Monday, December 15, 2003

THE BOAR'S HEAD CAROL ~~ A FaLaLaLaLas Celebration of Holiday Stories and Songs

(English Traditional Carol)

The boar’s head in hand bear I,
Bedecked with bays and rosemary.
I pray you, my masters, be merry.
Quo testis in convivio (Translation: As you all feast so heartily)

Caput apri defero
Reddens laudes Domino
(Translation: Lo, behold the head I bring Giving praise to God we sing)

The boar's head, as I understand,
Is the rarest dish in all this land,
Which thus bedecked with a gay garland
Let us servire cantico. (Translation: Let us serve with a song)

Our steward hath provided this
In honor of the King of Bliss
Which, on this day to be served is
In Reginensi atrio. (Translation: In the Queen’s hall)

All lyrics are the property and copyright of their respective owners.
All lyrics are provided for educational purposes and personal use only.

~~The Tale of the Flaming Pig~~

In the years BTT (before TinyTuna), her dad and I would make ourselves busy doing gigs all over town. We were young, we were students and we were musicians, so naturally it follows that we were broke. Christmas was a big gig season, with church jobs, holiday parties and concerts. One particularly lucrative holiday gig was a five-evening Medieval Dinner extravaganza put on by a local group known as The Renaissance Singers. The dinners included singing, acting, dancing, brass bands, and lots of food and mead. For several years we were both able to land this gig (he played trumpet and I sang), which was a good thing, because it meant we could afford Christmas presents.

If truth be told, between the two of us, I got the short end of the stick on this particular job. He had two rehearsals; I had two months of rehearsals. He wore a suit; I wore authentic Renaissance gowns with corsets. My cleavage was packed, laced, smooshed and hiked up to my eyebrows. Getting dressed only happened by committee and involved miles of string. Zippers? Nope. Not authentic. I also suffered through the nightly humiliation of the bumroll -- a long bulky tube of fabric and stuffing whose purpose today might be a personal floatation device. Back then it was used to make your hips stick out a county mile, which somehow was a good thing. He had music sitting on a music stand. I had to memorize three hours of songs in multiple languages. He planted his butt in a chair. I had to perform several courtly dances. Not a problem in and of itself, except when it involved near-blind dancing partners (Eyeglasses? Not authentic) who carried swords and ran into walls -- sometimes simultaneously. But despite my complaints to the contrary, it was a gig.

Now, you have to understand that “Renaissance People” are a special bunch. OK, I’m being diplomatic here. What I really mean to say in the nicest way possible, is that "Renaissance People" and their near-rabid enthusiasm for the age of rebirth are on the same level as the nutcases that attend Star Trek conventions in full Klingon regalia. And if I’ve insulted Renaissance people, Star Trek People, or any representatives from the Klingon nation, I’m sorry. I call them like I see them. And I had to see these people a lot.

Despite what I thought, I took the job (every year), because money speaks louder than five-part madrigals. I was hired to be a “ringer” – someone who could learn the music quickly and was a very strong singer. As for the dancing, well, I could Volta with the best of them. So I sang and I danced and I counted the days until Uncle Paycheck came to town.

The Medieval dinners were held in the large ballroom of the University Campus. The brass band (all five of them) got to sit in the sound booth which was up on the second floor. All they had to do was play a fanfare to announce each course of the meal, or provide travelling music while we got ourselves in place to start flapping our jaws and tapping our feet yet again. In addition to the singers, there were usually two actors who were supposed to be the “royal hosts” of sorts. They would often perform a wee smattering of Shakespeare right before the Figgy pudding made its appearance. I'm pleased to report that even the wait-staff was forced to bedeck themselves in robes of embarrassment. It was a sea of tunics and tights.

At the start of the dinner, the singers would do-si-do into the hall, Renaissance style. We had to sit at the front of the hall at a long table and watch everybody else eat. They got soup. We got nothing. They got salad. We got nothing. They got prime rib. We got nothing. But before the first soup was slurrrrpped, we started each dinner with the Renaissance version of Fear Factor: The procession of the Boar's Head.

It had been a real pig at one time, and yes, it was a real head. A real head that they set on fire. The pages would lug in Wilbur’s noggin en flambé, and we would sing and sing our praises to the flaming detatched pig part. Now in all fairness, they didn’t kill five different pigs. Oh no. The same head rode the Renaissance funeral pyre several nights in succession. By the third evening, it was in pretty bad shape. But despite it’s resemblance to an overgrown charred marshmallow, we sang our praises in five-part harmony to the increasingly crispy cranium.

Once the head was appropriately serenaded, the people would sit and eat. Remember, the singers were not allowed to eat – we could only watch. So I generally spent my time sitting in my chair at the royal table writing Christmas cards I would never send.

Help! I’m trapped at a Renaissance dinner. Send turkey legs and today’s New York Times.

Meanwhile, the brass band, up in the sound booth, were having the time of their lives. Each evening they summoned the Duke of Double Cheese from the Duchy of Dominos. It just wasn’t fair.

The order of the evening was: The brass would bleat, the people would eat, then we'd sing and dance on our Renaissance feet. Over and over this went for each course. We sang before dinner, we sang during dinner and we sang after dinner as well. Evidently, nothing aids the digestion like a fifteen minute French madrigal that praises birds. Or so you’d be led to believe.

In the last year of my medieval gigitude, the Renaissance Singers incorporated a pint-sized singing group. They were The Renaissance Runts. Seriously, I don’t know if they had a formal name, except maybe “The 7 year ye-olde pain in the ass kids nattily dressed in authentic medieval garb." And if you know anything about kids and music and performing, you should be chuckling at this point and saying “uh-oh.”

The camel with one too many pieces of straw and a bad back rode into town on the last day of the last year after of the last course of dinner. Towards the end of the evening, the Renaissance Runts would come up on stage, stand in a semi-circle in front of us and sing a couple of songs. One little boy in particular was a medieval monster. He was wiggly. He would pull the hair of the wee wench in front of him. He was not feeling the Renaissance love, and got repeatedly lectured by the director. Before the last dinner, the director pulled this kid aside and read him the riot act. She told him she wanted him behave. No wiggling. No moving. She wanted him to stand very, very still with his arms at his sides. Like a little soldier.

So, now it’s time. Up march the runts to stand in front of us their semi-circle. The pitch pipe blows…and they’re off!

Glad am I….Glad am I…

Something is wrong. I can’t tell for sure what is wrong, because I can’t see the faces of the kids; only the faces of the adults in the audience. They look worried. One man grabs a napkin. I have no idea what’s going on.

Glad am I…Glad am I…

My mind is moving in slow motion. What’s with the napkin? What’s wrong? Why is the medieval monster weaving about? Maybe the kid is going to

Uh oh.

*Blllluuuaaaaaaauuughghghgh* -- He threw up all over the place. It’s a very unfortunate yet not surprising result of “standing very, very still like a soldier.” In the process of his solo spew, he tagged several children, bespoiling their authentic Renaissance garb. Some kindly adult grabbed the kid once he finished heaving and carried him out. Yes, Karma had come to call. And despite the fact that this kid was Beelzebub in short pants and white tights, I felt a little sorry for him. But I heard and respected his brave editorial comment. It was at this point I made a major decision.

I would not sing any more Renaissance Dinners. The head was burned out and so was I.

Other FaLaLaLaLa Offerings of 2003
~~ Fifty Angry Men ~~
~~ The Tale of the Bloody Keys ~~
~~ The First Noel ~~

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