We’ve been a while a-wandering

Music: Trad. arr. Sheena Phillips. Words: Trad.
performance time approx 2m 10s
Range S: d' — e'' / A: c' — d'' / T: d — e' / B: c — d'
Price code: C
Complexity: **

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The custom of wassailing had medieval roots and continued into the 20th century. Groups of wassailers would go from door to door in the Christmas season, singing and offering a drink from a communal wassail cup or bowl in exchange for food, money or other gifts. The word ‘wassail’ derives from the Anglo-Saxon expression for ‘good health to you’ and the original wassail drink was a hot mulled cider. Wassail songs were also performed in orchards and addressed to the trees, in a ritual invocation of a good harvest.

The tune of this particular wassail song was transcribed by Vaughan Williams from singers in Yorkshire in the early 20th century. The words are an amalgam of a couple of different Yorkshire wassail songs. The arrangement is strong and simple, with a short section between verses that can be taught to the audience beforehand.

The recording is by Belsize Community Choir (with audience participation).


We’ve been a while a-wandering
Amongst the leaves so green,
But now we come a-wassailing,
So plainly to be seen:

For it’s Christmas time,
When we travel far and near,
May God bless you and send you
A happy new year!

We are not daily beggars
That beg from door to door,
But we are [name of choir]
Whom you may have heard before:

We’ve got a little purse
Made of stretching leather skin;
We want a little money
To line it well within:

Call up the butler of this house,
Put on his golden ring,
Let him bring us up a glass of beer,
The better we shall sing:

Good master and good mistress,
While you’re sitting by the fire,
Pray think of us poor singers
And please support the choir!

Traditional English (adapted)

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