Monday, December 26, 2011

December 26

Norman Rockwell, 1922.

Well, it's The Day After, people... and I don't know about you, but THIS Almighty Maker Of Christmas wants nothing more than to spend the day in bed.

Peace Out.

Welcome to our world...

The Nativity, by Frederico Barocci, 1597

Welcome to our World
written and performed by Chris Rice

Tears are falling, hearts are breaking,
How we need to hear from God.
You've been promised, we've been waiting,
Welcome Holy Child,
Welcome Holy Child.

Hope that you don't mind our manger,
How I wish we would have known.
But long-awaited Holy Stranger,
Make Yourself at home,
Please make Yourself at home.

Bring Your peace into our violence,
Bid our hungry souls be filled.
Word now breaking Heaven's silence,
Welcome to our world,
Welcome to our world.

Fragile finger sent to heal us,
Tender brow prepared for thorn.
Tiny heart whose blood will save us,
Unto us is born,
Unto us is born.

So wrap our injured flesh around You,
Breathe our air and walk our sod.
Rob our sin and make us holy,
Perfect Son of God,
Perfect Son of God.

Welcome to our world.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

December 25

If Ye Would Hear the Angels Sing
Poem by Dora Greenwell; music by Peter Tranchell,
and performed by The Choir of King's College, Cambridge

If ye would hear the angels sing
"Peace on earth and mercy mild,"
Think of him who was once a child,
On Christmas Day in the morning.

If ye would hear the angels sing,
Rise, and spread your Christmas fare;
'Tis merrier still the more that share,
On Christmas Day in the morning.

Rise and bake your Christmas bread:
Christians, rise! the world is bare,
And blank, and dark with want and care,
Yet Christmas comes in the morning.

If ye would hear the angels sing,
Rise, and light your Christmas fire:
And see that ye pile the logs still higher
On Christmas Day in the morning.

Rise, and light your Christmas fire;
Christians, rise! the world is old,
And Time is weary, and worn, and cold,
Yet Christmas comes in the morning.

If ye would hear the angels sing,
Christians! see ye let each door
Stand wider than it e'er stood before,
On Christmas Day in the morning.

Rise, and open wide the door;
Christians, rise! the world is wide,
And many there be that stand outside,
Yet Christmas comes in the morning.

Wishing you all a very happy Christmas!
May you all be surrounded by the people you love best.
xo CGF

For Christmas Eve

Lo, how a Rose e'er blooming
commissioned for, and performed live by
The Choir of King's College, Cambridge
at the 2009 Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols

DET är en ros utsprungen av Jesse rotoch stam.
Av fädren ren besjungen den står i tiden fram,
En blomma skär och blid,
Mitt i den kalla vinter i midnatts mörka tid.

Lo, how a Rose e’er blooming from tender stem hath sprung!
Of Jesse’s lineage coming, as men of old have sung.
It came a floweret bright amid the cold of winter,
When half spent was the night.

Swedish translation, THEKLA KNÖS
English translation, THEODORE BAKER
Arrangement, JAN SANDSTRÖM
Gerhmans Musikförlag

Friday, December 23, 2011

December 24

The Cradle in Bethlehem
performed by Sara Groves

Sing sweet and low your lullaby,
Till angels say Amen,
A mother tonight is rocking
A cradle in Bethlehem.

While wise men follow
Through the dark,
A star that beckons them,
A mother tonight is rocking
A cradle in Bethlehem.

"A little child will lead them,"
The prophets said of old,
In storm and tempest heed Him,
Until the bell is tolled.

Sing sweet and low your lullaby,
Till angels say Amen,
A mother tonight is rocking
A cradle in Bethlehem.

A mother tonight is rocking
A cradle in Bethlehem.

A mother tonight is rocking
Her baby in Bethlehem.

The composer of this lovely carol, Larry Stock, was born in 1896, the son of a cellist with the New York Symphony Orchestra. He began attending the Juilliard School when he was twelve years old, and studied piano. After graduating at the age of 16, he continued his studies at The City College of New York. Stock also studied piano with a then prominent teacher, Clarence Adler.

