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Local singer goes a-caroling for Christmas in Shepherdstown

By Staff | Dec 19, 2018

Deborah Rochfort, of Shepherdstown, sings 18th century Christmas carols along German Street as part of Christmas in Shepherdstown on Dec. 15. Photo by Tabitha Johnston.

SHEPHERDSTOWN – “Here we come a-caroling, Among the leaves so green! Here we coma a-wandering, So fair to be seen!” is one of many old Christmas carols that has remained familiar to modern ears. But many other carols have been forgotten with time – a problem which Deborah Rochfort, of Shepherdstown, is only too aware of.

Rochfort, who is the educational program director at the Peter Burr House, has dedicated time over the years to familiarize herself with songs from the time period of the Peter Burr House, preparing herself for any unexpected questions from visitors to the property.

Ironically, since Peter Burr was a Presbyterian, he would not have heard carolers at his own doorstep in the 18th century, as carolers at that time were often drunk, rowdy young men. Rochfort said there are a number of English Christmas carols she will not sing, especially around children, because of their lyrics.

“I try not to sing any inappropriate songs from the English repertoire,” Rochfort said. “Although Thomas Ravenscraft’s song, ‘Remember O Thou Man,’ is one of my favorite songs, there are some songs of his that are of dubious social value – definitely inspiring ‘Me Too’ values. Some of them have a good tune, but no, I won’t sing it.

“In earlier times, there was a different view of these kinds of songs,” Rochfort said, mentioning one song about two criminals lovers is the closest she will get to singing a carol with controversial lyrics. “‘Over the Hills and Far Away’ is the farthest I’ll go. It’s such a beautiful song that I can’t keep from singing – it’s a staple of 18th century repertory.”

Rochfort, who has also been a member of Shepherd University’s Masterworks Chorale for many years, could be seen caroling along German Street for several hours on Saturday, dressed from head-to-toe as a lady from 18th century Shepherdstown. Her songs were mostly sung in English, although she was also prepared to sing some carols in German, since 18th century Shepherdstown residents may have sung carols in either language.

“I guess how I feel things might be perceived. I feel like German would be perceived today as a foreign language, although it would not have been so foreign here in the 18th century,” Rochfort said, mentioning she appreciated being asked by the Shepherdstown Visitors Center to participate in Christmas in Shepherdstown.

For Rochfort, being able to sing these songs is a way to not only spread cheer during the holiday season, but to also teach the community about Shepherdstown’s history.

“I think ‘the more you know’ – I didn’t make this phrase up – ‘the more you appreciate. And the more you appreciate, the more you love.’ I think that’s nice, and it is my philosophy of life,” Rochfort said. “This is obviously not necessary to peoples’ Christmas, but it adds something of value.”