Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Tune of Christmas Past

Well, fine, it is still a bit early for talking about a certain little book by Dickens. I don't care if I did see Santa Claus alive and sitting in the mall today with a fistfull of sleighbells, looking slightly neglected, and bawling out to the echoes, "Oh what fun it is to ride in a one horse open sleigh-hey!" It's too early for that sort of thing. But I wanted to read Dickens, yet wasn't in quite a Great Expectations sort of mood, nor quite feeling up to Martin Chuzzlewit. In short, I wanted something. . .short. So A Christmas Carol it was after all. And, oh, is that an entertaining book! I don't know how I could have skimmed over the bits about the fiddler at Fezziwig's party before, but somehow they came across as brand new this time around:

In came a fiddler with a music-book , and went up to the lofty desk, and made an orchestra of it, and tuned like fifty stomach-aches.

(Is that a rich description of the so-called catguts being wrangled up and down around and around the desired note, or what?)

After some hearty dancing they give the fiddler a dram, you might say:

. . .Old Fezziwig, clapping his hands to stop the dance, cried out, "Well done!" and the fiddler plunged his hot face into a pot of porter, especially provided for that purpose. But, scorning rest, upon his reappearance he instantly began again, though there were no dancers yet, as if the other fiddler had been carried home, exhausted, on a shutter, and he were a brand-new man resolved to beat him out of sight, or perish.

And finally:

. . .The great effect of the evening came. . .when the fiddler (an artful dog, mind! the sort of man who knew his business better than you or I could have told it him!) struck up "Sir Roger de Coverley."

Which meant I had to put down the book and go in search of "Sir Roger de Coverley," just for the sake of deep learning. To my delight, it proved to be a good deal less obscure than I had feared, indeed, if you have ever seen a movie version of A Christmas Carol, you have likely heard it; for some wonderful reason, directors tend to get that detail correct. "Sir Roger de Coverley" is both the name of a very old English 9/8 jig, and of the steps which are customarily danced to it, something along the lines of a Virginia Reel (I say, drawing on my vast stores of knowledge; I can myself execute exactly 3.25 dances, and the Virginia Reel is over a quarter of them). Here is the tune on a button accordion as played by an Australian fellow who gives his name as Hector. You can definitely see how something like this could become "the great effect of the evening":

No comments: