Was 2020 really that bad? Here is the carol I discussed on my “Now You Noel” radio segment on WEEU’s Vantage Point show on December 30, 2020. The history is rich, and the content invited introspection. I hope you enjoy it.
The Old Year Now Away Is Fled
(Sung to the tune “Greensleeves”)1. The old year now away is fled,
The new year it is entered;
Then let us all our sins down tread,
And joyfully all appear.
Let’s merry be this day,
And let us run with sport and play,
Hang sorrow, cast care away
God send us a merry new year!
2. For Christ’s circumcision this day we keep,
Who for our sins did often weep;
His hands and feet were wounded deep,
And his blessed side, with a spear.
His head they crowned with thorn,
And at him they did laugh and scorn,
Who for to save our souls was born;
God send us a happy New Year!
3. And now with New-Year’s gifts each friend
Unto each other they do send;
God grant we ma-ay our lives amend,
And that truth may now appear.
Now like the snake cast off your skin
Of evil thoughts and wicked sin, and to amend this new year begin:
God send us a merry new year!
4. And now let all the company
In friendly manner all agree,
For we are here welcome all may see
Unto this jolly good cheer.
I thank my master and my dame,
The which are founders of the same,
To eat, to drink now is no shame:
God send us a happy new year!
5. Come lads and la-asses every one,
Jack, Tom, Dick, Bess, Mary and Joan,
Let’s cut the mea-eat unto the bone,
For welcome you need not fear.
And here for good liquor you shall not lack,
It will whet my brains and strengthen my back;
This jolly good cheer it must go to wrack:
God send us a happy new year!
6. Come, give’s more liquor when I do call,
I’ll drink to each one in this hall,
I hope that so loud I must not bawl,
So unto me lend an ear.
Good fortune too my master send,
And to our dame which is our friend,
Lord bless us all, and so I end:
God send us a happy new year!
It kinda turns into a drinking song, doesn’t it? It starts with a philosophical bent, and then gives in – kinda like so many do every New Year’s Eve! Maybe that’ll be especially true for this one.
Although I haven’t seen it ascribed so, a couple of those last verses remind me of the wassail songs, before they went bad. In fact, it sounds like it could be a transition from the good wassail songs, when the poor farm families went to the doors of their weather neighbors offering them cups of cheer from their wassail bowls and singing and wishing the masters and the mistresses of the houses blessings for the coming year. This song originates in the 16th century in England, so the place and timing would fit my supposition there. That wassailing tradition would subsequently morph into the Halloween or St. Patrick’s Day-like scenes of drunken bullies going door to door improvising rude and even threatening alternate verses to these wassail songs, which would eventually get Christmas banned in England and New England for many years. But this one here, is friendly, (in places reverent,) and then adds in the whole,” it’s OK – let’s get drunk – and I apologize in advance if I get too loud and sloppy!”
Though you may know the tune to Greensleeves or that revered old carol or What Child is This, you may not recognize those words. I’ve got one source that assigns the music as “traditional” and credits the words to a Martin Read, and another that credits the music as Greensleeves and calls the words “English Traditional, From a Black Letter Collection, 1642.
This is Folk music which was a rural tradition where songs were passed down by word of mouth. Printed folk music became extremely popular beginning in the sixteenth century. Words to popular songs were printed on sheets of varying lengths. They came to be known as broadsides. Broadsides were popular in Britain and a handful of other countries. They had no music printed on them, but just a suggestion that the words were to be sung to a well known tune. The term broadside does not refer solely to music. A broadside was considered any subject material printed on only one side of a sheet. Broadsides were also referred to handbills, proclamations, advertisements and more.
Broadsides with ballads or folk music are referred to as broadsheets, ballad sheets, stall ballads or slip songs. The sheets were often adorned with woodcut prints and were sold in stalls or by traveling peddlers. People would paste the sheets on walls and other common areas to learn them. When the song was familiar it was discarded or pasted over by another song. Early broadsides were printed in Black Letter print, and are therefore often called black letter ballads. Around 1700, black letter typeset was replaced by roman type, and the broadsides printed in roman type were designated as White Letter print.
Before the advent of printing press, broadsides were written by hand. Before folk songs were written by hand, there was a centuries-old tradition of minstrels and folk singers getting these songs into the ears and memories of the public. When the printing press became more common, folk music transmission was channeled into broadsides, which contributed to the further decline of minstrelsy. Broadsides were eventually replaced by newspapers and printed sheet music.
