Wednesday, 14 December 2011

'Twas the Night Before Christmas (The Arrival of Saint Nicholas) Part Two!

So now you are word-perfect and can whisk you way through the first part of this Christmas classic, shall we move on?

(Steady with this line, make each word crisp so your audience can share in the excitement)
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and call'd them by name:
"Now! Dasher, now! Dancer, now! Prancer, and Vixen,(indicate with the voice, you are encouraging the reindeer so try to be upbeat)
"On! Comet, on! Cupid, on! Dunder and Blixem;
"To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
"Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!" (faster)
As dry leaves before the wild hurricane fly,(don't stop here! You need to say these two lines together to make sense of them)
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky;
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of Toys - and St. Nicholas too:
And then in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.

As I drew in my head, and was turning around,(slower)
Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound:
He was dress'd all in fur, from his head to his foot, (gesture with the voice or hands if you prefer)
And his clothes were all tarnish'd with ashes and soot;
A bundle of toys was flung on his back,
And he look'd like a peddler just opening his pack:

(For twenty first century audiences; a peddler was a traveling salesman who carried his goods in a pack strapped to his back which he would open for potential shoppers to marvel at)

Practice... record... listen... practice again! This is an amazing performance poem if you can take the trouble to memorise it. I have vivid memories of my father reciting to us; poetry has the power to create a memory that can't be bought!

Monday, 12 December 2011

Reviving traditions; Recitals for Christmas

Reciting for an audience is a skill that, once acquired, becomes addictive. The trick is for the reader to disappear, leaving the listeners entranced. One of the classic performance poems has to be "The Account of a Visit from Saint Nicholas" which is more commonly known as the "Night Before Christmas". Wikipedia has a fascinating article about the poem's disputed origins but we can all agree that it encapsulates the excitement felt as we immerse ourselves in the Christmas dream.

There are many sources of this poem online and I thought that you might find it useful for me to add some reading (reciting) notes so you can enthrall your listeners this Christmas! See my notes in bold...

start quietly but clearly which will cause your listeners to lean in and become part of the story
‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all thro’ the house,
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;
smile as you say these lines to soften your voice
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar plums danc'd in their heads,
And Mama in her 'kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter's nap-
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
speed up and emphasise "sprang"
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,(quick here and don't pause, you want the actions to be linked)
Tore open the shutters, and threw up the sash.(now drop your voice)
The moon on the breast of the new fallen snow,
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below;
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,(pause)
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny rein-deer,
With a little old driver, so lively and quick,(only a quick stop here!)
I knew in a moment (pause) it must be St. Nick.

I have split the poem into three stanzas; have a try at the first part and do let me know how you get on!

Friday, 2 December 2011

A poem about the postal service - how can that be entertaining?

As you post your Christmas cards, think about the journey they are about to embark on to reach their destination. The rather splendid 1936 documentary "The Night Mail" incorporated a poem by WH Auden set to the wondefully discordant music of Benjamin Britten celebrates the passage of the Night Train delivering letters.

The poem has a strong rhythm and, if you listen to the recording of the original documentary, you will hear that it is a perfect echo of the sound of wheels on a track. If you are reading in public, pay attention to the speed of the third stanza and see if you can increase the speeed as the train zooms down the tracks.

Your listeners will never look at the postal service in the same light again!

Night Mail - W. H. Auden (1907 - 1973)

This is the Night Mail crossing the border,
Bringing the cheque and the postal order,
Letters for the rich, letters for the poor,
The shop at the corner and the girl next door.
Pulling up Beattock, a steady climb:
The gradient's against her, but she's on time.
Past cotton-grass and moorland boulder
Shovelling white steam over her shoulder,
Snorting noisily as she passes
Silent miles of wind-bent grasses
Birds turn their heads as she approaches,
Stare from the bushes at her blank-faced coaches.
Sheep-dogs cannot turn her course;
They slumber on with paws across.
In the farm she passes no one wakes,
But a jug in the bedroom gently shakes.

Dawn freshens. Her climb is done.
Down towards Glasgow she descends
Towards the steam tugs yelping down the glade of cranes,
Towards the fields of apparatus, the furnaces
Set on the dark plain like gigantic chessmen.
All Scotland waits for her:
In the dark glens, beside the pale-green sea lochs
Men long for news.

Letters of thanks, letters from banks,
Letters of joy from the girl and the boy,
Receipted bills and invitations
To inspect new stock or visit relations,
And applications for situations
And timid lovers' declarations
And gossip, gossip from all the nations,
News circumstantial, news financial,
Letters with holiday snaps to enlarge in,
Letters with faces scrawled in the margin,
Letters from uncles, cousins, and aunts,
Letters to Scotland from the South of France,
Letters of condolence to Highlands and Lowlands
Notes from overseas to Hebrides
Written on paper of every hue,
The pink, the violet, the white and the blue,
The chatty, the catty, the boring, adoring,
The cold and official and the heart's outpouring,
Clever, stupid, short and long,
The typed and the printed and the spelt all wrong.

Thousands are still asleep
Dreaming of terrifying monsters,
Or of friendly tea beside the band at Cranston's or Crawford's:
Asleep in working Glasgow, asleep in well-set Edinburgh,
Asleep in granite Aberdeen,
They continue their dreams,
And shall wake soon and long for letters,
And none will hear the postman's knock
Without a quickening of the heart,
For who can bear to feel himself forgotten?

A clip from the wonderful 1936 documentary