Happy May 1st! I woke up this morning to my Dad singing the ‘Oss song (click the link to hear a live recording from the festival and read the lyrics to the song). Pretty much every May 1st of my life has started in the same way. The only difference is that when I was younger, we used to actually put on a recording of it and dance around. I think one time we even tied ribbons to the tree outside and made a maypole out of it. Ah the joys of thinly veiled Pagan ritual! So anyway, today I was about to blog about the Padstow Obby Oss festival, until I remembered that I blogged about it exactly one year ago.
But since I’m on the topic of spring and summer and dancing around in an English fashion, I thought I’d share another little piece of England that never ceases to crop up at this time of year. The manuscript below is from Reading Abbey, around the thirteenth century, and is for a song called ‘Summer is icumen in.’ I used to play it in a duet with my friend Nadiya, her on flute and me on violin.
The song is traditionally sung in a six part round and is a celebration of the new season. Here’s the original lyrics, in the Wessex Dialect of Middle English:
Sumer Is Icumen In
Svmer is icumen in
Lhude sing cuccu!
Groweþ sed and bloweþ med
and springþ þe wde nu.
Awe bleteþ after lomb,
lhouþ after calue cu,
Bulluc sterteþ, bucke uerteþ.
Murie sing cuccu!
Wel singes þu cuccu.
ne swik þu nauer nu!
Sing cuccu nu, Sing cuccu!
Sing cuccu, Sing cuccu nu!
It’s kind of easier to understand if you read the translation:
- Summer has come in,
- Loudly sing, Cuckoo!
- The seed grows and the meadow blooms
- And the wood springs anew,
- Sing, Cuckoo!
- The ewe bleats after the lamb,
- The cow lows after the calf.
- The bullock stirs, the buck-goat turns,
- Merrily sing, Cuckoo!
- Cuckoo, cuckoo, well you sing, cuckoo;
- Don’t you ever stop now,
- Sing cuckoo now. Sing, Cuckoo.
- Sing Cuckoo. Sing cuckoo now!
Here you can watch a video of the song being performed by (how bizarre is this) an Indian madrigal group in Bangalore!
And here’s an older recording – perhaps from the 1950s (?) by an English choir…
Soooo – if you feel like having a jolly May day and learning it, here’s a site that will teach you all the parts one by one – you just need find at least two equally bored friends…
And just because I’m avoiding the essay I need to be writing right now, here’s some more cuckoo related music I love: the first is from Saint Saens Carnival of the Animals, and the second is a song called ‘Koyal’ by Nitin Sawhney. Koyal, or koel is the name of the Indian cuckoo.