World Choir Games Flanders 2023

The little kindred - Fairies in Music by Kelly Galbraith

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    25 cents.  That’s what I got for a baby tooth slipped under my pillow many years ago.toothfairy2small (1) Now, according to a 2014 Visa survey, kids get an average of $3.70 per tooth.  Pretty decent change from a winged creature that still seems to be making the midnight rounds in homes everywhere.

    It doesn’t surprise me that the Tooth Fairy still has currency both in hard cash and in capturing imaginations.  Well thumbed books of Fairy Tales are stacked on night tables all over the country. Most feature a Fairy Godmother arriving in clouds of pixie dust and with the swish of her wand,  she makes everything better, just like she did for Cinderella.  There is the Sugar Plum Fairy who makes her appearance in the Christmas ballet,  ‘The Nutcracker’, bringing sweets for little children.



    Peter Tchaikovsky:  – “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” from the  Nutcracker Bolshoi Ballet 2010


    Fairies, who are they?  Where do they come from?  They live in a world that is intangible to our sensibilities.  Gossamer Penwych in her book, ‘The World of Fairies' writes:  “Gateways to the other world can be accessed by mortals at times and places that are in-between, neither here nor there, then or now.  Dusk, dawn, midnight, and midday are all times that lie between darkness and light, night and day, morning and afternoon. “


    “A fork in a path or road, the banks of a river or stream, and the shores of a lake or sea lie betwixt and between one place and another, and are therefore favourable locations for fairy sightings.”




    One of the first mentions of fairies is in the 12th century by Giraldus Cambrensis  a Norman-Welsh historian and cleric. ” The old women are most learned, but will not so readily be got to talk, for the fairies are very secretive, and much resent being talked of; and are there not many stories of old women who were nearly pinched into their graves or numbed with fairy blasts?”


    The most famous reference is undoubtedly by William Shakespeare in 'A Mid Summer Night's Dream'.  Henry Purcell’s ‘The Fairy Queen’ was inspired by Shakespeare’s play.  This was Purcell’s most extensive work for the stage and the most expensive production of its time.  It premiered in 1692 and has all the good stuff in the plot – courting, jealously, loving the wrong person, elves, a Fairy Queen and King, a magic potion, pity, reconciliation and a marriage blessing.



    Henry Purcell – Overture to Act 4 “The Fairy Queen” Bournemouth Sinfonietta, Ronald Thomas, conductor

    What do fairies look like?  Ask any child and they’ll tell you fairies are usually pretty, and like Harry Potter’s cloak, they can be invisible if that want to be.  They often wear green to blend in with the trees and bushes.  Sometimes, their skin is green.  Wings, of course, are a must,  When they wear a robe, it is white and little girls especially notice the sparkling pixie dust that covers the fabric.

    Fairies are not always the ‘good fairy’.  Parents of old have frightened their children with stories of little kindred being child abductors –  perhaps a ruse to keep them from taking walks alone in the woods.  Remember what happened to Hansel and Gretel?  Fairies have a reputation for playing pranks like curdling milk, spoiling crops, snatching food when no one is looking, and dirtying clothing left out to dry.  I expect the last two are excuses directly from kids.  ‘Seriously Mom, it wasn’t me.  It must be the fairy that lives in the old elm tree out back!”


    When fairies hang out together, it is called a fairy nation. They like to sing and dance when each other’s company, much like Toronto Maple Leaf fans when they win a hockey game!   Those circle tracks in flower beds and fields of grass? I think it is much more romantic and fun to call them fairy rings instead of snail trails or UFO crop circles.  Folklore is filled with tales of unsuspecting picnickers or hikers who have carelessly stepped into a fairy circle.  They are trapped in the wild reverie that could last only a few seconds or be many years of spirited dancing.   The only method of escape is for someone outside the fairy ring to  grab their  hand and yank them back into the real world.


    Felix Mendelssohn:  A Midsummer Night’s Dream  March of the Fairies,            

    R. Beck, Bamberger Symphonike

    Oberon IV

    Fairy land is ruled by a king and queen.  The king has many names, one is Oberon.   ‘Oberon’  king of the Fairies was the inspiration behind Carl Maria von Weber‘s opera of the same name.  It was premiered in 1826, the same year that Mendelssohn’s ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream‘ hit the concert hall.  The plot, typical of most operas is unbelievably cumbersome.  It is set in Fairyland in medieval times. Oberon has quarrelled with his Queen.  He won’t see her again until he finds lovers that have never been unfaithful to each other.  Lots of stuff happens that really doesn’t matter because in the long run, he finds a faithful couple.  Oberon and his Queen Titania patch things up and the mortal lovers are welcomed by Charlemagne.

    Carl Maria von Weber: “Oberon” Overture  Neeme Järvi, conductor · Berliner Philharmoniker

    Many composers were inspired to set enchanting fairy stories to music. Richard Wagner composed his first opera when he was 20 years old.  It is called ‘Die Feen‘ (The Fairies).  It’s not performed very often.  The plot raises the question, is fulfilling love possible between a moral and a supernatural being.

    Wagner: Die Feen (The Fairies)

    Dvorak‘s opera Rusalka is about a water fairy who falls in love with a prince and wants to become human.  A witch arranges the deed with one condition  – if the prince is unfaithful to her, both of them will be dammed.  It is opera!  Of course he is unfaithful. They both die, but he does repent and so his water nymph is granted a human soul.

    Canadian composer John Kim Bell wrote a beautiful ‘Ceremonial Dance‘  taken from his longer work, ‘In the Land of Spirits‘.  One of my very favourite composers is Canadian R. Murray Schafer whose magical work ‘The Enchanted Forest’  has a timeless environmental message delivered by children, magical beings and fairies.


    Debussy 'La danse de Puck'  is a spirted piano prelude that captures the impish nature of a faun lazing about in the warmth of the summer sun.  He is the the court jester to Oberon and Titania the King and Queen of fairy land.

    Michelangeli – Debussy – La danse de Puck

    Do I believe in fairies?  No, but I love that thinking about them keeps my imagination curious and my heart open.  And when I’m out in nature, whether it be for a walk in the park, or out in my kayak, and I see light playing with the leaves or dancing on the water, I am filled with wonder at the beauty of it all and I can imagine some of that sparkle is pixie dust making my day a little brighter and happier.

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