Sunday, 14 October 2012

Trade Winds by Frederick Keel

I am heading into an even lighter week this coming one! The school holidays are in full swing now so almost all of my school aged students and parents with school aged children are away in foreign parts, or camping and caravanning. I do hope the weather holds for them!

Today is sunny with beautiful blue skies and my washing is gently blowing in the breeze. It could be summertime, apart from the nip in the air, and the scent of woodsmoke from the stove.

It brings to mind words of Trade Winds by Frederick Keel. One of my ladies is singing this at the moment, although it is possibly more usually a man's song, it is perfectly suitable for a female voice. Sometimes a small, lyrical song with a gentle lilt is just the perfect thing ! The words describe so well an almost watercolour painting of life on a Mediterranean island (although I firmly believe it could be Paradise). The poem is by John Masefield from a group of poems called Salt Water Ballads, and set to music by Keel and published in 1902 in the peaceful Edwardian world before the First World War.

Once in awhile when I am blogging about a particular song I do a little research and come up with facts which both delight and surprise me. To my shame I had no real knowledge about Mr Keel, and the inevitable Wikipedia furnished me with a life, simple and extraordinary at the same time. One of those jolting facts is that he only died in 1954, when I was 2 years old! Why is it, we always think that 'composers' feel as though they belong to pages in historical text books ? Well, that clearly means that I belong between those hallowed pages, simply on the grounds of being somewhat elderly!

Here is the shortened biog of Frederick Keel, don't skip it, it makes happy reading,

James Frederick Keel (8 May 1871 – August 1954) was an English composer of art songs, baritone singer and academic. Keel was a successful recitalist and a professor of singing at the Royal Academy of Music. He combined scholarly and artistic interest in English songs and their history. His free settings of Elizabethan and Jacobean lyrics helped pioneer the revival of interest in the genre. He was also an active member of the English folksong movement. During World War I, Keel was held in the civilian internment camp at Ruhleben in Germany, where he played an active role in the camp's musical life, giving many recitals to help boost the morale of his fellow detainees. Keel was one of the few singer-songwriters of English art songs of his day. Among his better known compositions are settings of Salt-Water Ballads by the poet John Masefield, including 'Trade Winds', the popularity of which has given Keel a reputation for being a "one-song composer".

One trick pony indeed ! Those of us from an obviously past singing era have, over the years listened to his melodious settings of Full Fathon Five, Tennyson's Dainty Little Maiden, and Longing with words by Matthew Arnold, and others which proliferated amongst singers both amateur and professional in the 60's and 70's.

Sadly, his songs are aired less and less, singers want more challenge, more diversity, more quirkiness and stronger sentiments. They 'ditch' the audience appealing and sweet lyricism in song at their peril! I'm all for challenge, as my pupils well know, but a soup├žon of delight goes a long way in endearing your listener, whilst showing that you can sing with a simple and touching beauty of tone.

Here are the lyrics of Trade Winds, I love the idea of a 'long low croon'..........

In the harbour, in the island, in the Spanish seas,
Are the tiny white houses and the orange trees,
And day-long, night-long, the cool and pleasant breeze
Of the steady Trade Winds blowing.

There is the red wine, the nutty Spanish ale,
the shuffle of the dancers, and the old salt's tale,
The squeaking fiddle, and the soughing in the sail
Of the steady Trade Winds blowing.

and o'nights there's the fire-flies and the yellow moon,
And in the ghostly palm trees the sleepy tune
Of the quiet voice calling me, the long low croon
Of the steady Trade Winds blowing.


  1. Keel, a 1-trick pony, I say Nay, Nay. Hello, Ann, from Santa Fe, where I've turned my life on its head [as you did] moving from dark n' dreary rainy Seattle to find a sunny, blue-sky desert adventure and a bit of off--beat, yet oft-incredible beauty here where Georgia O'Keefe was so inspired to paint. We are birth year mates, and musically with similar inspirations, too. As I awaken my singing slumber to return to a group art song class, I am so completely enraptured by the first of the 3 Salt Water ballads as sung by Bryn Terfel on Silent Noon....'Port of Many Ships' takes me away to the South Pacific islands of languid nites and palm breezes....I wish, I wish as I was there.....Trade Winds isn't bad, either, heh heh. Ok, All the best and nice to stumble upon another Keel fan....Sing Hey, ho....Mr. Bill in America

  2. Oh, and I love the painting of the two schooners...hope to peruse your blog again to glean your art song fav's...tah-tah for now. Adios, Maestra. Still Mr. Bill

  3. Dear Mr Bill, Thank you for your comments. I am a true Art Song lover, too, and I like your choice so songs! Only last night I heard a lovely performance of Ivor Gurney's Sleep Ah..........

  4. I was searching for the lyrics of trade winds, when I cam across your beautiful post.
    Thank you!