Larry Stock spent nearly a half century of writing and composing, and turned out literally scores of popular songs, including Blueberry Hill (a major hit recording for Fats Domino), Umbrella Man (which ultimately surpassed Blueberry Hill in sales, selling over 50 million records and more than a million pieces of sheet music), and the Dean Martin classic, "You're Nobody 'Til Somebody Loves You".

He composed the music for The Cradle in Bethlehem with lyricist Alfred Bryan (who was born in Brantford, Ontario, Canada). The song was first recorded on Nat King Cole's album, "The Magic of Christmas", which was released in 1960.

For the children, big and small...

From Raymond Briggs' bloomin' classic, "Father Christmas".

Because THIS is the kind of day it's been...

I give you, "The Very Best Christmas Comic EVER".

Thursday, December 22, 2011

December 23

Adoration of the baby, by Gerrit van Honthorst, 1620

The Holy Boy
music by John Ireland, poem by Herbert S. Brown
performed by The Cambridge Singers
and also by pianist Eric Parkin

Lowly, laid in a manger,
With oxen brooding nigh,
The Heav’nly Babe is lying
His Maiden Mother by.

Lo! the wayfaring sages,
Who journey’d far through the wild,
Now worship, silent, adoring,
The Boy, The Heav’nly Child –
The Heav’nly Child!

Leave your work and your play-time,
And kneel in homage and prayer.
The Prince of Love is smiling
Asleep in His cradle there!

Bend your heart to the wonder,
The Birth, the Mystery mild,
And worship, silent, adoring,
The Boy, The Heav’nly Child –
The Heav’nly Child!

Dim the light of the lantern,
And bare the mean abode,
Yet gold and myrrh and incense,
Proclaim the Son of God.

Lowly, laid in a manger,
By Virgin undefiled,
Come worship, silent, adoring,
The boy, The Heav’nly Child –
The Heav’nly Child!

John Ireland was born in 1879, to parents who were cultured and "literary". Indeed, they were friends with many influential writers of the day, including Ralph Waldo Emerson. Sadly, Ireland was orphaned at the age of 14, when both of his parents died within just a few months of one another. Luckily, he had found music by this point in his early life, and was able to continue his studies at the newly-established Royal College of Music in London. He concentrated on piano and organ, with a focus on composition, under the tutelage of Sir Charles Stanford, who taught many of the English composers who emerged at the end of the 19th century: Ralph Vaughan Williams, Gustav Holst, Herbert Howells, George Butterworth, and many others.

Ireland seems to have been extremely hard on himself during his early years of composition: he destroyed almost every work that he wrote during his youth, and very little remains of his "juvenilia". However, near the end of The Great War, he became an overnight sensation when his Violin Sonata No.2 in A minor was extremely well received by audiences and critics. From then until his death in 1962, he worked as a composer and teacher at the Royal College of Music, where his students included Benjamin Britten and E. J. Moeran. One of my great-uncles also had the privilege of Ireland's teaching, and remained a devotee of his music and influence for the rest of his long life. John Ireland also served as organist and choirmaster at St. Luke's Church, Chelsea, in London.

Ireland's work has often been described as "musical impressionism". He tended away from writing heavier works for full orchestras-- he never wrote a symphony-- and preferred writing chamber music, and works for voice and piano. He was very strongly influenced by British poetry, and set the writings of A. E. Housman, Thomas Hardy, Christina Rossetti, John Masefield and Rupert Brooke to music. He also dearly loved the English countryside, and eventually settled in a converted windmill in Sussex, where he died on 12th June 1962.

The Holy Boy is perhaps one of John Ireland's best-known works, and it has been arranged for voice, choir, piano, and string orchestra. I also have a great fondness for his hymn, My Song is Love Unknown, composed in 1918, for lyrics written in 1664 by Samuel Crossman.

My very favourite piece, however, is The Towing Path, which was the first of John Ireland's music that I ever heard played. I was about nine years old when my very elderly great-uncle (who had been Ireland's pupil at the Royal College of Music) came to Canada with my grandmother for a visit. He brought a suitcase-full of sheet music with him, as he had heard that my mother was a gifted pianist. He must have been impressed by my mother's skill and interest in music, as he gave her copies of many of the pieces that she had admired before he left.

