Yuletide Treasure

by Deborah Friou & Julia Lane

Released 2002
Castlebay Music
Released 2002
Castlebay Music
Lesser-known Yuletide music on nylon-strung and wire strung Celtic harps.
Yuletide Treasure
A British Isles Winter Celebration
Deborah Friou & Julia Lane - Celtic Harps

The return of light during the darkness of the winter solstice, which coincides with the Christmas holiday, caused ancient people to create rituals and music in honor of the event.The Celtic harp, ancestor of the orchestral harp, has been a part of these celebrations for over a thousand years. Here is a musical Yuletide journey through the British Isles from Shetland to England,Wales, Ireland, the Hebrides and the Isle of Mann, arranged and played with joy and sensitivity by two of today's finest harpers.

Deborah Friou has devoted twenty-five years to the revival of the Celtic harp.She has expressed her love of the musical spirit of a previous age through performance, six books of harp arrangements, and two solo recordings of Renaissance and Celtic music. Her publications are known and sold worldwide. Deborah has performed and taught workshops at harp and traditional music festivals throughout the US and in Scotland. She now performs on both nylon-strung and wire-strung harps and teaches in Brunswick and Bar Harbor, Maine.
Deborah's nylon-strung harp was built by Dusty Strings; her wire-srung harp by Triplett

Julia Lane came to the Celtic harp through her life-long love affair with the ancient music of the British Isles. Also an accomplished vocalist, she accompanied herself with guitar for many years until she had the opportunity to play the Celtic harp.Her unique self-taught style has won several international competitions.She currently plays and sings with partner Fred Gosbee as Castlebay. They have toured the east coast of the US, England Scotland and Ireland and have recorded over five albums of both Celtic and original music.
Julia's harp was built by Fred Gosbee.

The following review by is Jo Morrison.

It is always exciting when two excellent harpers combine forces to play as a duo. The very essence of harp music is the ringing of strings, and the natural harmonics that develop through the vibrations. If done properly, this can be enhanced greatly by the use of harps with distinctive voices. Deborah Friou and Julia Lane (of Castlebay) have accomplished this beautifully with their new collection of Winter holiday traditional music from the British Isles.

The sounds of the two nylon-strung harps are distinctively different enough to create a rich and vibrant sound when combined. Friou's Dusty Strings has a lush sound full of finesse, while Lane's harp (built by Fred Gosbee) has a touch of ancient overtones, carrying an almost earthy sound to the strings. In addition to the contrasts and combinations of these two sounds, Friou uses a wire-strung Triplett on a couple of tracks, highlighting the stark contrasts of the two types of harps.

"Yuletide Treasure" is well named, for it showcases some true gems from the British Isles Winter holiday tradition. Those looking for old favorites won't have to go far, with delightful versions of
"Greensleeves" (including two distinct versions of the tune,) "The Holly and the Ivy," "Deck the Halls," and "Auld Lang Syne." However, the true mystique of the recording comes from the lesser-known tunes, including such treasures as "Down in Yon Forest," "The Abbot's Bromley Horn Dance," and "Irish Lullaby for the Christ Child."

I think my favorite duet on the recording is the gentle yet sprightly "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen" paired with the beggar's carol "Soulin'." The contrast of the two tunes is striking, and it reminds
listeners of the contrast of the season for those that have money and those that do not. The arrangement is sparse and open as "Soulin'" begins, but rapidly evolves into a rich and complex upbeat version of "Gentlemen," only to return to the evocative "Soulin'" again at the end.

Another standout is the very Welsh arrangement of "Nos Galan (Deck theHalls.)" This track takes the Welsh theme and variations to a delightful climax with the use of two harps. The Irish dance tune "Three Sea Captains" sets very nicely with the upbeat Spanish carol "I Saw Three Ships," and shimmers like the sun on the waves through the dancing strings of the two harpers.

The wire-harp adds a nice texture on "Coventry Carol/Down in Yon Forest," although the wire arrangement may be a little heavy and resonant for some tastes. The wire truly sparkles on "Da Day Dawns," however, calling the listener to come out for the rising sun of Christmas.

One of the most impressive things about this recording is the beautifully coordinated playing of the two harpers. It can be extremely difficult to play harmoniously in tandem. If the two harpers' timing is even slightly different, it can quickly destroy the beauty of two harps together. The beat on this recording is almost always clear and precise, even when struck by both harpers simultaneously. It can also be very difficult to match tuning on two harps, but Friou and Lane have done a very nice job with this as well.

