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The catch puts the musical sophistication of the Renaissance to use in the service of more down-to-earth humour. A catch is a "round" - a song (like "Frère Jacques") which is sung over and over with several voices overlapping, each beginning several bars after the other. This creates an attractive musical texture, the overlapping melodies building pleasing harmonies. However, in this particular kind of round the overlapping words also create a new meaning: The overlapping parts of a catch's text usually combine to make a rather juvenile sexual joke! (The musical equivalent of those pictures in Mad magazine where you fold the page to make a different - and sillier - picture.)

Some catches that the GALS sing are "John Knox," "Hodge Told Sue" and "When Celia Was Learning at the Spinet."

"Sir Walter Enjoying His Damsel" is also a round with some playful sexual content, but Sir Walter's fun arises not from the overlapping of text, but from the way it builds to a - how shall we say? - climax...
("Sir Walter" is track #15 on Alchemy.)

One of the GALS' favourite catches:
"When Celia Was Learning at the Spinet"
offers a lovely little vignette of a young lady's music lesson.

Some musicological background makes the story a little clearer: In the Renaissance, the method for musical notation was known as "pricking." In other words, the notes were "pricked" out on the page. It would have been customary to embellish a sustained note (a "long pricked" note) by adding some sort of musical flourish like a trill (also known as a "shake").


When Celia was learning on the spinet to play,
Her tutor stood by her to show her, to show her the way.
She shook not the note, which angered him much
And made him cry, Zounds! 'Tis a long prick - 'tis a long prick'd note you touch!
Surprised was the lady to hear him complain
And said, and said, I will shake it when I come to't again.


However, when the GALS sing this one, it appears that the young lady may be getting more than a musical education... (and, dare we suggest, the teacher may be getting more than the simple joy of illuminating a young mind!).
("Celia" is track number 14 on Alchemy.)

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