Monday 19 November 2018

Decorate the Day - Wedding Oratorio

There are a number of versions of Decorate the Day, my Wedding Oratorio.

Some versions live only in our memories...

This is a link to my Soundcloud, which I use mostly for Works in Progress, to share with chums...

This is the direct link to Decorate the Day, the Clayton version, on Soundcloud...

The Singers are Patrick O'Sullivan and Stephanie Hladowski

Piano Danny Yates
Guitar Danny Yates
Mandolin Gene Dunford
Autoharp Patrick O'Sullivan

And here, on my blog, Fiddler's Dog, are some notes...

People who want to retain the mystery of the creative processes should read no further...

My elder son has long watched my attempts to play a musical instrument with amused detachment.  And has long said that he would like me to perform at his wedding.

I could never make out if this was a dare, a challenge, or a tease...


My autoharps and my mountain dulcimer to hand...

As the day of the wedding loomed...

I wrote a song - almost a Wedding Oratorio, 6 minutes long.

And I did perform at his wedding.

Video grab photo, above....

Autoharper, me, on left. Chorus of wedding guests. My elder son and his lovely bride, extreme right.

The wedding was in September 2018, a glamping wedding, with a festival vibe - oh yes.  In rural Norfolk.

Loving families were involved.

In our case...

My younger son made the wedding rings - moving on from the simple joys of silver to the seductive lures of gold.

My wife had grown the flowers.  Not an easy thing to do, to turn a part of the garden into a wildflower meadow - and persuade those wild flowers to bloom in September.

John Clare writes of The Fear of Flowers - 'The nodding oxeye bends before the wind...'  And the nodding oxeye did bend before the wind.

And Dolly Parton sings, 'Wildflowers don't care where they grow...'  Not true, Dolly - they are fussy.

My wife made the bouquets and other floral wonderments for the wedding.

So, I watched my younger son and my wife, and determined that I had to do something - effort not like or equal, but something.

I had to write the song...

For the glamping wedding, with the festival vibe...

And already I was thinking about the LOOK of the flowers, on the wedding day...

When it comes to songs I am very clear about roles.

I am the lyricist.  I write words.  I don't write the music, I don't perform the song, I don't play the music.  I leave these things to other, good people.

However, as I tried to plan the wedding song, none of the usual suspects stepped up to the plate...

So, there had to be made...

Decorate the Day, Wedding Oratorio
Words AND music by Patrick O'Sullivan
With a little help from Shakespeare, Beethoven, and John Hughes' Cwm Rhondda

I had no clear idea what resources I would have - in rural Norfolk - to actually present and perform the song.

I called, for help, on Danny Yates, ever patient and skilled...

and, of course, on our muse, Euterpe, the muse of music and lyric poetry, the bringer of delight...
I have to say, I had my doubts.  I asked, Is this wise, Euterpe?  I mean, Euterpe, six minutes?

Danny Yates and I made what I call a 'spine recording' - which gave a structure, simple piano, with me singing. In effect, the sort of thing that a good backing band might do, if you had a good backing band.

The song was always designed to be very pianistic - we have piano-players in the family.  Words, chords and music were sent to possible piano players.

In the event there was a decent sound system at the venue, into which I could stick my usb.  There was electricity.  The electric autoharp is great for faking it.

Two piano players stepped up - Joseph Attenborough and Michael Benaim - and were magnificent.  We played, and sang along to the spine recording.

The song has four main parts...

'We need not count the miracles...'
A philosophical, meditative prelude.  Lyrical, flowing, pianistic - a long line.  The lines are fourteeners, iambic heptameters - which are not often used in English verse, and have had a bad press.  I wanted a long lyrical line.  

'And here on the day of the marriage...'
A jolly folk song, changes the mood...

This poetic conceit ignores all my wife's hard work, the months of worry and hard work...

And imagines that we have wandered the fields just before the wedding, and we have gathered the wild flowers, to make our chaplets and buttonholes and bouquets...

It is about the look of the day.

'Ox-eye daisy, black eyed Susan...'
The Flower Chant
And what flowers have we gathered?  Everything.