The recording is not limited to harp duets. Julia Lane and Deborah Friou both also offer exciting solo tracks throughout. The recording actually opens with Friou's solo "The Holly and the Ivy/Sans Day Carol," which is complex enough that you could almost believe it was a duet. Yet her delivery is so crisp and clean that the effect is downright stunning. Lane offers a haunting rendition of two "Lullabies for the Christ Child," complete with ethereal vocables over the opening and closing strains of the piece.

"Auld Lang Syne" is a surprising delight. It combines the tune Burns originally wanted paired with his famous poem and the one most people in the US are familiar with. I had originally planned to do something very similar at the end of my second recording, and am so glad that I didn't actually follow through with it, for Friou and Lane have done a much more inspired arrangement than I could have possibly achieved. The arrangement opens with Burns' preferred tune, and gradually the more familiar tune interweaves with it, finally leaving the listener with the familiar melody only. Julia Lane's beautiful soprano voice expresses it beautifully, especially on the first (by far my favorite) tune.

The recording ends with a shimmering duet on the Scottish carols "Rorate Coeli Desuper" and "New Christmas." The harpers sparkle and shine on this powerful conclusion to this Winter holiday feast for the ears.

Notes on the Music

1) The Holly and the Ivy / Sans Day Carol 3:36 Solo- Deborah Friou
These carols from England and Cornwall reconcile two potentially conflicting traditions. The use of evergreens to celebrate the Solstice and Christmas is actually of pagan origin. The masculine (holly) and feminine (ivy) elements symbolize the vitality of the life force even in the midst of the cold, dark winter. The word "holly" is derived from the Saxon word for "holy".

2) Three Sea Captains / I Saw Three Ships 3:15 Duet
The first tune is an Irish set dance and, although not directly related to Christmas or Yuletide, we loved how it went with the English carol, I Saw Three Ships, as well as providing captains for the three ships! The earliest written version of Three Ships appeared in 1666 and depicts the journey of the relics of the three kings.

3) Soalin' / God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen 3:19 Duet
The practice of begging for "soul cakes", or Soalin', is related to the Wassail / carolling tradition. In this piece we like to contrast the viewpoint of the poor begging from door to door with the lot of the merry gentlemen viewed through the window of the manor house, wanting for nothing.

4) Gloucestershire Wassail 2:17 Solo- Julia Lane
Each region of England has their own wassail tradition which involves vagabond groups travelling door to door taking turns singing. Hopefully, they receive money or food and drink in exchange for the blessing of the song. Wassail itself is a potent spiced brew and the word means "good health" in Anglo-saxon.

5) Greensleeves 2:27 Solo- Deborah Friou
Several carols have been written to this tune, the earliest a 17th century version called The Olde Yeare Now Away is Fled. The original melody has been attributed by some to King Henry VIII. The first setting here was inspired by a version from the Ballet Lute Book c.1590 and the second from the Thysius Lute Book c.1600.

6) Coventry Carol / Down in Yon Forest 3:35
Duet- Deborah Friou, wire strung harp / Julia Lane, nylon strung harp
The first in this set of English tunes was the song of the mothers of Bethlehem in the Pageant of the Shearmen and Tailors, one of the 15th century Coventry mystery plays.
The second is a mystical song that weaves allusions from the legend of the Holy Grail into the verses. The fifth stanza refers to the Glastonbury Thorn "which ever blows blossom since he was born". It is said to have grown from the staff of Joseph of Arimethea, bearer of the Holy Grail, and flowers every Christmas.

7) The Abbot's Bromley Horn Dance 2:40 Solo- Deborah Friou
The Celtic winter season began with the festival of Samhain on October 31. This time was aligned with the rutting of the deer, a sacred animal. The battle of the stags came to symbolize the age-old battle of the old year with the new and is the basis for the horn dance, which is still performed to this day. During the middle ages, it was traditionally performed at Christmas by dancers wearing deer masks with attached antlers.

8) 'T is Winter Now 2:53 Duet
Samuel Longfellow, son of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, might have been viewing our own Maine winter landscape when he wrote this poem. Set to a traditional English melody, it describes the sharp, cold wind, the leafless boughs, and the clear skies after the snow falls. He also speaks of the treasure of winter, the crimson dawn, the shimmering beauty of the boughs covered with frost and snow creating "glittering wreathes", and the warmth inside as "home closer draws her circle". We tried to capture that sparkling, delicate winter loveliness in this arrangement.

