Hark! ’Tis an­gels singing

Tra­di­tional Cor­nish car­ols col­lected from across the re­gion will be sung in venues around Re­druth this month

Western Morning News (Saturday) - - Community - Re­druth Carol Choir will be at Flow­er­pot Chapel, Re­druth, at 4.30pm to­mor­row; the Coun­try­man Inn, Piece, Re­druth, from 8pm to­mor­row; Plain an Gwarry, Re­druth, at 4.30pm on De­cem­ber 9; But­ter­mar­ket, Re­druth, at 4pm on De­cem­ber 14; Al­bany Road, Tre­ruffe Hil

In the win­ter of 2017 Hi­lary Cole­man and Sally Burley (pic­tured) pro­duced a book called Hark! The Glad Sound of Cor­nish Car­ols. They had spent the pre­vi­ous two years trav­el­ling around Corn­wall, record­ing sto­ries, mem­o­ries and lo­cal ver­sions of car­ols in or­der to ex­plore the con­ti­nu­ity and re­vival of the Cor­nish car­olling tra­di­tion. Funded by the Cor­nish Her­itage Trust, The Fed­er­a­tion of Old Corn­wall So­ci­eties and the Red River Singers, the re­sult­ing book and ac­com­pa­ny­ing CDs im­me­di­ately vir­tu­ally sold out within a month.

As well as be­ing pop­u­lar in Corn­wall, the book has now re­ceived na­tional recog­ni­tion. The Folk­lore So­ci­ety of Great Bri­tain (a learned so­ci­ety de­voted to the study of all as­pects of folk­lore and tra­di­tion) ad­min­is­ter the Katharine Briggs Book Award. Last month Hi­lary and Sally trav­elled to Lon­don for the awards cer­e­mony and were de­lighted that, out of ten short­listed en­tries, Hark! The Glad Sound of Cor­nish Car­ols was placed third.

Ear­lier this year the book, pub­lished by Fran­cis Boutle, won the Holyer An Gof award, which is or­gan­ised by Gorsedh Ker­now and known as “the Cor­nish Book­ers”. Dr Tam­sin Spargo, cul­tural his­to­rian and sec­tion co-or­di­na­tor for the awards, said: “This fol­low-up to the au­thors’ Holyer an Gof award win­ner of 2016, Shout Ker­now: Cel­e­brat­ing Corn­wall’s Pub Songs, com­bines prodi­gious and metic­u­lous schol­ar­ship on Cor­nish car­ols with sto­ries, im­ages, lyrics, and scores that cap­ture a vi­tal part of our cul­ture and her­itage. The au­thors’ re­search took them into the heart of Cor­nish com­mu­ni­ties who still sing these car­ols and the scores and CDs of more than thirty live record­ings in­cluded in Hark! The Glad Sound of Cor­nish Car­ols al­low read­ers to be­come singers. This com­bi­na­tion of re­search into a vi­tal as­pect of our mu­si­cal her­itage with prac­ti­cal ma­te­rial for com­mu­nity choirs and in­di­vid­u­als makes this an out­stand­ing con­tri­bu­tion to Cor­nish cul­ture.”

Hi­lary Cole­man said: “Cor­nish car­ols are very spe­cial and have a long his­tory which de­serves recog­ni­tion. These car­ols are part of Corn­wall’s rich com­mu­nal singing. We hope the book will raise aware­ness of them and will pre­serve this her­itage as well as in­creas­ing knowl­edge of Cor­nish his­tory through the back­ground of the car­ols and the lo­cal sto­ries.”

Sally Burley added: “On our trav­els we heard and saw strong com­mu­nity pride in the lo­cal car­ols. In places such as Pad­stow, St Ives, Bude and Pen­zance peo­ple were cel­e­brat­ing Christ­mas with the tra­di­tional car­ols from their own towns out in the streets or in the pubs.”

How­ever, both Sally and Hi­lary, who come from the Re­druth area, dis­cov­ered that al­though Re­druth has its own sim­i­lar car­ols and ones which cer­tainly con­trib­uted hugely to the carol tra­di­tion within Corn­wall and abroad, there was lit­tle knowl­edge in Re­druth it­self of this legacy and of the car­ols.

“The Four Lanes Male Voice Choir and Canoryon Troon still do a ster­ling job in their nearby vil­lages,” said Hi­lary. “But there is very lit­tle op­por­tu­nity to hear these car­ols in Re­druth out­side of the Methodist Mer­ritt ser­vices held an­nu­ally in hon­our of that par­tic­u­lar com­poser. And now with the last Methodist Church clos­ing there is a risk of them dis­ap­pear­ing al­to­gether.”

Re­druth was recog­nised by many col­lec­tors of car­ols as the cru­cible in which this style of carol-hymns was forged and are mostly from the mid to late Vic­to­rian pe­riod, al­though some go much fur­ther back than that. Re­druth was de­scribed in 1887 as a “mu­si­cal me­trop­o­lis” and many of the com­posers of favourite Cor­nish car­ols came from this area. Once there were four big Methodist churches in Re­druth pro­vid­ing a well spring of car­ols which spread from the churches and into the com­mu­nity. A pocket book of carol words from 1891, printed in Re­druth, has 147 car­ols and an­thems. In The West Bri­ton of 1889, the writer of its Notes from Re­druth sec­tion wrote: “Carol singing this sea­son prom­ises to be well to the fore. Bands of young men some­times known by the not too eu­pho­nious soubri­quet of ‘hedge choirs’ have been prom­e­nad­ing the streets singing the time-hon­oured car­ols in a more or less melo­di­ous man­ner This has been go­ing on for sev­eral weeks past, prin­ci­pally on Sun­day evenings.”

Not sur­pris­ingly some of the great com­posers of these car­ols came from the Re­druth area. Many were min­ers and self-taught.

The great­est per­haps was Thomas Mer­ritt, from Il­lo­gan, whose car­ols are still sung around Corn­wall and in the Cor­nish Di­as­pora.

“We were pleased that we sold 700 copies of Hark! The Glad Sound of Cor­nish Car­ols in De­cem­ber 2017 but Mer­ritt’s first set of car­ols sold 4000 in the same pe­riod in 1899.”

So Sally and Hi­lary de­cided to do some­thing about re­viv­ing this tra­di­tion and have now been run­ning re­hearsals, led by Hi­lary on Sun­day af­ter­noons at Re­druth Methodist Hall, to learn a core set of car­ols from the lo­cal com­posers; some well known and some less com­mon from the old Re­druth Carol Books.

“We have been de­lighted that over 50 peo­ple have reg­u­larly turned up to learn these mixed voice, four part har­mony car­ols which shows how pop­u­lar they still are,” said Hi­lary.

Through­out De­cem­ber they will go on “singing vis­its” to places around Re­druth where peo­ple have ex­pressed an in­ter­est in hear­ing them. At these events leaflets about the songs will be given out, in­clud­ing the words to en­able oth­ers to join in. They hope that this will be­come an an­nual event and plan next year to in­volve the schools too.

“We be­lieve these car­ols are an im­por­tant part of our Cor­nish cul­tural iden­tity and we hope through this project to help in­crease the knowl­edge of Re­druth’s amaz­ing her­itage, to con­trib­ute to a sense of com­mu­nity pride and en­gen­der once a again a strong feel­ing of own­er­ship and love of these uplift­ing car­ols,” added Hi­lary. “The times were when these car­ols could be heard sung by hun­dreds of min­ers gath­ered in Fore Street near the old clock, dur­ing the Christ­mas sea­son.”

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