This warmer, brighter last day of January feels like the perfect day for Ontario to cautiously relax COVID restrictions – and the perfect day for a bit of choral inspiration – but the calendar being what it is, it’s not quite so perfect for the offering I’ll share with you today.
Last Monday, if you remember, began with what felt then like an imminently dangerous, but now feels like a more static crisis in Ukraine… and in my own mind that urgent moment pre-empted the timely sharing of this gem, connected with the day following, January 25th, Robert Burns Day. Now, of course, I am nearly a week late: this year you probably missed any sort of traditional Rabbie Burns dinner you might otherwise have chosen to attend in honour of the late 18th-century poet, whose “Auld lang syne” you might very well have sung one month ago tonight – so perhaps you would accept your haggis cold or reheated?
Burns’ second-most-famous song is one of which I can honestly say I’ve never heard a bad arrangement, and if there were ever a combination of words and tune that better set an arranger up for success, I don’t know it! The arrangement I share today is among my favourites, and it comes from the perhaps-unlikely source of Latvian composer Ēriks Ešenvalds, one of the current international superstars of an over 30-year tradition of gorgeous choral music gifted to the west from former Soviet republics and occupied countries of Eastern Europe, beginning with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.
Ešenvalds’ 2016 arrangement of “My Luve is like a red red rose” for eight voices and recorder/tin whistle is performed here by Voces 8, perhaps currently the world’s finest double-quartet vocal ensemble (although it was commissioned for the Wartburg College choir you might recall my sharing two weeks ago).
In this famous lyric we see Burns as a formative figure in what would become the romantic movement in literature, music and art, that would sweep Europe for much of the century after his death. But he was no less a political figure, and an inspiration to the movement for liberalism that would eventually give rise to the mature western-world order of the late 20th century. He is best-known of poets in the Scots language, although much of his writing is in a “light Scots dialect” of English – and he also wrote in standard English, where his commentary is often at its bluntest. As this weekend we saw the symbols of fascism raised in our nation’s capital, and our national monuments and sacred notions of freedom trod on (and worse), it is this aspect of Burns that dwells on my mind, even six days late.
Stay as safe and happy as you can! If you haven’t been for a while visit the Georgetown Choral Society website, Facebook Page and YouTube Channel – where you can subscribe to stay connected.
‘See’ you next week – actually, from what I am hearing I might well actually see some of you… but I will leave that to the Board to share later this week…