Wait a minute!


Christmas is heading towards us, and probably many of us remember going out as children, carol-singing, to raise some money or fill our pockets with goodies. We see references in some carols to such people being called ‘Waits’. There is one especially-humorous song written, by Charles Hayes, and music by Sterndale Bennett, where there is a direct co-relation between carol-singers and Waits….in fact they are treated as the same.

Actually, Waits were the original City Watchmen, who patrolled the streets, as an early police force, under the control of the City Fathers. They would indicate that they were at work, and mark the hours with a musical instrument, perhaps a horn as in the Mastersingers’ watchman. As their musical ability increased, and dressed in a uniform on ceremonial occasions, this was seen as a career path for budding musicians. Orlando Gibbons was the son of a Wait in Cambridge. It was not limited to England, and many of the Bach family were town musicians in Germany.

In order to supplement their wages, they would go to inns where there was a chance of receiving money from arriving guests. There are records of in the early 1600’s in Edinburgh, of street concerts organised by the authorities for morning, noon, and evening. Even Aberdeen had them!

So the instrument players of those early days have been translated into the singing groups we see and hear sometimes, but nowadays the invitation into a warm fire and punch, in a pre-arranged location is more likely.



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