Or was it ‘cursed’? Imagine a night in a tent near the jungle far away from civilization, hearing native drums, possibly heralding an attack! Was it a quotation from Rider Haggard or Rudyard Kipling? During the war we were urged to collect waste paper and take it to school. I collected from our neighbours and if they donated books which I had not read, I held them back, to take them in a small wheel barrow to school after reading. This was how I came to be acquainted with Rider Haggard’s books, such as ‘She’.
I think those ‘damned drums’ were parodied in subsequent comedy programmes, but it refers to drums beating out a message, not music. Another non musical use of an instrument we noted when at Stonehenge for the Midsummer Sunrise some years ago, as we heard the modern day Druids blow long horns to the four quarters of the horizon, to celebrate the movements of the sun and moon. But when was music introduced?
My maternal Grandfather, the gardener, produced his sharp knife and cut a corn stalk, notched it and formed a whistle, or hooter. He also showed me how to hold a blade of grass between my palms and blow, to whistle.
No doubt early man found this out too. He probably found he enjoyed hitting one stick against another and then blowing on animal horns. Once the Bronze Age arrived, cymbals followed and a variety of drinking vessels could be bell like. Perhaps the Iron Age introduced the Anvil Chorus! (We have been told that the Blue Stones of Stonehenge can ring like a bell, so maybe in a circle they could produce a peal?).
The Bible records a variety of early instruments, the flute, lyre, harp and trumpet. Some of these were found in the ashes of Pompeii. Later Chaucer and Shakespeare wrote of other musical instruments and dancing. When Oliver Cromwell and the Commonwealth took power anything frivolous, one might say happy, like dancing and singing, was banned, except for the military drum beat and bugle. Even the Maypole was outlawed!
Other early instruments included Shawms, Sackbuts, Gemshorns, Cornetto, Crumhorns, Viols, Rebec, Tabour, Curtal, Lute and Serpent. These are nowadays eclipsed by Keyboards, guitars and drums, well amplified! Recently I heard a group with a male and female vocalists and thought they sing pleasantly, if only the bass beat was not so loud. This may be my age!
Thomas Hardy, in ‘Under the Greenwood Tree’, has Spinks say ‘Dancing is a most strengthening, livening and courting movement, ‘specially with a little beverage added’!’ Later ‘the fiddlers’ chairs have been ‘wriggled by the frantic bowing of their occupiers, …about two feet’. This was at the ‘Tranter’s Party’, when also the bass-viol was played and the cider barrel lubricated the country dancers.
A little more demure, ‘for all her bouncing handsome womanliness …. her freshness’ but to others ‘a fine and picturesque country girl’, was Tess. Then ‘a bevy of girls dancing without male partners … white-frocked maids’, a country dance in a field around midday, from ‘Tess of the Durbervilles’. One of Hardy’s poems, ‘Seen by the Waits’ has echoes of this, when ‘We went to play a tune, To the lonely manor-lady, by the light of the Christmas moon. …. We violed till, upward glancing, To where a mirror leaned, It showed her airily dancing, Deeming her movements screened; …
Dancing alone in the room there, Thin-draped in her robe of night; Her postures, glassed in the gloom there, Were a strange phantasmal sight’.
Hardy loved the ladies, as most of us do! William Barnes has a dialect poem, ‘Bob the Fiddler’, with some lines :
‘Oh! Bob the fiddler is the pride, O’ chaps an’ maidens vur an’ wide –
He’ll zing a zong, or tell a story, But if you’d zee en in his glory, Jist let en have a fiddle. At Maypolen, or feast or feaeir, His eaerm wull zet off twenty peaeir, An meaeke em dance the groun’ dirt-beaere.’
To move briefly into Wiltshire, its dialect poet, Edward Slow, describes ‘Tha Carter’s Winter Zong’, with a chorus – ‘Vor roun tha blazin Kitchen vire, We drink an smoke away, We tell ower tales, an zing ower zongs, An kiss tha maidens gay.’ Of course fewer smoke than when those lines were penned. A little game for those who have read up to this point – how many of the foregoing words were underlined by the computer Spellchecker and how many were not understood? One surprising village instrument which I saw as a child, but our local poets did not mention was the Carpenter’s saw, played with a bow, like a fiddle, the saw being flexed for more effect.
We hope we don’t have jungle drums for our AGM, but we do anticipate some local songs and tales afterwards from ‘Chris and Friends’ on Oct 11th, 2.30pm in Bridport United Church Main Hall, East Street. All welcome, non members £2. More details from 01308 488034.
Cecil Amor, Chairman, Bridport History Society. Tel: 01038 456876.