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PETER KENNEDY AND MY
CANOW KERNOW, SONGS AND DANCES FROM CORNWALL
AND MY WORK ON CORNISH CAROLS
When I was called up and went to Deansbrook Road to answer the call, intending to volunteer for the Navy I remember noticing a tall figure in R.A.F. uniform, whom I recognised as Douglas Kennedy, whom I had met. If he had remembered me, he might have given me a nice cushy job in the R.A.F. I nearly switched from my intention of joining the Navy, but I am glad I did not, for I had a spectacular career in the Royal Navy and I should have missed meeting all my friends of The Welshman. But I still remember that tall friendly figure of Douglas Kennedy in R.A.F. uniform.
It was later in the War that I persuaded Vaughan Williams to give his lecture on "Old Beethovens Choral Symphony" at a weekend gathering I had arranged for the Navy. I always remember that, after the lecture, V.W. invited me to join him and Maud Karpeles, whom he was taking out to lunch. Maud Karpeles was the sister-in-law of Douglas Kennedy and Aunt of Peter Kennedy, whom I was soon to meet. She had won fame in the folk-song world by accompanying the great Cecil Sharp in collecting English folk-songs from the mountains of Virginia. I think I learnt more about English folk-songs during that famous lunch than I could have done in a month or two before I returned to my naval week-end course.
It was after that when I met Peter Kennedy, the son of Douglas, who seems to have inherited all his fathers and Aunts skill in collecting folk-songs out of unlikely beer drinkers. In 1956 Peter Kennedy had been employed by the B.B.C. to go round Cornish pubs to try to collect Cornish folk-songs. I was myself engaged about that time in the collection of folk-songs for my Canow Kernow which is now in its 3rd edition. But I never had the skill of a Kennedy or a Karpeles in coaxing examples from strangers, so I was very glad when Peter offered to let me have the free run of his 1956 collection. Of course there are plenty of songs that demand a place in any book of Cornish folk-songs. The Furry Dance, the Hal-an-tow, the Padstow May Day Song, Sweet Nightingale but I was glad to have the use of others little known to me.
I spent a very happy May Day following the Blue Team up and down the streets of Padstow. There seemed to me to be variations of the tune during the day, and that was not surprising to me when I was told by one of the team that they never sang the song from one May Day until the next, except perhaps to rehearse it a little when the time came. Of one thing I became certain, the phrase "unto day" repeated ad nauseam by the by-standers is completely mistaken. The words should be "for summer is icumen in to-day". I distinctly heard that "I-" of "icumen" which incidentally dated the song, for it means that the song was first sung by Padstow when the English language first became adopted generally in Padstow in the early Middle Ages.
I was regularly accepted in Padstow, for I found myself entrusted with the first writing down of their Carols, consecutive fifths and all. I found that they mostly belonged to the 19th Century, though Shepherds Rejoice may be older. When I came to write my Ceremony of Cornish Carols called after one of them Hail, Sacred Day (now published by Animus), Shepherds Rejoice because of its delightful "false relation banned from the 17th-19th centuries) and Flaming Seraphs from the St. Ives district, while the version used While Shepherds Watched was taken down by myself in the pub at Treen near Lands End, This Ceremony of Cornish Carols was originally written to be performed with the Christmas Trilogy of Mediaeval Dramas and was first performed at St. Peters Crawley. It has since been performed in Norfolk, Cumbria and St. Michaels Mount.
The extraordinary thing about Cornish Carols is that each district seems to guard a separate tradition which seems to have nothing to do with that of its neighbours. I am conscious of a number of these traditions but there are probably more of which I have no idea. There is a tradition around Bude of which I know very little, and then there is the Padstow tradition Strike Sound which I had the honour of editing. Quite apart from this there is the tradition of the Redruth-Camborne area which was collected and published in the 19th Century. As an offshoot from this came the St. Ives tradition which I came to know when I visited the Halstown choir. Quite independent from this is the tradition of St. Keverne in the south, which I had the honour of visiting and finding full of independent things. Quite apart from this, Cornish Carols are full of surprises. Who would have suspected that after Davies Gilbert had published his 1825 collection and had expressly said that for the life of him he could not find any more examples of the "old Carols" a whole book of Cornish Carols would come to light which must have been sent to him a few years after he had made this statement? But this is what happened.
My friend Eric Tappe, the Reader in Rumanian, at the University of London who had found many Churches of our Mediaeval Music-dramas, hearing me mention Davies Gilbert, had said: "I know a Miss Davies Gilbert". It turned out that she was the great-grand daughter of the very man who had done so much to revive Cornish Carols in the early nineteenth century. She showed me the very book that had been sent to her Great-grandfather, which had evidently arrived too late for him to make use of it. Moreover she allowed me to take it away and make a copy before returning it to her.
It was a book written out by John Hutchens from the St. Erth district and it had probably been sent to Davies Gilbert about 1827, too late for him to use. He was the M.P. for Truro, or had been the parliamentary representative for that district.
Nothing is known about John Hutchens, except that he copied the carols from an old book. So that they were considered "ancient" in the early 19th century. There are 89 pages of words for 39 Carols of which only 27 have music (one line), but the music-less carols are marked to be sung to those with music. This added a considerable number to those which are deemed "ancient" in, for example, the Oxford Book of Carols. Twelve of them are printed in a volume I edited myself for the Oxford University Press called Now Carol We. Unfortunately I was persuaded, rather against my will to add 4 part harmony, which slows down the melodies and prevents them from speaking for themselves. I do not think it added to the sale of the book, which is now out of print.
The rest were God at first created Man, A Virgin unspotted, So The Prophets Do Tell, When Adam first in Paradise, Christ shed his blood upon the rood, Jewry came to Jerusalem, Jesus Christ when twelve years old, Remember, O Thou Man, Joseph, an Aged man, Truly, sing, Daughter, Arise, rejoice and Sing and Candlemass: Titles that seem familiar enough, but will not be found in the Oxford Book of Carols, except Joseph an Aged Man truly (No. 66) and Carol for Candlemas No. 26 and Remember, O Thou Man, No. 42. The notes on them are worth studying.
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