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Jack Langstaff and the Christmas Revels

Jack Langstaff On Wednesday when listening to WGBH I learned that Jack Langstaff had died. He was the founder of the Christmas Revels 25 years ago and spirited its success first in Cambridge, and then it expanded to 10 other cities (Cambridge, Massachusetts ; New York City; Washington, D.C. ; Hanover, New Hampshire; Oakland, California; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Houston, Texas; Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota; Tacoma, Washington; Portland, Oregon; and Chicago, Illinois). He had stopped performing a few years ago but his spirit is there. He was very active in promoting children's musical education and performance. He leaves a very nice legacy by creating a tradition and an organization to carry it forth.

The show is a mish-mosh of Christmas traditions usually done to some theme - this year it is Medieval England. When I was in it in 1977 as a member of the Quadrivium, an early music performing group, it was French Medieval. It has carols, kids, a Mummers play, sword and/or morris dancing, other festive stuff and terminates with the whole audience getting up and dancing The Lord of the Dance out into the lobby of Sanders Theater in Memorial Hall at Harvard. That year there were I think 5 performances, now there are 19! That was a very busy year for the Quadrivium, I recall we had a performance or rehearsal every day from Dec 1 to Dec 21 either on our own in town or on the road or in the Cambridge and Dartmouth versions of the Revels. A couple of years later we did it again - this time an English version.
Cambridge Revels It's a pretty entertaining show, but when I went to it after having been it, I discovered it had been much more fun being in it.


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trulygrateful and I saw the New York Revels for the first time ever. (I had helped out this year by subbing for their music director for a portion of three rehearsals while she was otherwise occupied by High Holy Days rehearsals.) We were thoroughly charmed. This year's theme was Elizabethan; in fact, the Virgin Queen made a notable appearance in Act 2. It was all great fun. We saw the fourth of four performances. I cheered for my brothers in the Greenwich Morris Men, who performed in a stick dance, a Morris dance to "Lord of the Dance," the Abbotts Bromley to open Act 2, and of course the ritual slaying of St. George in the mummer's play.

As you probably know, the New York Revels organization nearly went under, and in 2001 (at least) there was no Revels. But they have recovered since and gone on, and I think (and hope) that they're here to stay.

I wish I could have met Jack Langstaff. His passing is felt as deeply here among NYC folkies as it is in Boston.

I can't speak to how much fun it is/was to be in Revels, because I never was. It was fun attending, certainly, but after a few years it got so either it was too much like the year before or (when they started coming up with a different "theme" every year) that it was trying too hard to be different from the year before. And then it started being really hard to get tickets without more advance planning than I'm normally capable of. One way or another, it's been many years since we've been to Revels.

Of course, these days the fun level of performing in Revels has probably been reduced in proportion to the greatly increased number of performances. I don't see how anyone who has a regular day job can possibly do it, especially if they're also a member of a performing group that has its own December-holiday performnances. (Somebody I used to sing with in Boston Cecilia was involved with Revels for many years; I don't know how he survived December.)

It was indeed a wonderful thing that Jack Langstaff brought about. I'm not sure I can really envision "Lord of the Dance" being sung by anyone else (even though I know it's been at least 10 years since he last sang it at Revels).

Oh, and one nit (you knew I was going to do this, right?): 1971 was more than 25 years ago.

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