Welcome to Letters from Quotidia Postscripts Episode 18– a podcast by Quentin Bega for listeners who enjoyed that Irish phenomenon- the crack! in the Letters, Postcards and Postscripts from Quotidia published since the beginning of 2021. Quotidia remains that space, that place, where ordinary people lead ordinary lives. But where, from time to time, they encounter the extraordinary.
Ready for a ten-dollar word? As I am about to recount a humiliating experience, perhaps I am preparing myself for the sting of it by inviting, as a form of inoculation, your superior sneers and accusations of pretentious pedantry when I inform you most solemnly that this is the antepenultimate Postscript. (“Why don’t you just say third from last”! I hear you shout at the podcast) Nevertheless, this Postscript attaches itself, leechlike, to Letters From Quotidia 45, featuring the song The Ballroom of Romance, which was the best of the lot, according to the producer in the small studio up the Blue Mountains 22 years ago where I recorded a batch of 20 songs.
Now, he didn’t actually say it was any good, just the best of the lot…but you’ve got to take whatever praise, however faint, that comes your way, yeah? Can’t put it off any longer, here is that blasted reminiscence: Was it a dream or, perhaps, a nightmare? Was I there in that rural dancehall in Ireland in the late 1960s- a trio, with my brother and cousin? Maybe it was an atavistic, male, cautionary tale, but I can remember a shiver of premonitory trepidation as I approached the first girl in the line at the opposite end of the fluorescently lit hall. “May I have this dance?” I asked politely. “Sorry, no.” The accent was a lilting brogue that brought welts up on my soul. I could feel the eyes: from across the hall, my brother and cousin smirking and a ruck of male unknowns- as well as the sidelong glances and micro-expressions of amusement from the girls who had heard the put-down, stretching, as it seemed to me, to the crack of doom. “Fancy a dance?” I asked the next girl, feigning a couldn’t-care-less slouch. She didn’t even answer but turned away and continued a conversation with her friend. I don’t have to go on, do I? In some sad corner of my imagination, I am in that dancehall to this very day, moving along a line of increasingly lovely girls who reject me in a variety of fiendishly humiliating ways.
The Ballroom of Romance is a real place, it’s also a short story by William Trevor upon which is based a wonderful film starring Brenda Fricker. A bunch of songs carry this title as well as any number of poems ringing the changes on the phrase. But here is my take on this trope, composed during a holiday in 1985 on Lough McNean on the Irish border near the site of the legendary ballroom that attracted so many seeking love- or some facsimile of it in the 1950s and 60s. [insert song]
The dance theme continues with a song I first learned from The Clancy Brothers Song Book first published in 1962 but which I acquired in the mid-1960s. Wikipedia informs me that Màiri Bhàn or “Blond Mary” is a Scottish folk song originally written in Gaelic by John Roderick Bannerman. Winning the Mòd gold medal was (and is) regarded as the highest singing award in Scottish Gaeldom, and “Mairi’s Wedding” was composed to recognise this achievement. A track of Mary C. MacNiven singing her winning song at the 1934 Mòd is still available,and the Mod has founded a memorial salver competition to honour her name. She continued to sing at Gaelic concerts and céilidhs for most of her life, and died aged 91 at her native Portnahaven, Islay[Eye-Lah] in 1997. Islay…just saying the name makes me want to visit this southernmost island of the Inner Hebrides and sample the peaty goodness of the whisky distilleries to be found there.
