Taiwan Sings: The ShakeScene Round
At the National Taiwan University’s 2012 Shakespeare conference I led a sing-along on the final day, a relaxing change from the rigor of all the Shakespeare-izing that had gone on before. All four of the songs I chose are from As You Like It. There is a lot of singing in AYLI, and the songs are important for establishing the mood of a scene, and sometimes for changing the mood within the scene. At the end of Act II, scene 7 the changes are simply wonderful. Jacques makes his “seven ages of man” speech, a passage often solemnly — and foolishly — quoted out of context as evidence that Shakespeare was a cynic, which it is not; melancholy Jacques is the cynic, but Shakespeare deftly confounds his cynicism by the appearance of loyal and dignified old Adam, who does not fit into Jacques’ pessimistic “seven ages” at all. With “Blow, Blow, Thou Winter Wind” the Swan of Avon effortlessly modulates into a meditation on disloyalty; all men are not like loyal old Adam.
I wish I knew who wrote the settings we sang for “Blow, Blow” and “Under the Greenwood Tree,” our first two sing-along selections. I heard them back when I was in high school (consider that as casually said), from a quaint and curious sort of black plate that revolved at 33⅓ rpm, and emitted what used to be called a spoken word recording. The songs on it were uncredited.
The third setting was of “It Was a Lover and his Lass” by Thomas Morley, or perhaps I should say published by Thomas Morley, in 1592. Morley, a contemporary of Shakespeare’s was a composer, but he was also the major “force” in music publishing in his day; back then it was not unknown for publishers to be credited with music that they never wrote, so I am cautious as to authorship. It is one of only two songs known to have been published during Shakespeare’s lifetime, the other being Robert Johnson’s “Where the Bee Sucks,” whose melody is a little too involved for a sing-along. “It Was a Lover and his Lass” is not a favorite of mine: with all those “hey nonny-nonnies” it has too much Morley and not enough Shakespeare. I included it because it is well-known; the audience was rather expecting it.
I wanted to close the sing-along with something rousing (it was a morning session, after all, and the Chinese are not, as a rule, coffee-drinkers), so I chose “The ShakeScene Round” and engaged three student horn players from the Chinese Culture University music department (NTU paid them generously) to fortify the voices of the very academic NTU audience; academics tend to be soft-spoken introverts, and sometimes need a boost. The student horn players blew the roof off, and the audience rose to the occasion.
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