These long nights and short days are little poems of flickering candles and twirling notes. Sometimes, it is the slow part of the day. There are the sounds of dishes being washed and some northern-English Christmas carols from the archive my husband works on. There is one carol about a new bride who plays a game of hide-and-seek with her groom on their wedding night, but she is never found... until many years later a heavy, old chest is opened and a wedding gown is found with a skeleton inside. There is a pedal organ and many voices. Other carols are less strange, full of "hark, hark" and angels. In some villages there used to be bands that would wander about in the cold on Christmas Eve singing and playing music in the streets until the sun rose on Christmas morning. Apparently many churches made sure to acquire big pipe organs to curb this behaviour, bringing the music into the church and the choir under their control. I must admit I never suspected a beautiful church organ as being used as a force for control and loss of culture, among other things.
The night before last, we heard the most beautiful music from Hungary and Romania. I never have my camera when I need it, so there are no photos of upright basses, accordions and fiddles catching the light of candles stuck in old bourbon bottles, or women dancing past stacks of piled up chairs (only some glimpses from last weekend in Edinburgh for your eyes). But at least I can direct you towards the source of all the beauty: the website of The Jani Lang Band, and that of Tcha Limberger, who was playing along with the band as a special guest. The music was brilliant all night and all of the musicians were amazingly talented, but I was completely spellbound by Tcha Limberger's solo part of the evening. He sang, sometimes in Magyar and sometimes in Romani, as he accompanied himself on fiddle or on guitar. I didn't want it to ever end.
And as December settles in and blackbirds sit in the bare branches just outside eating red berries, as the afternoons turn inky and dark and gales blow in off the North Sea, I have to fight with myself not to hibernate. One more spot of brightness keeping me from a long winter's nap is Romica Puceanu, who I found out about by reading the lovely City of Reubens blog. Romica Puceanu started singing in Bucharest cafés when she was just 14, and she had a gorgeous, velvety voice backed by beautiful cimbalom, accordion, and fiddle playing. Little treasures like this are especially important in winter, I think. These long evenings need to be filled so full that it doesn't seem to matter if the sun ever rises again.