But I digress! Here are the original words translated into English from Scottish Gaelic Love of my heart, fair-haired Mary,/pretty Mary, theme of my song:/she’s my darling, fair-haired Mary/and oh! I’m going to marry her.//Last night I fell in love/and now my heart is soaring high;/ fair-haired Mary singing by my side/and oh! I’m going to marry her!//Golden hair and kindly eyes,/shapely brow and smiling cheeks,/sweetest voice that ever sang/and oh! I’m going to marry her.//It was at a cèilidh at the Mòd/that I got to know the girl:/she was the winner of the gold medal/and oh! I’m going to marry her.//My love for Fair-haired Mary will be/eternally faithful and heartfelt;/ we’ll sing together of our love/and oh! I’m going to marry her.//
These are not the words you are going to hear sung now but rather you will hear the lyrics known world-wide, written by Sir Hugh Robertson and perennially popular since 1936 when it was first published. Robertson presented an original signed copy of his score to Mary C. MacNiven, and it became one of her most prized possessions. And, typically, I knew nothing of the song’s back story until, in preparing this post, I started my usual desultory trawl through the internet that I occasionally dignify with the term research. So, whether you call it Màiri Bhàn, Mairi’s Wedding or The Lewis Bridal Song, here is my short and bluegrass-tinged version of this song known the world over- or is that just my western-centric bias showing again. [insert song]
I’ll end this post with a song I wrote to lyrics from the publication, Words For War. I had sent to America for this shortly after the Russians invaded Ukraine seven months ago. I’ve referred to poems from this book several times since then. Today, I wish to acknowledge my debt to translators from the Ukrainian, Sibelan Forrester and Mary Kalyna with Bohdan Pechenyak. They translated the poems of Maryana Savka found in this collection. Maryana was born on February 21, 1973. She is a poet, children’s writer, translator and publisher and has won a slew of awards. Her works have been translated into seven languages including English, Russian and Polish.
Apart from writing, Maryana Savka is also a composer and a singer in the Maryanychi Trio, for which she has written over 30 songs. I hope if she in the remotest of remote chances, happens to hear my treatment her poem, that she isn’t too disappointed in it. Maryana Savka is a member of PEN Ukraine as serves as the United Nations Development Program Tolerance Ambassador in Ukraine. Before the song I wish to present the final poem of hers from the volume, Words For War.
january pulled him apart/February knocked him off his feet/spitting blood into the snow/he waited for his march-/but didn’t know what shore/he’d be able to cling to/ god what a calendar-/blow after blow/his heart scarred/by such weird months:/Deathcember, Sorrowtober, or Bittertember/where even the trees grow/upside down, crowns up into roots/so young he barely lived/yet dying his death fully/then one day/the war died with him/and he was born again in may/amidst the grasses/or maybe he didn’t really die/but just lay in the grass/ under a wide open sky/under the sky everyone’s alive//
The words of the song are a straight copy of the words on the page of the collection. The only thing I have added is a repeat of the last line, The metaphor- died, twice as a way of ending the waltz-time composition. Like Mairi’s Wedding, the song is just a little over two minutes in duration. [insert song]
I’ll sign off with lines from a poem about dancing from that well-known poet, Anonymous, Let the music play!/I would dance alway—/Dance till the dawn of the bright young day!/Wild notes are sounding—swift lights are glancing,/And I—I am mad with the rapture of dancing—/Mad with a breathless delight./With thine arm to enfold me,/Thy strong hand to hold me,/I could dance through an endless night.//Bid the music play!/Let us dance alway—/Through all life—through all time—dance forever and aye!/Such wild notes are sounding! Such bright lights are glancing!/And I—I am mad with the madness of dancing—/Of dancing?—or dancing with thee?/Let thy heart’s love enfold me!/Thy heart’s strength uphold me!/Let us dance till earth ceases to be!// So let us dance alway into the next, the penultimate, Postscript from Quotidia which is coming your way in a week’s time. And please- be kind and keep safe.
Credits: All written text, song lyrics and music (including background music) written and composed by Quentin Bega unless otherwise specified in the credits section after individual posts. Illustrative excerpts from other texts identified clearly within each podcast. I donate to and use Wikipedia frequently as one of the saner sources of information on the web.
Technical Stuff: Microphone- Shure SM58; (for the podcast spoken content) Audio Technica AT 2020 front-facing with pop filter); Apogee 76K also used for songs and spoken text.
For recording and mixing down: 64-bit N-Track Studio 9 Extended used; Rubix 22 also used for mixing of microphone(s) and instruments. I use the Band in a Box/RealBand 2022 combo for music composition.