El Noi de la Mare for Ukulele Ensemble

El Noi de la Mare is beautiful Christmas song from the northeast region of Spain, Catalonia. In English the title means The Mother of the Child. The guitarist Andres Segovia made the song famous by playing Miguel Llobet’s instrumental arrangement as an encore in his concerts. 

The lyrics are:

What shall we give to the Mother’s Child?

What shall we give that he will find tasty?

Raisins and figs and nuts and olives

Raisins and figs and honey and mató.

Mató is a type of fresh white cheese made from cow’s or goat’s milk with no added salt. Sounds healthy! 

This is the soprano Kathleen Battle singing a version of the song:

Here’s another, slower version, of the great Segovia:

El Noi de la Mare is such a beautiful melody I never get tired of hearing or playing it. I made a solo arrangement for ukulele a couple of years ago and recorded it on my Beauty of Uke CD. Here’s a Youtube video of that version for solo ukulele:

I’ve often use just the melody with a chord accompaniment as a workshop piece. Recently I decided to make an arrangement for ukulele ensemble with up to 4 parts, or 5 if you want to add a U-bass part.

You can download the PDF by clicking on the link below:

El Noi de la Mare for ukulele ensemble

I’ll be workshopping this piece over the summer and thought it would be nice to share the arrangement with the broader ukulele community. The arrangement is in 4 parts. Here is a breakdown of parts:

Ukulele 1 plays the melody

Ukulele 2 plays an arpeggio accompaniment

Ukulele 3 plays chords 

There is an optional baritone part

It’s a simple arrangement but a good opportunity for ukulele players to get used to reading from a score and playing different parts. For novices the score can look overwhelming. So, if you are a group leader I’d recommend talking your group through the layout of the score before letting them launch into it. 

Here are a few pointers:

The time signature is 3/4. This means there are 3 beats per bar. 

The melody has a beautiful lullaby rhythm. The 1st beat is a dotted crotchet. This is followed by a quaver and then a crotchet. If your group has trouble with the dotted rhythm try saying ‘hold and play’ like this:

Ho – old  and play,   Ho – old  and play etc

1      (2)     &     3,         1     (2)    &      3

About the score:

Ukulele 1, or the melody, is in both notation and tab

Ukuleles 2 and 3 are only in tab

Baritone only has notation 

I’m interested to know how people find this format and how it could be improved without creating a huge score! For example, would it be better to put the baritone part just in tab? Would players prefer to have just their part as opposed to the entire score? With single parts it would be feasible to put all parts in notation and tab although notation seems cumbersome for arpeggios and there would be a lot of pages. Another possibility is to have the score in notation only and the parts in tab only (also a lot of paper). Okay, my brain is starting to hurt!

It’s a good idea to explain to your group that the piece is meant to be played as a whole with all different parts coming together to give an orchestral effect. By itself ukulele 2 might not sound like the song but it works when the melody is added. Plus, stress that each player only needs to play one part. Maybe get folks to highlight their part/line with a coloured marker as it’s easy to get confused on the page turns. 

Arrange the group so that all ukulele 1 players are sitting together, all the ukulele 2 players are sitting together, all the ukulele 3 players are sitting together and the baritone is at the side, or back (nothing personal). 

Have the most people playing the melody (ukulele 1) as this is the part that really needs to stand out. I would suggest having 3 people playing the melody to every 1 playing the arpeggio. Depending on the size of the group you should only need 1 or 2 people playing chords and 1 maybe 2 baritones. You might need to tweak the number of players on each part to get the balance right.

Make sure the arpeggio players (that’s ukulele 2) don’t speed up, especially when they start playing the quaver section! Also, make sure the arpeggio has shape. The 1st and 3rd beats should have most weight as this will compliment the lullaby affect of the melody. If every note is played with the same weight/attack then the arpeggios will sound like sewing machines. The arpeggio should ebb and flow.

Ukulele 3 plays simple chords but the rhythm is important – there is a chord on the 1st beat which is held for the 2nd beat and then another chord is played on beat 3. I’ve indicated 3 note chords using strings 3, 2 and 1. The chords should be gently rolled rather than strummed. I suggest using a brush stroke with the flesh of the thumb. A felt pick could also work. The top note should fall on the beat. Yep, that’s tricky! Get the chord section to play beat one with the most weight and beat 3 very lightly. 

Once everyone knows their own part work on dynamics and getting the balance right. Ensemble playing is really about teamwork and working together. Everyone should be aware of, and sympathetic to, the other parts. To start with everyone will probably be playing as loudly as possible because they all want to heard. But get them to focus on playing ‘as one’ rather than competing with each other. Add some dynamics and the piece will sound really musical.

Recently I spent a day working on this piece, and 2 other pieces, with a group at the Forest Ukulele Retreat. The group performed all 3 pieces in the afternoon concert and the effect was really beautiful and very pleasing (proud tutor moment!). 

The nice thing about this arrangement is that it is has something for everyone. There is a chord part for those who are not yet comfortable with finger style. But even the chord part is challenging because the chords are brushed rather than strummed. That is a useful technique to develop. The melody is good for those who are still getting to grips with tab or notation and the arpeggio is great for the more proficient finger pickers. It would also be really nice to have a low G playing the arpeggio. As already stated the baritone part is optional and U-bass can join in using the chords as a guide. 

The piece also works played as a duet with one playing the melody the other playing the arpeggio, or even just the chords. I recorded a duo version with one of my students playing the melody and me playing a combination of parts 2 and 3. So, there are a few options for this piece. The most important thing is to have fun and enjoy the music! 

Here’s me and Josie:

 

If anyone records it let me know and I’ll add it to this page. 

Btw, Josie took the photos in the video and also grew the irises!

7 responses to “El Noi de la Mare for Ukulele Ensemble

  1. Hi Sam,

    Thanks for the post and putting me on your subscription list. I enjoyed listening to El Noi de la Mare and also seeing Josie’s beautiful photos of irises which enhanced the music.

    I have to admit I have done nothing about my idea to take up the uke although there don’t seem to be any teachers near where I live who teach classical ukulele anyway. Nevermind, some ideas have to percolate a while before I do something about them!

    In the meantime I will enjoy reading about the ukulele and seeing the photos.

    best regards,

    Lisa

    ________________________________

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Bravo Sam , that is a brilliant piece of work and I love the tune and very exciting for groups to do. My challenge to this would be to try and use my Boss RC 3 to record and put together all tracks. Problem there is mastering the Boss RC 3 and the time needed to do so. We do have uke groups here , but I believe, of the strummy strum strum type. I am going to forward your post to a group of friends where I lived before who may be interested. For me personally I like tab but with an indication of the note, ie quaver, crotchet etc. All the very Best for the new venture into ensemble. I do like Josies photos.

    Like

  3. I love this arrangement for the different parts. I plan do each part myself to record. I use GarageBand app to record multiple tracks. Then I share with my children so they can hear ‘ol mom’ having fun.
    I really appreciate your website. Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Vik, I’m thinking that Garage Band could be easier than the Boss. I do have it on my phone, my grandson was playing about with it some time ago on his device , and I thought then that it might be useful but haven’t looked at it properly yet. Will have a go. Thank You for the post.

      Like

  4. Super…there needs to be more compositions like this for ukulele ensembles. Please, please, keep up the good work.

    Like

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