Saturday, November 01, 2014

It's beginning to look a little bit like Christmas, at least for Prairieland Strings -- link here for videos of "Bring a Torch, Jeanette, Isabella" ** UPDATE x1 ** w/ December schedule

UPDATE FROM BLAST EMAIL, NOV. 16: Our next session of the Prairieland Strings is from 7 to 9 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 20, at Atonement Lutheran Church, 2800 West Jefferson, Spfld. We'll be practicing for our annual "sing/play for our supper" performance at the Advent soup supper on Wednesday, Dec. 10. The way Thanksgiving, Christmas and Advent fall this year, we won't have as much time to practice as we have in the past. But we got started earlier this year than we usually do, so we'll work out just fine!

Our schedule for the rest of November and December, which I will copy to the Hogfiddle blog, is as follows:

-- Thursday, Nov. 20, 7-9 p.m., "third Thursday" at Atonement -- rehearsal for soup supper.
-- Tuesday, Dec. 2, 7-9 p.m., "first Tuesday" at Atonement -- rehearsal.
-- Saturday, Dec. 6, 10 a.m.- 4 p.m. Clayville Historic Site, Ill. 125, Pleasant Plains. Christmas party.
-- Wednesday, Dec. 10. ca. 6 p.m. Advent soup supper at Atonement. Eat at 5:45, play at 6:20.

Our playlist, as it stands now, is:

-- Joy to the World
-- The First Noel
-- Bring a Torch, Jeanette, Isabella
-- Carol of the Bells
-- Silent Night

We made a lot of headway in Saturday morning's jam session at Clayville Historic Site, getting holiday music ready for for Clayville's Dec. 6 Christmas party and our annual Wednesday night Advent soup supper gig at Springfield's Atonement Lutheran Church at a time to be announced.

Our next session is from 7 to 9 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 4, at Atonement Lutheran Church, 2800 West Jefferson in Springfield. Since Atonement is a precinct polling place, we'll meet in the education room or narthex (the lobby next to the sanctuary on the opposite end of the building from our usual meeting space). Come in the usual door and turn right through the double doors into the education room.

One of our songs is "Bring a Torch, Jeanette, Isabella," and as we got into it, we started realizing there's more to it than meets the eye. The melody is an old French dance tune, originally in 3/8 time (our arrangement is in 3/4 and I've also seen it in 6/8 time), but the words, as printed in Wikipedia, ask the singers ("Jeanette, Isabella") to run to a village manger scene and gather around the sleeping Christ child. There's more history in a thread on Mudcat Cafe, along with alternative lyrics. I didn't realize, till we started practicing it this morning, what a complex, interesting piece of music it is!

So what we've got is a lively dance tune that conveys both the excitement of a village celebration ("Bring a torch, to the stable run") and the delicacy of a lullaby ("Hush, hush, see how the Child is sleeping") at the same time.

Neat trick if you can do it! But lots of musicians manage to do it very well. That complexity is what makes it fun.

YouTube performances

Here are some people playing the song. I haven't tried to link to the best performances here, but rather to musicians -- mostly amateurs or people offering instruction for amateurs -- that we can learn from.

You can find others, ranging from Tennessee Ernie Ford to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, by going to YouTube and entering the titles "Bring a Torch, Jeanette, Isabella" in English and "Un Flambeau, Jeannette, Isabelle" in French in the search engine.

Take a look at the videos below, see whether you like the tempo, dynamics, the interplay of different parts of the tune. I'm posting a combination of small-group choral and instrumental. What do you see that we might borrow for the Advent soup supper? What should we stay away from? What ideas might we adapt for our group?

An arrangement for harp and voice. The tempo is a little slower than we're used to hearing, but effective. Notice how she gets a "lilt" by hitting the downbeat. If she didn't, the melody would die at that tempo.

"Un Flambeau, Jeannette, Isabelle" on harp. Old French carol played on harp and sung by Freb Hunt-Bull. "Ah que le chat est beau!" [I'm not sure what a cat is doing here, but click here, or scroll up to the next post, to see my theory.]

High school madrigal singers in south suburban New Lenox, Ill. -- listen for their dynamics. "Soft … soft …" Listen to the words -- it's a lullaby!

BRING A TORCH, JEANETTE, ISABELLA. Uploaded on May 29, 2009. Lincoln-Way Central's 2006 Madrigal Singers

A nice arrangement for guitar …

Bring a Torch, Jeanette, Isabella. This is an easy classical guitar arrangement by Douglas Niedt. You can get the arrangement free by subscribing to Doug's technique tips at

Another version, more freely arranged …

Bring a Torch, Jeanette Isabella - arranged by Allan Alexander. Cynthia Underwood Guitar. Classical guitar solo arranged by Allan Alexander from his book An International Christmas for Guitar.

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