9) Lullabies for the Christ Child 5:10 Solo- Julia Lane, soprano
These are two songs with the same image- the Virgin Mary lulls her miraculous son with a quiet song. The first in this pairing, Taladh Chriosta (The Christ Child Lullaby), is a very ancient song from the Scottish Hebrides while the second, Irish Lullaby for the Christ Child, was made from Gaelic prose in 1935 by Irish poet Sam Henry and set to a traditional tune.

10) Drive Cold Winter Away / Cold and Raw 4:05 Solo- Deborah Friou / Duet
Drive Cold Winter Away is an early 17th century broadside ballad also known as The Praise of Christmas. This song recommends the season as a time of merriment, music and convivial fireside gatherings with "wassails of nut-brown ale"- "Forgetting old wrongs with carols and songs to drive the cold winter away". It may be a reaction to the time when Cromwell's parliament abolished any celebration of Christmas. Cold & Raw seems to be the earliest name for a tune that has been popular in Scotland and England since the 16th century. It is also known as Stingo and Robert Burns wrote lyrics to it called Up in the Morning Early - all about the "pleasures " of arising early on a cold winter morning.

11) Nos Galan (Deck the Halls) 5:04 Duet
In this traditional Welsh New Year's Eve song, merrymakers would dance in a circle around a harper making up verses answered by the harp. Later the harp response was replaced with the nonsense words "fa, la, la, la, la". In the Welsh harp tradition, variations and improvisation are the expectation. This arrangement for two harps was adapted from a version for triple strung harp found in Edward Jones Musical and Poetical Relics of the Welsh Bards, first appearing in 1794. Deborah's father gave her an edition he bought from an antique book dealer in London.

12) Carul Loch Garman (The Wexford Carol ) 2:44 Duet
A carol collected in County Wexford Ireland with English lyrics and a traditional Irish tune. It is said that the melody dates from the 12th century.

13) Do'n oiche ud i mbeithil (That Night In Bethlehem) 3:21 Solo- Julia Lane
Songs celebrating Christ's birth are rare in the Celtic lands due to religious and political repression. This Gaelic song was apparently preserved in the oral tradition and was documented by Paddy O'Brien who shared it with Irish flute player Cathal McConnell (Boys of the Lough). Julia has arranged it here for harp.

14) Da Day Dawns (arr. Patsy Seddon PRS/MCPS) / When Christ was Born 4:17
Duet- Deborah Friou, wire strung harp & Julia Lane, nylon strung harp
This lovely tune from the Scottish Shetland Islands used to be played at first light on Yule morning. As the music unfolds, one can imagine the early morning light first appearing on the horizon, then increasing in warmth, strength and color with the rising of the sun. It is thought to be an ancient fiddle tune dating from the 15th century.This version was arranged for harp by Scottish harper Patsy Seddon (Sileas, the Poozies) and has been adapted for the wire-strung harp by Deborah. The second song, arranged by Julia, is from the Isle of Mann. It is from a collection of "carvals", or carols, which are 17th and 18th century religious texts set to traditional tunes.

15) Auld Lang Syne 3:48 Duet / Julia Lane, soprano
Favorite Scottish poet, Robert Burns, was the author of this popular song that has come to be a tradition on New Year's Eve. Auld Lang Syne means "old times past" in Scots, and "my jo" is Burns' term for "my dear". This arrangement by Deborah starts with the original version of the melody in which she is joined by Julia's vocals. The better known tune is then played and sung before ending with the two harps interweaving both melodies.

16) Rorate coeli desuper / New Christmass 3:23 Duet
Rorate is a rare Scottish Christmas carol written by William Dunbar, a 16th C Scottish diplomat, former Franciscan and poet. The lovely first verse commands the heavens to rain down the dew "for now is risen the bright Day Star". New Christmas refers to an incident in 1582 when Pope Gregory XIII decreed that the official calendar be adjusted by 11 days to accomodate a cumulative discrepancy in the Julian calendar. The British Isles refused to participate in the alteration, continuing to celebrate "Old Christmas" on January 6 until 1752 when it finally joined the European system. Confusion and rioting were the result. The tune is in the collection of Neil Gow, a renowned 18th century Scottish fiddler.

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Concerts in Brief

  • Jan 23
    St Andrews Village,  Boothbay Harbor
  • Mar 12
    The Ridge,  Exeter
  • Mar 15
    Dickey Memorial Presbyterian Church,  Baltimore
  • Mar 16
    Lakewood Manor,  Richmond
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    Well-Spring Retirement Community,  Greensboro