I had been making notes about my wife's plants plans, and she had given me a list of the flowers that she would be taking to the wedding.

But the list was not long enough for the Flower Chant gag to work. 

The point of the gag is that the list just has to be preposterous.  See point 5, below...

There is a hint of Beethoven, but that is because Schiller and I use the same rhythm for a lyric...

'Freude, schöner Götterfunken,'

'Ox-eye daisy, Black eyed Susan'

The Shakespeare gag, half way through the flower chant, was just too good to leave out.  Midsummer Night's Dream, Oberon speaks.  The quote takes us from Cupid to 'Fetch me that flower...'  So, it summarises our song.

A more considered version of the song might put in a bit more business here.  For the song and the singers obey Oberon's instructions.  They fetch that flower.  The flower that maidens call 'Love in Idleness' is also called Viola Tricolor and Heart's Ease.

And the Flower Chant begins anew...

'Viola Tricolor, (Heart’s ease), Wood spurge...'

A final football chant, to Cwm Rhondda/Bread of Heaven

Selected wedding guests had been primed, and were ready to join in.

But, in fact, all the wedding guests got the idea, without trouble.

The moment caught in the photograph, above, is the final chant...

Wild Flowers

Some background...

I was a minor poet of the late twentieth century.

Why only a minor poet? you ask.

There were many reasons - but the most significant for our discussion here today is the fact that I can never remember the names of flowers.

Actually, it is worse than that.  I find it difficult to be at all interested in flowers.

I watch the bumble bees.

We have in the autoharp community a song, Wildwood Flower - which everyone can play, but no one can remember the words.  Why? - because it is a half-remembered 1860s lyric full of the names of flowers.

The connection between flowers and poetry is one of those underlying structures that shape knowledge and create traps for the unwary.

It is a special problem for us peasant poets.  I have written elsewhere about my fellow peasants - for example, Patrick MacGill and Robert Story - and I have studied, for example, Patrick Kavanagh and John Clare.

Generally the market for poetry is not amongst peasants.  So, the peasant poet and his muse must produce stuff that will appeal to the un-peasant audience.  (This is just one example of the ways in which markets shape the arts.)

A little while ago I was at a conference in University College, Dublin - where I did what I always do when travelling...  I popped into the library.

There was an interesting - and moving - Patrick Kavanagh exhibition in the special collections section...

And, on display, was one special poem by Patrick Kavanagh, which partly addresses that peasant poet problem, On Reading a Book on Common Wild Flowers...

'...I knew them all by eyesight long before I knew their names
We were in love before we were introduced...'

And Kavanagh's very own copy of that book was there, Common Wild Flowers, by Dr John Hutchinson - it is a little blue Pelican book.

There is a note in one of Kavanagh's manuscripts which more directly addresses the peasant poet's predicament...  '... to progress into print he does not write out of his rural innocence— he writes out of Palgrave's Golden Treasury.'

Now, Palgrave's Golden Treasury is a major influence on my own thinking about verse techniques - and would have had even greater influence, if I could only remember the names of flowers...

On Palgrave see...

Spevack, M. (2012). The Golden Treasury: 150 Years On. EBLJ. Retrieved from

Sullivan, M. J. (2016). Tennyson and The Golden Treasury. Essays in Criticism, 66(4), 431–443. Retrieved from

The flower names in my Decorate the Day are based on a book I found in a local charity shop for £4...

Maurice Burton, Field Guide to British Wild Flowers, 1982.  Whose flower names list is based on English Names of Wild Flowers, Botanical Society of the British Isles

Now known as
Botanical Society of Britain & Ireland

The melodies are by me - except, thank John Hughes for the final football chant, Cwm Rhondda...

I use just the chorus, of course.  We had to have something that everyone already knew, even if they did not know that they already knew it...

A more considered version of Decorate the Day might give the song - as one friend has put it - 'room to breathe...'  In particular, the Clayton Version transitions are very abrupt.  But we had to try and control the length.  I mean, Euterpe, six minutes...?

Patrick O'Sullivan
November 2018

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