Tomorrow shall be my dancing day

When our family lived in London, Hilary and I attended a school called St. Paul’s Girls School.  The school had enormous, intimidating brass handles on the front doors, a High Mistress we were supposed to curtsy to, and a grand mahogany assembly hall where we gathered every morning.  Each morning we stood up from our rows of narrow caned chairs to sing a hymn, turning our little red hymnbooks open to the specified page.  You can see my red hymnal above, and see how well-worn it is, its binding taped, my name and class year carefully noted in the frontispiece in the fountain pen that we all used then.

When I go to church, which is not particularly often (though I always love it when I do), I am almost always surprised by how the hymns are familiar.  The words, and the tune, bubble up from some deeply buried memory.  These hymns are engraved on the core of who I am.

One song, more than any other, carries a huge freight of memory.  It’s Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day, which I love so dearly that I want it sung at my funeral.  The staccato opening notes, the specific, almost peculiar cadence of its verses, and the final soaring descant all invoke a powerful nostalgia for me.  The song represents nothing less than the heart of St. Paul’s, and of that time in my life, for me.

St Paul’s had an annual holiday concert, and Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day was always, always the last song of the night.  I’m not the only person for whom the song is special.   I remember one particular year, though I don’t know which one.  Many of my classmates and I were in one of the classrooms that lined the assembly hall as the imposing organ began the notes of Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day.  Our parents all stood.  As the song soared to its chorus, a group of us leaned out of the door of the classroom, craning towards the music like a plant towards light, singing our hearts out.  The music crescendoed and we all rode its wave, joining our voices in the swelling song.

I can close my eyes and be back there, in the long-ago days of my own life, in the dark London night. The past feels animate in my present when I think about that concert, that hymn, that well-worn red book; the 13 year old me is dancing inside the 36 year old me still.  Dancing and singing: may we all dance tomorrow.

8 thoughts on “Tomorrow shall be my dancing day”

  1. I sang with Seattle Girls’ Choir when I was younger and have similar memories of songs. Especially this time of year. I recently found an old choir friend on Facebook and we spent a lot of time reminiscing about the songs we used to sing, many of which we still remember 20 years later.

  2. Great post-I love choral music, and the King’s College Choir. I listen to their Christmas music (some John Rutter)on my commute. Now I have “my dancing day” in my head. The hymn that always takes me back to college is Mendelssohn’s “Lift thine eyes” which was our unoffical college song.

  3. Oh, that’s a stunning recording of an equally stunning song. I’ve been lucky enough to attend evensong at King’s a couple of times, and although I’m Jewish, I have to say, as spiritual/meditative/musical experiences go, it’s right up there at the top of the heap.

    This post also made me think of hearing my (girl’s!)high school choir for the first time. New students (freshman, transfers) weren’t eligible to be members, since the auditions took place at the end of each school year. But each holiday season, the choir processed to the (what else?) Procession from Britten’s Ceremony of Carols. The first time I heard them–in a darkened auditorium lit only by candles held by the choir as they moved through the space to the stage–my fate was sealed. I could barely pay attention to anything school-related for the next year. I think singing in that choir is probably the only thing from high school that made any useful or lasting impression on me at all. I wish I could find a good recording of the Britten for you on Youtube, but they all seem weirdly balanced sound-wise. But it’s haunting.

    The thing I *can* find is “Hallelujah, Amen,” from Handel’s Judas Maccabaeus–which the same choir had in its semi-regular repertoire, and the music to which I found so moving, I could barely sing whenever we performed it.

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