What a Wonderful World (Weiss & Thiele, arr. Brymer)

This article was written for the June 2021 issue of our parish magazine. Here it is for you again.

Spotify

It’s June. After one of the wettest Mays on record, many of us are hoping and praying for a drier, sunnier summer. Many of us are also hoping and praying for the return of some of the freedoms we took for granted until March last year. At time of writing, we are now allowed to meet in groups of up to 30 outdoors, visit non-essential shops, theatres, cinemas, gyms, sports stadia and pubs. Up to 30 people may attend weddings, baptisms and funerals, and we are allowed to hug close family members – cautiously, and not face-to-face. We still await permission to visit friends and families inside their homes, and staying overnight is out of the question. Hopefully, towards the end of June I will be able to travel to Somerset, stay with my brother, and visit my parents. I haven’t seen them in 16 months. Meanwhile, our parks and gardens are bursting into bloom, and we have occasional sunny days. Things are looking up!

This got me thinking about the pop ballad “What a Wonderful World”, famously recorded by Louis Armstrong. The lyrics are:

I see trees of green, red roses too,

I see them bloom for me and you,

And I think to myself,

What a wonderful world.

 

I see skies of blue, and clouds of white,

The bright blessed day, the dark sacred night,

And I think to myself,

What a wonderful world.

 

The colours of the rainbow, so pretty in the sky,

Are also on the faces of people passing by,

I see friends shakin’ hands,

Sayin’ “How do you do?”

They’re really sayin’ “I love you”.

 

I hear babies cry, I watch them grow.

They’ll learn much more than I’ll ever know.

And I think to myself,

What a wonderful world.

Yes, I think to myself,

What a wonderful world.

Although written for secular consumption, there are highly sacred elements in these words. There are many hymns that celebrate the beauty of the natural world, the flowers, fields and skies. But it is the phrase ‘I see friends shakin’ hands, sayin’ “How do you do?” They’re really sayin’ “I love you”’ that gave me pause for thought. Handshaking was discouraged from mid-February 2020. Our prime minister ignored that advice, caught covid, and almost died. It’s a serious disease, and the national prohibition of all social contact was for good reason. Absence of touch between friends and family became a huge expression of our love for them. But we found new ways of reminding others that we love them. We stood back, remembered to wear face masks, sanitised our hands regularly, and stayed at home.

There are many types of love, including romantic love, platonic love, philial (brotherly) love, and of course agape, the unconditional love of God for us. And there are many more ways of saying “I love you”, including “take care”, “have you remembered your sunscreen?”, “ring me when you get there”, “safe journey”, “it’s good to see you”, “have you eaten?”, “sleep well”.

The world really is a wonderful place.

I found a lovely arrangement of this song for female voices, bought the sheet music, and gave it out at a recent Maggie’s Music Makers rehearsal. I think they were excited to sing a song that they already know well – until I asked them to forget the way Armstrong sang it! My reasons for that are quite straightforward. We are a group of European women with soprano and alto voices. We are not American baritone jazz singers! Also, the Brymer arrangement for women’s voices has important differences to the version used by Armstrong – and he would often improve a trumpet solo part way through.

Here is the Brymer arrangement sung by the Seattle Children’s Chorus:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0AmuA9JocIM and for comparison, here is Louis Armstrong’s version: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VqhCQZaH4Vs

Who knows, maybe you’ll hear our wonderful MMM singing this song for you soon.

Carol P


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