Unprotected Choral Variations on Ilkley Moor

What is it?

Unprotected Choral Variations on Ilkey Moor is, as you might expect, a set of variations for mixed choir (SATB), based on a folk song from Yorkshire, England. Nine verses in total, the lyrics are in the Yorkshire dialect. A proper competition piece that is also great fun, it presents a challenge that's well worth the effort.

It's worth noting that there are numerous versions of the lyrics, also that dialects vary even within Yorkshire. I decided to stick with the main Yorkshire dialect version published on Wikipedia. Personally I cannot claim any Yorkshire ancestry though my Aunty Phyllis did live just outside Skipton and my brother and I did go camping and get rained on in Swaledale ...

Lyrics

Wheear 'ast tha bin sin' ah saw thee?
On Ilkla Mooar baht 'at
Wheear 'ast tha bin sin' ah saw thee?
Wheear 'ast tha bin sin' ah saw thee?
On Ilkla Mooar baht 'at
On Ilkla Mooar baht 'at
On Ilkla Mooar baht 'at.

Tha's been a cooartin' Mary Jane
On Ilkla Mooar baht 'at ... etc
Tha's bahn' to catch thy deeath o' cowd

Then us'll ha' to bury thee

Then t'worms'll come an' eyt thee oop

Then t'ducks'll come an' eyt up t'worms

Then us'll go an' eyt up t'ducks

Then us'll all ha' etten thee

That's wheear we get us ooan back

Listen

This synthesised rendition has both the music and the lyrics, so you can practice singing along to it. The soprano and bass parts are easier than the alto and tenor, both of which require a pretty good ear for pitch ... but when you get it right, it's glorious! (The YouTube thumbnail photo is of Pen-y-Ghent, in the Yorkshire Dales, because it's one of my favourite bits of Yorkshire!)

Learn

I first learned the song 'On Ilkley Moor Baht 'At' at university in 1975, from a fellow student who hailed from Wakefield. It stuck in my brain. At the end of 2019 I spent seven weeks on my own in Suceava, northeast Romania. I didn't have to, but I'd got so fed up with British politics and the prospect of an election campaign featuring a complete idiot with a haystack on his head, that Suceava seemed like a pretty good idea to me. That was when three friends (JJ, Adam and Ian) and I started a virtual pub. It's still going, by the way, as 'The Virtual Cornish Arms'. The aforementioned Ian, a Scouser living in the Netherlands, has become a regular. He and his wife have this choir, Snowe. They're pretty okay, from what I hear. Anyway - and possibly under the influence of just a little too much Islay whisky - I offered to do them a setting of 'On Ilkley Moor Baht 'At' - which I finished off sitting in an apartment in Tirana, Albania, where I'm writing this.

It's "Unprotected" because it's baht 'at, so to speak ...

Byblos, Lebanon

Cow and Calf, Ilkley Moor

Byblos, Lebanon

Road across Ilkley Moor

The first and ninth verses are fairly conventional, though the harmony is frequently inverted. The second verse features the choir goin' all soft, like, at the thought of Mary Jane, well I mean, who wouldn't? The third verse uses some clever stuff to suggest that catching one's death of cold is not a terribly good idea: we'd 'ave to bury t'poor bloke what caught it an' got clobbered. So the fourth verse borrows Chopin's funeral march. Once t'poor bloke's buried, we let him rest in peace. Or maybe not. Along come t'worms chomping on t'poor bloke what's just been buried. Then t'ducks, they really like t'worms, you know. But we like duck a l'orange so off we go an' ayte oop t'ducks. By now we're sounding right barber shop quartettish. Until realisation dawns, that is. We've etten t'poor bloke, albeit indirectly. But never mind, waste minimisation and all that. Good for t'planet, so all's well that ends well. Except for t'poor bloke, I suppose, but hey, we can all finish on a high note. Good, eh?!