Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Songs in the Kitchen

Picture this scene: A large stone kitchen, with a roaring fire in a hearth longer than a man is tall, steam pouring off a large pot simmering over the glowing coals. Dried herbs and tobacco hang from nails over the fire and from the stairs leading to the loft. The floor is brick, uneven, as is the light streaming in through warped glass windows. Gathered around a rough-hewn wooden table in the middle of the room are women dressed in linen and wool gowns, fitted over boned stays, hair piled under clean white caps, voluminous aprons covering their skirts. They are pulling the bones and meat of cooked chickens apart, tossing the good into a copper washbasin and the bad into a tin bucket, their hands flying. And they are singing.

I was there this weekend, in that scene, in a blue linen gown and a faded apron, laughing as I learned to joint chickens and learned new songs. When you get our regiment together, we sing. The women sing while they cook, the men sing while they march, and we all sing together around a fire in the evening.


We learned several new songs together, and practiced at old ones. We most especially like the simple songs so common to our era, in which most of the lyrics are the same, so that only one person need know all the verses. Many sea shanties also carry this sort of pattern--each verse has only one or two lines that vary, leaving the rest of the song the same through every verse. The bolded second and fourth lines in this song, which we learned together this weekend, are the same in every verse, so it's quick to learn--and easy to sing while picking chicken and chopping onion.

What will we do if we have no money?
Oh true lovers, what will we do then?
I will hall through the town for a hungry crown
And we'll yodel it over again

What will we do if we marry a tinker?
Oh true lovers, what will we do then?
I will sell a tin can and walk on with me man
And we'll yodel it over again

What will we do if we have a young daughter?
Oh true lovers, what will we do then?
I will take her in hand and we'll walk on with me man
And we'll yodel it over again

Of course, most of the ladies have far lovelier voices than I. One is like rich leather, another has a voice like autumn leaves, another like rose perfume. I hope you know what I mean by that. And when they all mingle in harmony on those second and fourth lines, the effect is enchanting.


A view of the kitchen we spent such lovely hours in this weekend, from the outside. Also shown are the well and the dairy.

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