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  • Writer's pictureNathaniel Keen

"Ah Robin"

Updated: Jul 15, 2021

Musicians: Nat Keen (guitar) Pete Lee (piano)

For today's session I was joined by the fantastic Pete Lee on piano. On this particular day I was especially moved and fascinated by our time spent with resident EJ, so my focus will be on that visit.

For the last two Fridays I've been attempting to teach EJ a medieval piece entitled 'Ah, Robin' written by William Cornysh some time in the early 14th century. EJ has often mentioned her love of early choral music so I was hoping this song would resonate with her as it resonates with me (my mother used to sing this in a group when I was a child).

The song is a fairly simple 4 bar melody which, upon repeating, adds a new interlocking harmony each time. Lyrically, it seems to be about a love sick lad chewing the fat with a robin about the girl he's into (she's into someone else)...classic plot....timeless.

Ah, Robin, gentle, Robin, Tell me how thy leman doth And thou shalt know of mine. My lady is unkind I wis, Alack why is she so? She lov'th another better than me, And yet she will say no. Ah, Robin, gentle, Robin, Tell me how thy leman doth And thou shalt know of mine. I cannot think such doubleness For I find women true, In faith my lady lov'th me well She will change for no new. Ah, Robin, gentle, Robin, Tell me how thy leman doth And thou shalt know of mine.

The first time I introduced the song to EJ, she clearly enjoyed it. We sang a simple version with just the melody and simple chords from the guitar whilst reading the lyrics from the sheet.

The following week she was vaguely familiar with the melody and after a little reminding, she was straight back in. On this occasion I tried adding the 2nd harmony. It was clear that she has experience of singing in a choir as she was able to keep perfectly to her melody without any distraction from this new part. Often when people are unfamiliar with singing in a group with multiple parts there is a tendency to drift towards a part that isn't yours.

Finally this last Friday we tried again with Pete singing the 3rd and final part of the harmony. This time she remembered the melody and the lyrics perfectly which I found amazing. As I've experienced several times before working in Bridgeside Lodge, music is retained in a special area of one's memory. EJ, who finds it hard to remember the names of her regular visitors successfully recalled a melody and a set of lyrics to a medieval song.

On Sunday the 4th July we played music in the garden of Bridgeside Lodge and in the break between sets I approached EJ with my brother Barnaby who was performing with us that day and without any preparation we were able to launch into a 3-part harmony rendition of 'Ah Robin'.

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