Wassail songs

Wassailing is an ancient tradition. A party of singers would go from door to door with songs and the promise of good fortune for the coming year, and were (hopefully) welcomed with food and drink. The drink might be shared from the wassail cup or bowl as the visitors drank to their host's health — “wes hal” is Old English “good health” (lit. “be well”).
We offer three spirited arrangements of English wassail carols, plus one from a similar French tradition and a set of seasonal luck-visit songs from the Ukraine. Scroll down to read more.

Gloucestershire wassail

Music: Trad. arr. Paul Ayres. Words: Trad. English
SATB: Range S: c' – f'' / A: c' – c'' / T: f – g'; / B: F – c'. 2m 15s
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“Wassail, wassail all over the town”. This engaging arrangement features constant motion in the accompaniment and a turn for everyone at singing the words. Written in 9/8 rather than in the 6/8 which is usual for this song, the phrases take on a lurching (and quite possibly drunken!) quality. Enjoy!

Here we come a-wassailing

Music: Trad. arr. Sheena Phillips. Words: Trad. English
SSAA or TTBB, 2m 50s
For more information, words, samples, perusal copies and purchasing, select SSAA or TTBB.
In this lively and rhythmic arrangement of a wassailing carol from Yorkshire, the verses are passed around different voices and accompanied by instrumental style tums and tas, building to an over-the-top final chorus in which the lowest voices are invited to sweep everyone else away with trumpet-like flourishes.

Yorkshire wassail

Music: Trad. arr. Paul Ayres. Words: Trad. English
SATB: Range S: d' – d'' / A: a – b' / T: f# – f#'; / B: F# – d'. 3m 00s
Click for more information, words, samples, perusal copies and purchasing.
This distinctive arrangement of the “Here we come a-wassailing” carol gives the verses to the treble voices, starting in unison and building up to three part canonic harmony by verse 5. A refrain that is repeated regularly, apart from at the very end, makes this an easy piece to learn.

We’ve been a while a-wandering

Music: Trad. arr. Sheena Phillips. Words: Trad.
SATB: Range S: d' – e'' / A: c' – d'' / T: d – e' / B: c – d'. 2m 10s
Click for more information, words, samples, perusal copies and purchasing.
The tune of this particular wassail song was transcribed by Vaughan Williams from singers in Yorkshire in the early 20th century. The words are an amalgam of a couple of different Yorkshire wassail songs. The arrangement is strong and simple, with a short section between verses that can be taught to the audience beforehand.

Guillaneus

Music: Trad. arr. Peter Hill. Words: Trad. French
SATB: Range S: b – e'' / A: b – b' / T: g – e' / B: B – a. 1m 45s
Click for more information, words, samples, perusal copies and purchasing.
New Year rather than Christmas is the main carol-singing season in France and this jaunty carol from the Orléans region accompanies a New Year's Day tradition of children going from door to door offering bunches of mistletoe (‘gui’) in exchange for small gifts. It also refers to another New Year tradition, which was to cook a pancake in which would be hidden (for luck) a broad bean. The youngest child of the household would share out the pancake, keeping one piece — la part à Dieu — to give to the first beggars to call on the house. In the carol, the singers ask for some of this piece — hoping of course to receive the slice containing the bean.

15 Ukrainian Christmas Carols

Music: Trad. arr. Vladimir Morozov. Words: Trad. Ukrainian, trans. Sheena Phillips
SATB or SSA, 40minutes.
For more information, words, samples, perusal copies and purchasing, select SATB or SSA.
This is a sequence of traditional carols such as might have been sung by a party of singers going from house to house. Some focus on the Christmas story; others are wholly secular. Selections from the full set can be very effective in performance, and the songs can be bought individually or as a set. The final number is familiar as “The carol of the bells”, but we give an English translation of the original Ukrainian, which is a New Year luck-visit song.

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