Whenever I hear Ireland's music, I am reminded of my great-uncle: a tall, foreboding looking gentleman, who was, in fact, soft-spoken, and possessed the gentle soul of a gifted artist.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

December 22

Dormi, Jesu
(The Virgin's Cradle Hymn)
Words by S. T. Coleridge, arranged by John Rutter,
and performed by The Choir of King's College, Cambridge

Dormi, Jesu! Mater ridet
Quae tam dulcem somnum videt,
Dormi, Jesu! blandule!

Si non dormis, Mater plorat,
Inter fila cantans orat,
Blande, veni, somnule.

Sleep, sweet babe! my cares beguiling:
Mother sits beside thee smiling;
Sleep, my darling, tenderly!

If thou sleep not, mother mourneth,
Singing as her wheel she turneth:
Come, soft slumber, balmily!

This is the scene that was waiting to greet me on the hall table when I came down the stairs this morning. Our family's version of The Nativity gets weirder and weirder as the December days wear on... There have been little visits to the manger by our resident "Elf on the Shelf" doll, as well as an assortment of lego and playmobil figures. One day about two years ago, I found that one of the girlies had taken the toy piano out of their dollhouse, and set it up in front of the Holy Mother. When a friend arrived at the front door and got an eyeful of the scene, she asked, "Is Our Lady nearly finished practising her scales?"

Today, behind Mary and Joseph, we find Rocky the Dinosaur (who, I've been assured, is a strict vegetarian.) I love the way his tiny arms stretch out, as if to tap Joseph on the shoulder and ask, "When do I get to hold Him??!"

Then, there is the other outsider... Some people believe that there was a Little Drummer Boy who sought out the Christ Child. We would seem to have attracted a Little Cymbal Monkey, instead. Go figure. Neither option would have been remotely plausable, if you ask me (I've been a post-partum mother, too.) Having just given birth, in a BARN, no less, it would seem HIGHLY unlikely that a woman as sensible and as exhausted as Mary would let either of those two characters darken her doorstep. What that girl would have wanted was for her baby to go to sleep, so that she could get an hour or two of rest, herself.

So, with that in mind, I offer you one of my favourite Christmas "cradle hymns". (I hope it helps.)

The lyrics of Dormi Jesu were collected by the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, while he was visiting Germany in 1799, with his good friend William Wordsworth. His diary states that it was in either Womarshausen or Giebaldhausen, both Roman Catholic villages in the vicinity of Mainz, where he visited a small inn, and came across a small engraving (pictured left). The wood cut illustration was by Hieronymus Wierix, and was entitled "The Virgin Sewing While Angels Rock Her Son to Sleep". Beneath it was a Latin verse that captured Coleridge's imagination to such a degree that he copied it down in his notebook. He later translated the Latin, and wrote a poetic version in English, which became The Virgin's Cradle Hymn. The poem was published in 1817, in his collection, Sibylline Leaves.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

December 21

Who Comes This Night
lyrics by Sally Stevens, music by Dave Grusin,
and sung by one of my very favourite artists: the great James Taylor

Who comes this night, this wintry night,
As to the lowly manger?
The shepherds and the kings did come
To welcome in the stranger.

Who sends this song upon the air
To ease the soul that’s aching?
To still the cry of deep despair,
And heal the heart that’s breaking.

Brother Joseph bring the light!
Fast, the night is fading.
And who will come this wintry night,
To where the stranger’s waiting?

Who comes this night, with humble heart,
To give the fullest measure?
A gift of purest love to bring,
What good and worthy treasure.

Brother Joseph bring the lamb,
For they are asking for Him.
The children come this starry night,
To lay their hearts before Him.

For those who would the stranger greet
Must lay their hearts before Him,
And raise their song in voices sweet
To worship and adore Him.

Brother Joseph bring the light!
Fast, the night is fading.
And who will come this wintry night,
To where the stranger’s waiting?

Brother Joseph bring the lamb,
For they are asking for Him.
The children come this starry night
To lay their hearts before Him.

Pure of heart this starry night
To lay their hearts before Him.

