

And then there were the two musical highlights. Senator Kerry conducted the “Stars and Stripes Forever” with a surprisingly good sense of rhythm, though he occasionally gave his downbeat as an up-beat, but with an endearing amount of mugging self-mockery that left one in mind of an amiable crane; his face as the chorus entered was beaming.

And Noel Paul Stookey and Peter Yarrow, better known as Peter and Paul of Peter, Paul and Mary, gave a little lesson in folk singing, discussing the past and their connection with the Senator. They performed “A Soalin'” as a duo, then began “Light One Candle,” which the TFC has been singing this season. At the chorus they began to wave to the audience to sing along, so a few of us joined quietly; when they heard us, Paul waved us to sing louder. So we sang backup to two of the most significant living folksingers on that tune, and then on “Blowin’ In the Wind.” All my coffeehouse dreams of youth realized.

One of these days, I’m going to have to put my performance resumé together. It would have to include: “Sang with Renée Fleming, Dave Brubeck, and Noel Paul Stookey and Peter Yarrow” and “Sang in ensembles conducted by Robert Shaw, James Levine, Seiji Ozawa, and John Kerry.”

Backstage at the Hatch Shell, July 4, 2010

At rehearsal at the Hatch Shell

This weekend I had one of those eerie experiences where you step into a picture you’ve always watched, but never imagined yourself in.

When I was growing up, the Fourth of July meant band concerts at Fort Monroe–if you’re growing up in Tidewater Virginia, military base concerts are your best bets for live music and fireworks–but it also meant the Boston Pops on TV. I remember vividly watching in the late Fiedler years, then later in the John Williams era. I made a pilgrimage to see the event in person in 2001, at the dawn of this blog. When we lived in Seattle we’d watch the show televised from the Hatch Shell and think about being in Boston. When we moved back to the area, we watched on the big screen at Robbins Farm Park, or else simply flaked out in front of the TV (the best place to watch the Aerosmith spectacle from a few years back).

But I never dreamed I’d be singing on the stage, in front of about 800,000 people. We had a warmup concert on the 3rd with an audience in the tens of thousands, but it was no preparation for the crowds, the heat, and the excitement. The music for a July 4 concert can be expected to be the usual patriotic numbers, and this year did not disappoint, but there were also some truly moving moments, such as the tribute to the Kennedy brothers–which, judging from the feedback on Twitter was a highlight of the show (at least for some). I hope we get a chance to do the show again soon–maybe with a few more lyrics and less humming.

See also: my photos from the weekend.

My first Pops Independence Day concert

This Fourth of July will be a first for me. After five years of membership in the Tanglewood Festival Chorus, I’ve hit the big time. Bigger than singing with James Levine? With Sir Colin Davis? With Renée Fleming? Maybe. I’ll be singing my first Fourth of July concert with the Boston Pops, as a member of the Tanglewood Festival Chorus.

I don’t know yet whether I’ll be on stage, but I think just being there at the Hatch Shell on the Fourth is going to be reward enough. I grew up with local Independence Day concerts at Fort Monroe in Hampton, Virginia, but even I knew that the Boston July 4th was The Real Deal. But somehow I missed my opportunity the last time the TFC performed with the Pops, and for a few years they haven’t sung.

But now–the year of the 125th anniversary of the Pops, and the 40th anniversary of the TFC–I’ll be there. You can even watch me on local TV — though, alas, not the national broadcast, as all our numbers will be in the first half of the show. But if you’re in the Boston area, set your DVRs!