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This lively carol relates some of the May Day customs that were observed for centuries in England – and at least up until the late 19th century. Young men would collect branches from hawthorn and other bushes on the night before May Day, and plant them outside the houses of unmarried women. On May Day morning, they would go back to the houses, singing carols in return for gifts of money or food.
The origins of May Day celebrations are certainly pagan, but the carols eventually incorporated Christian sayings too.
This arrangement is in a folk style, featuring very basic harmonies, duets between various pairs of voices, and a repeated chorus. If you cannot add violin and recorder, a tambourine or drum will spice up an a cappella performance.
For this piece, Canasg will send you PDF files for the full score, a choral score, and parts for violin and recorder.
The recording is by the Magpie Consort of Columbus, OH, directed by Sheena Phillips.
Bedfordshire May carol
I’ve been a-rambling all the night And the best part of the day. Now I’m returning back again, I have brought you a branch of May.
A branch of May my dear, I say, As before your door I stand. It’s nothing but a sprout but it’s well budded out By the work of our Lord’s hand.
Go down to the dairy and fetch me a cup, A cup of your sweet cream, And if I should live to tarry in the town, I’ll call on you next year.
The hedges and the fields they are so green, As green as any leaf. Our Heavenly Father waters them With his heavenly dew so sweet.
When I am dead and in my grave, All covered with cold clay, The nightingale will sit and sing, And pass the time away.
I have a bag on my right arm Ties up with a silken string. Nothing does it lack but a little silver To line it well within.
Take a Bible in your hand And read a chapter through, And when the day of judgement comes, The Lord will think on you.
And now my song is almost done, I can no longer stay. God rest you all both great and small, I wish you a joyful May.
Based on the traditional English words collected by Lucy Broadwood and published in English Traditional Songs and Carols (1908)
Purchase – 2032: Bedfordshire May carol
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