Dave Grusin is a ground-breaking contemporary composer, who has been at the forefront of the music industry, and is most famous for his movie soundtracks. He was the composer for the legendary Oscar-winning film, The Graduate, which is noted for being one of the first films to integrate popular songs into a score. His other credits have included sountracks for two of my favourite films: On Golden Pond (1981), and Tootsie (1982).

James Taylor has been such a tremendously influential musician for so many years, he hardly requires an introduction. His work has spanned many generations, and what constantly amazes me when I attend his concerts is the wide range of ages in the audience-- indeed, I have seen older people bringing their grandchildren along-- and everyone has clearly memorized every word of all the songs.

My sister and I have followed James Taylor for years, and have tried our hardest to attend every concert he has performed in Toronto for the past two decades. I will never forget a night at the Molson Amphitheatre at Ontario Place: an outdoor stadium, with limited protection from the elements. The rain and wind that night were of Biblical proportions, and yet Mr. Taylor played and sang for well over two hours, as the jumbotron screen swayed dangerously in the not-so-gentle breeze behind him. He made a few cracks about the distinct possibility of being electrocuted, but not once did he complain: his music and his audience were the most important things to him. We sat squelchily in our seats as the torrents poured down on us, and loved every minute of it.

Later that night, I discovered that I had brought home an unusual memento of the show. I had been wearing a new, inexpensive purple rain coat for the event, and I guess my exposure to the elements was so extreme that night, the dye released from the fabric and coloured the back of my neck and my arms an alarming shade of grape for about two and a half weeks.

It was worth it.

Mr. Taylor has an incredible website, which I highly recommend. On this site, he is now including a series of short guitar lessons, which give explanations of some of the techniques that he has used in his compositions over the years.

He is also a very active and generous philanthropist. One cause that he supports that I find particularly appealing raises funds to renovate and preserve historical community theatres and music houses around the United States. He plays concerts in these venues, and then donates money for their preservation and upkeep.

"I don't know much about God. But if everything does originate with God, then certainly songs do as well... I believe one hundred percent in the power and importance of music."

--James Taylor

Monday, December 19, 2011

December 20

Pre-Raphaelite Stained Glass Window, by Edward Burne-Jones

In The Bleak Midwinter
from a poem by Christina Rossetti,
musical arrangement by Robert Chilcott,

and performed by The Empire Brass and the Master Chorale of Tampa Bay

In the bleak midwinter
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen,
Snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter,
Long ago.

Our God, heaven cannot hold him,
Nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away
When he comes to reign;
In the bleak midwinter
A stable place sufficed
The Lord God incarnate,
Jesus Christ.

Enough for him, whom Cherubim
Worship night and day
A breast full of milk
And a manger full of hay.
Enough for him, whom angels
Fall down before,
The ox and ass and camel
which adore.

Angels and archangels
May have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim
Thronged the air;
But his mother only,
In her maiden bliss,
Worshipped the Beloved
With a kiss.

What can I give him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb,
If I were a wise man
I would do my part,
Yet what I can I give Him —
Give my heart.

Many years ago when I was a teenager, I made a trip to visit family in London, England. While I was there, I was determined to find the grave marker of one of my favourite poets, Christina Rossetti, who is buried in Highgate, a spectacularly beautiful Victorian cemetery just a short walk from my uncle's house. We arranged for a guided tour (the only way in which visitors may enter the property), but sadly, when I made my special request, I was told that the Rossetti plot was "off limits", at the request of the descendents. The kind tour guide did, however, take me to the end of a row of headstones, and while we stood together on the pathway, he pointed to the area in which the Rossetti family lies, while I peered furiously into the distance.

Christina was the daughter of Gabriele Rossetti, and grew up in an artistic and politically aware household. One of her brothers was Dante Gabriel Rossetti, who was a painter and a poet. The other was William Michael Rossetti; a leading art critic and editor. It was William who edited her complete works in 1904, 10 years after her death.

At one stage she was engaged to painter James Collinson, who was a member of the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood, but the engagement was broken off in 1850. Although Christina methodically destroyed all of her correspondence during her lifetime, several "secret" poems were found after her death which suggested that she was, in fact, deeply in love with James Collinson, after all. It is thought that mental and physical health problems may have been the main reason why she did not feel able to follow through with the marriage.

