Rudolph in Northfield

In my Christmas music update (here), I reported that

Last year, Tané Tachyon recommended a version of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” sung to the tune of the Sacred Harp song “Northfield” (#155: “How long, dear Savior, O how long / Shall this bright hour delay”) …

Now, the music, plus some notes on how Rudolph can get to Northfield.

The music, from the 1991 Sacred Harp:

(In this music, the melody line is the tenor, the third line of music. Otherwise, for our purposes here, you can disregard the difference in the shapes of the note heads.)

The crucial thing is the “C.M.” after the name of the song. This means “common meter” — a designation of the metrical pattern. It’s the metrical pattern that allows any other common meter song (whether sacred or not) to be sung to the tune of this song. “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer” is a C.M. song.

From Wikipedia:

Common metre [or meter] or Common measure, abbreviated C. M., is a poetic meter consisting of four lines which alternate between iambic tetrameter (four metrical feet per line, with each foot consisting of an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable) and iambic trimeter (three metrical feet per line, with each foot consisting of an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable), rhyming in the pattern a-b-a-b… It has historically been used for ballads such as Tam Lin, and hymns such as Amazing Grace and the Christmas carol O Little Town of Bethlehem. It has also been used for Advance Australia Fair, the national anthem of Australia.

Actually, C.M. is just iambic tetrameter, with rests in foot 4 of lines 2 and 4.

… A variant of the common metre is the ballad metre, which was used in ballads. Like common metre, it has stanzas of four iambic lines. The difference is that ballad metre is “less regular and more conversational” than common metre, and does not necessarily rhyme both sets of lines. Only the second and fourth lines must rhyme in ballad metre, in the pattern x-a-x-a.

Some examples from Wikipedia:

Common metre is often used in hymns, like this one by John Newton…

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.
— from John Newton’s “Amazing Grace”

William Wordsworth’s “Lucy Poems” are also in common metre.

A slumber did my spirit seal;
I had no human fears:
She seemed a thing that could not feel
The touch of earthly years.
— from William Wordsworth’s “A slumber did my spirit seal”

Many of the poems of Emily Dickinson use ballad metre.

Because I could not stop for Death,
He kindly stopped for me;
The Carriage held but just Ourselves
And Immortality.
— from Emily Dickinson’s poem #712

A modern example of ballad metre is the theme song to Gilligan’s Island, making it possible to sing any other ballad to that tune. (Note that the first two lines actually contain anapaests in place of iambs; this is an example of how ballad metre is metrically less strict than common metre).

Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale,
a tale of a fateful trip.
That started from this tropic port,
aboard this tiny ship.

Another modern example would be “House Of The Rising Sun” by The Animals.

There is a house in New Orleans,
They call the rising sun.
And it’s been the ruin of many a poor boy,
And God, I know I’m one.

8 Responses to “Rudolph in Northfield”

  1. Borrowing texts « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] “Rudolph in Northfield”, I explained how a cheesy Christmas song could be sung to the tune of the hymn Northfield. Now, […]

  2. Kathryn Burlingham Says:

    Where is the Northfield of the hymn?

  3. Text and tune « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] the Red-Nosed Reindeer” to the tune of the Sacred Harp song “Northfield” (here and […]

  4. nbmandel Says:

    Finicky detail: Ingalls was born in Andover, Mass., but spent most of his life in Vermont and has been celebrated there with an annual singing in Newbury; but THE MAKERS OF THE SACRED HARP agrees that “Northfield” is named for Northfield, Mass.

  5. Black keys « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] any C.M. tune will do for singing any C.M. text; for some entertaining pairings, see my postings here, here (note the comment), and […]

  6. Evensong « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] C.M. verse is an iambic 4 x 4 with rests in the fourth foot of lines 2 and 4 (discussion here). The limerick form is an anapestic 4 x 4 with rests in the fourth foot of lines 1, 2, and 4 […]

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