I saw three ships

Music: Trad. arr. Paul Ayres. Words: Trad. English
3 or 4 equal or mixed voices/instruments
performance time approx 3m 00s
Range 1: f' – f'' / 2: c' – c'' / 3: b♭ – c'; / 4: e♭ – f
Price code: C
Complexity: *

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Paul Ayres' high energy arrangement will add a touch of the sea shanty to your Christmas program. Over a ground of a strong and simple ostinato, the upper voices sing, whistle, and peal bells. The piece may be sung and/or played by any suitable voices or instruments (e.g. mixed voices, with sopranos singing the optional descant from bar 50, or unison children’s voices accompanied by cellos, with xylophone on the descant….)

Versions of this traditional English carol date back to at least as early as the 17th century. The text possibly refers to the ships that carried relics of the three Magi from Constantinople to Italy (en route to their final destination of Cologne Cathedral in Germany).

The recording extract is by the Queldryk Chamber Choir (directed by the arranger).


I saw three ships come sailing in,
On Christmas Day, on Christmas Day,
I saw three ships come sailing in,
On Christmas Day in the morning.

And what was in those ships all three?

Our Saviour Christ and his lady,

And whither sailed those ships all three?

O they sailed into Bethlehem,

Then let us all rejoice amain,

And all the bells in heaven shall ring.


amain — with great strength or haste

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