Christina suffered with poor health for much of her life, and as a result, she rarely went out or received visitors. She lived, for much of the time, with her mother. A great deal of her poetry is characterised by an overwhelming sense of melancholy. It is very true that Christina struggled with depression, perhaps exacerbated by a thyroid problem. She was also a deeply pious Anglican woman, and worked tirelessly for causes that would help others.

The poems from her canon of work that I feel are most remarkable include "Goblin Market" (a cautionary tale, which is richly descriptive and paints the most incredible mental images for the reader), published in 1862, and the thoroughly entrancing "Sing-Song, A Nursery Rhyme Book", published in 1872. Notably, her short poem, "Who has seen the wind?" inspired the title of the quintessential Canadian novel, written by W. O. Mitchell, and published in 1947.

Another significant fact about Christina Rossetti is that she was a breast cancer survivor, and underwent radical surgery to prevent the disease's spread in 1892. This prolonged her life until 1894: no small feat for the medical treatment of the time.

The poem, "In The Bleak Midwinter" was written for a Christmas edition of Scribner's Magazine, in 1872. It was set to music by the great composer, Gustav Holst, in 1906. This is the familiar tune that most of us associate with the poem today.

Over the past several years, I have become an ardent fan of Robert (Bob) Chilcott, a former choir boy and choral scholar at King's College, Cambridge, and a twelve-year member of The King's Singers. Mr. Chilcott is a hugely talented and prolific composer, and has written new arrangements many traditional Christmas carols, including "O Little Town of Bethlehem", and "Remember Thou, O Man" (which was featured on this blog for two years in a row, because I love it so much).

Sunday, December 18, 2011

December 19

Bist du bei mir
from the Notebook of Anna Magdalena Bach, BWV 508
and performed by Dame Janet Baker

Bist du bei mir, geh’ ich mit Freuden
zum Sterben und zu meiner Ruh’.
Ach, wie vergnügt wär’ so mein Ende,
es drückten deine lieben [schönen] Hände
mir die getreuen Augen zu!

Be thou with me, and I’ll gladly go
To death and to my repose.
Ah, how my end would bring contentment,
If, pressing with thy hands so lovely,
Thou wouldst my faithful eyes then close.

Nineteen years ago today-- on the 19th day of December-- this piece was sung at my wedding in Stratford, Ontario. It is a beautiful, sweet little aria (or "lied", as it would have been termed in German) that has become immensely popular for marriage ceremonies of all sorts. Although the lyrics would seem to have a distinctly secular feeling, I loved it because I could easily find within the words a meaning that reflected my own personal religious faith, as well. Because my husband-to-be leaned towards agnosticism, the piece was a perfect choice for us both.

Although the music for this aria is attributed to J. S. Bach, there are many scholars who believe that credit for the tune should be given to another composer, one Gottfried Heinrich Stölzel (1690-1749). Although Stölzel was one of the most well-respected composers of the time, most of his work has since been lost. Bach, himself, was very familiar with Stölzel's work, and often hand-copied Stölzel's pieces into his students' exercise books, so that they could be used for practise. Copies of Stölzel's Partia in G Minor from his Clavierbüchlein have been found in the exercise book belonging to J. S. Bach's son, Wilhelm Freidemann, as well as one Bach created for his second wife, Anna Magdalena. Transcribing music, or copying it, was also a popular teaching strategy. Not only did the work help students to reinforce their developing skills in musical theory, it also encouraged them to study great works in minute detail.

Thus, collecting and/or copying music without a proper citation was extremely common in the Baroque era. It may have been done innocently and inadvertently, it may have been due to general carelessness, or it may have been stolen outright.

Anna Magdalena was a trained singer and the daughter of a musician. She often copied music: she became her husband’s musical amanuensis, as her handwriting quite closely resembled his. They created Anna Magdalena's famed "notebooks" together, and this method of transcription may well be the reason why J. S. Bach's name became automatically linked to the piece, "Bist du bei mir". Apparently, the melody was "lifted" from a part of Gottfried Heinrich Stölzel's opera, Diomedes, oder die triumphierende Unschuld, which was performed in Bayreuth on November 16, 1718. The author of the lyrics is unknown. This piece may have been transcribed and set by Johann Sebastian as a solo aria appropriate for his wife’s voice, and she may also have had to do some of the copying. No one will ever know how the actual transmission occurred.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

December 18

Donkey Carol
by John Rutter, and performed by
The Choir of Clare College, Cambridge

Donkey riding over the bumpy road,
Carry Mary, all with her heavy load;
Follow Joseph, leading you on you way
Until you find a stable, somewhere to rest and stay.