The earliest broadsides of popular tunes appear in the 1500s. A Lytel Geste of Robyne Hood was printed on a pamphlet circa 1506. In 1520 a bookseller in Oxford sold more than 190 ballads. NOw, you’ve gotta understand how extraordinary that was! This was during an era before literacy was common! See how music moves and inspires us? Meets a need in us? Remember that the next time you are asked to vote to cut the arts programs out of your public schools!
Oh, another little interesting thing – you know the name Chapman? It’s a last name we see pretty frequently, right?
Broadsheets were commonly folded twice or more to make small pamphlets. These were called chapbooks, which meant cheap books, they were sort of like the dime novels of their day. Chapmen were the peddlers who traveled between towns selling ballads and chapbooks. They were later sold at stalls in town markets and cities. Hence – as we said – the name stall sheets.
Early collections of songs and ballads in chapbooks were known as garlands. These appear as early as 1584 in England when Richard Jones printed A Handefull of pleaseant delites, which contained the ballad Greensleeves.
A broadside ballad by this name was registered at the London Stationer’s Company in September 1580by Richard Jones, as “A Newe Northen Dittye of ye Ladye Greene Sleves”.
What Child Is This, whose lyrics were written by William Chatterton Dix, and he paired it with the Greensleeves tune in 1865. Not until MANY years after it was first a New Year’s song.
That was the rabbit hole down which The Old Year Now Away is Fled too me – and of course these songs – and the approaching new year itself, compel introspection in us.
I hear so many people talking about what a you-know-what show 2020 has been. And yes – it has been HARD. It has been challenging, angering, frustrating, mind-boggling, confusing, heartbreaking; full of loss and mourning.
2020 used to just mean perfect vision, right? Well, what’s in a name? We saw some hard truths; things we can’t unsee, but things that – like tremendous pressure turns carbon to diamonds – can make us better, I think.
I think we’re gonna look back on 2020 the way the greatest generation looked back at WW2 and the Great Depression; the same way so many self-made wealthy or comfortable families look back on the time when they were poor, but had loved ones with whom to struggle and to whom to cling.
I’m reviewing this past year. My year started with me driving my daughter, Rozie, to L.A. to look for an internship in film scoring, and my driving back to NJ in only 3 days, hopped up on coffee and the impeachment hearings. (Can you believe that was only a year ago?) That last day, I woke up in Missouri, drove past the St. Louis Arch in such a thick fog, I couldn’t see an inch of it – and went to bed in my home in New Jersey that night!
I realized that I’m – well, I’m just gonna park my humility at the doorstep for a minute and say it – I’m a really good driver! That plus the fact that I love to meet and talk to people AND have irregular work with my acting coaching and Christmas caroling, inspired me to become a Lyft driver. That was a five-week chapter which – yes – exposed me to coronavirus, but also introduced me to the amazing Dr. Frank Gabrin, who would teach me things about the virus that would save my life only a few days later. That was March 26; my last day driving Lyft, and – unbeknownst to him, Dr. Gabrin’s last ride home from his ER job, as he fell ill that day and died of Covid-19 5 days later. But that drive with him would bring people and insights into my life this year, that have taught me a lot and helped me get a life-giving message out to many people, and for all of those things, I am grateful.
When I was sick with Covid-19, I was attended by big, loud love by family and friends. I felt taken care of in ways I never would’ve dreamed to ask! I was reminded what it feels like to rest in the palm of God’s hand.
When the world turned upside down, in March, I was hit between the eyes with the perspective that allowed me to realize that I was actually in love with one of my best friends, and I am currently in the best relationship I’ve ever been in. These past many months, when I have seen almost no one but him, have been an extraordinary gift that has allowed us to transition into our new relationship and habits together without the pressures of expectations of others around us.
When it came to Christmas, although we actually mourned the loss of the tradition of our family and other loved ones around us during the holidays, it was such a rare gift to be able to just be alone together for our first Christmas. This is not the kind of Christmas for which either of us would’ve asked. Little did we know how good it would be for us. In other situations, this is what I would call a gift in ugly wrapping paper – but this was far from ugly. I believe that next December, many in the world will be together with loved ones next December, and look back with sentimentality on this month that is passing. For many of us, the lack of money that caused us to look around us at the resources we had on hand. The bits of paper and ribbons to dress up our simple gifts. Those gifts into which went extra time, creativity and love. We’ve realized what we’ve had that is worth mourning and the lengths to which we are willing to go to show our appreciation, whether for family members, health care providers or other people we suddenly see with new eyes because of the year 2020.
PERSPECTIVE may be the greatest gift that many of us received this past year. With that perspective, may we all go forward into 2021 living each day with increased awareness of its potential, and looking into each set of eyes we encounter with empathy and appreciation.
Happy New Year to all, and may God bless us, every one!