There are few more mellifluous sounds than the “singing” of hounds in kennel.  And I would like to share this piece (with you) from a book published in 1932 by a well informed and amusing writer on all matters connected with venery.  Frederick Watson wrote entertainingly of “hound song.”

Hounds, like all real artists, sing on the smallest possible provocation, but they prefer the night before a hunt because they have not dined, and feel – quite naturally – extremely aesthetic, Hound singing has been resolutely ignored by musical authorities.  Even the bagpipes have their own literature; and there are, one may presume, handbooks on the triangle.  But although serious minded representatives of the BBC have lain in English dew to connect up Bridge parties all over the place with the hesitant and rather niggardly transports of the nightingale, the solid sustained and purely Slavonic symphony of foxhounds has been deliberately ignored.

If the night is clear, and so painfully still that strangers in The Pig and Turnip can listen without opening the bedroom windows, well-bred hounds feel it is a religious duty to acquaint all subscribers, members, farmers, villagers, foxes and vagrants, within a radius of three miles, that there will be a bit of sport in the morning…..

As the clock struck 1 am. And everybody was nicely asleep all along the Little Muchley valley, little WISTFUL, (Who being harrier-bred, was a promising soprano) rose dutifully on the sleeping-bench, and with a preliminary tuning-note or two, quavered an opening bar.  It rose and melted away.  Her brother, WAYFARER, blinking with ignoble slumber, threw in his throaty alto.  Two mournful voices rose with anguished but limited cadence, HUBERT, the disillusioned kennel tom-cat, twitched his abandoned whiskers as he crouched by the boiler-house door, but what were two harriers in the empty moonlight?  RAVISHER and COMELY, CRINOLINE AND TRESPASS – a little late, but in excellent voice.  Then COSY, WARRIOR, TAPSTER AND VANITY, BOUNCER, RANGER, DAMSEL and HORNET.  The mournful chant went up, quavered, wavered, and as those fine basses WARLOCK, SAMSON, HARPER           and LAWLESS came in, the chord fell an octave, the harmonies blended, the full chorus grew and sounded, melted a little and was sustained.  But here was not finality.  That came with old CONQUEROR, whose hollow note, like a sonorous dinner-gong, effulgent and deafening, gave a sense of high tide before the ebb.  There was Welsh in the pack …and where there is Welsh the range of voice is operatic.

The moonlight shed its pale radiance on the ecstatic faces, the shuttered eyes, forlorn muzzles and quivering throats.  The whole kennel was in it now.  Twenty couple altogether.  The night had been soundless, and, with ever extending consternation, the valley was more and more aware that, according to their old law and heritage, hounds were singing………….

 

Frederick Watson

Kindly sent to us by Karen Davison-White