Donkey watching over the Jesus child,
See the baby, all with his mother mild;
Hear the angels singing their song on high:
‘Nowell, nowell, nowell’, their caroling fills the sky.

Donkey resting all in a manger stall,
With the oxen worship the Lord of all.
Hush, he lies asleep on his bed of hay
While Mary sings so sweetly ‘Lulla, lullalay.’

Donkey waking all at the break of day,
See, a new light shining with brightest ray.
Long the weary journey you soon must start,
But you will travel gladly; God will make brave your heart.

Donkey skip for joy as you go your way;
Alleluia, Jesus is born today.
Hark, the bells ring out with their message clear:
Rejoice and sing that Christ our Saviour divine is here.

I've had a lovely day with my parents here in Stratford, and the little girlies and I mooched all around the downtown, in order to finish the last of the Christmas shopping.

Our absolute favourite store is the wonderful Fundamentals Books and Toys... No matter what I am researching or teaching at any given time, I can always be sure that if there is a good children's book available out there somewhere, the friendly staff will not only know exactly what I am asking about, but more often than not, they will be able to produce a copy for me.

Today, as we walked through the door, we were confronted with an enormous holiday book display. Front-and-centre was a new children's Nativity book that I have never seen before. "Through the Animals' Eyes" is a beautiful rendition of the Christmas story, accompanied by the most exquisite wood-engraved illustrations.

Author and artist Christopher Wormell began his early career when he learned lino-cutting from his father. The Wormell family created their own series of Christmas cards each year. Eventually, their work became so popular, it turned into a "cottage industry", in which Christopher, his brothers and sisters produced hand-made cards by the hundreds.

When his first child was born, Christopher Wormell created and published two alphabet books for his son, Jack, which earned rave reviews and several prestigious awards for illustration. His other books for children include "Teeth, Tails & Tentacles", "Mice, Morals & Monkey Business", the "Blue Rabbit" series, "Animal Train", "George and the Dragon", and "Swan Song", which is a collection of poems by J. Patrick Lewis about extinct animals.

What I like best about "Through The Animals' Eyes" is that Mr. Wormell does not stop at simply re-telling the Christmas story, and showing it from the animals' unique point-of-view. At the end of the book, he lists the animals who have been featured in his illustrations, and gives a short description of each one. As well as the camel, the sheep, the cow, and the donkey that we would normally associate with the story of Jesus' birth, he also features symbolic animals such as the dove, the honeybee, the lion, and the griffon vulture, carefully explaining the significance of each, and his reasons for including them in this work.

Of the Asiatic Donkey, he writes:

A small, surefooted animal preferred by Hebrews over packing animals. When families traveled over rocky, uneven trails of the Holy Land, women and children would ride these animals as the men guided them along.

Friday, December 16, 2011

December 17

Toccata from Symphony No. 5
by Charles Widor, and performed by organist Peter Hurford

For my parents, who have been "manacled together" for 45 years today.

Just a little over half a decade ago, I broached the subject of another significant anniversary celebration with my mum and dad. When I call home, they often pick up separate phones, mostly because they love me, but also so that they can both join in the conversation, and needle one another:

Me: So... the big 4-0 is coming up fast, eh?

My Mother: Yes... BASIL. Our FORTIETH WEDDING ANNIVERSARY is coming up! What are we going to do about it?

My Father: (dryly) Get a divorce.

This conversation became the catalyst for a mammoth heist on the part of my brother, sister and me, which turned into a surprise party of epic proportions. I say "epic", not because of the size, lavishness or expense of the celebration, but because of the simple fact that my siblings and I successfully managed to "pull the wool over the eyes" of the two people in our lives with whom we have NEVER gotten away with ANYTHING.

Dear Mum and Dad:

It goes without saying that my admiration and immense gratitude for you both knows no bounds... so I will spare you any nauseating, mushy tributes here, and will treat you to dinner, instead-- so long as you both promise to share one entree, and lay off the booze. (Kidding! Kidding...)

--Your Loving Daughter

Thursday, December 15, 2011

December 16

Bethlehem Down
performed by the Choir of Guildford Cathedral

"When He is King we will give Him a King's gifts,
Myrrh for its sweetness, and gold for a crown,
Beautiful robes", said the young girl to Joseph,
Fair with her first-born on Bethlehem Down.

Bethlehem Down is full of the starlight,
Winds for the spices, and stars for the gold,
Mary for sleep, and for lullaby music,
Songs of a shepherd by Bethlehem fold.

When He is King they will clothe Him in grave-sheets,
Myrrh for embalming, and wood for a crown,
He that lies now in the white arms of Mary,
Sleeping so lightly on Bethlehem Down

Here He has peace and a short while for dreaming,
Close-huddled oxen to keep him from cold,
Mary for love, and for lullaby music,
Songs of a shepherd by Bethlehem Down.

This is another haunting, gorgeous carol by Philip Arnold Heseltine, who was best known as the Anglo-Welsh composer, Peter Warlock (1894–1930). For his text, he used a poem written by journalist and poet Bruce Blunt (1899–1957).

I find the story behind this, one of my favourite carols of the season, to be almost impossible to believe-- it comes close to spoiling my enjoyment!! I have learned that Warlock wrote it to finance an "immortal carouse" (a heavy bout of drinking) on Christmas Eve, 1927, for himself and Blunt, who were experiencing financial difficulty. The pair submitted the carol to the Daily Telegraph's annual Christmas carol contest... and won. Necessity being the mother of invention, it must have been a very happy Christmas, after all.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

December 15

The Huron Carol
performed by Chanticleer

'Twas in the moon of wintertime
when all the birds had fled
That mighty Gitchi Manitou
sent angel choirs instead;
Before their light the stars grew dim
and wondering hunters heard the hymn:
"Jesus your King is born, Jesus is born:
In excelsis gloria!"

Within a lodge of broken bark
the tender babe was found;
A ragged robe of rabbit skin
enwrapped his beauty round
But as the hunter braves drew nigh
the angel song rang loud and high:
"Jesus your King is born, Jesus is born:
In excelsis gloria!"

The earliest moon of wintertime
is not so round and fair
As was the ring of glory on
the helpless infant there.
The chiefs from far before him knelt
with gifts of fox and beaver pelt:
"Jesus your King is born, Jesus is born:
In excelsis gloria!"

O children of the forest free,
O seed of Manitou
The holy Child of earth and heaven
is born today for you.
Come kneel before the radiant boy
who brings you beauty peace and joy:
"Jesus your King is born, Jesus is born:
In excelsis gloria!"

Yesterday, I received a lovely email from a reader in Australia, who has been following this blog for several years. She asked if I could please play "The Canadian Carol", as she has enjoyed its inclusion in the Musical Advent Calendar in years past. Although I don't usually take requests, this one was impossible to turn down, as I have a deep love of this carol, myself, living just a short distance from the area where it was composed and first sung.

The words of this Christmas hymn were written in 1643, by Jean de Brébeuf, who was a Jesuit missionary at Sainte-Marie among the Hurons, near Midland, Ontario, Canada. Brébeuf wanted to tell the Christmas story in a way the Hurons could understand, so he composed this Christmas carol, using the native language of the Huron/Wendat people. The song's original Huron title is "Jesous Ahatonhia" ("Jesus, he is born"). The melody is a traditional French folk song, "Une Jeune Pucelle" ("A Young Maid"). The essential message - of the miracle and promise of new life and new hope in the midst of dark and bitter winter - was very "acceptable" to the Huron people, and is one we can all share today.

Even after Jean de Brebeuf's death in 1649 at the hands of the rival Iroquois, the destruction of the Sainte-Marie settlement, and the dispersal of the remaining Huron people, the survivors of the brutal attack still celebrated the nativity each winter and kept the carol alive through the oral tradition. Almost 100 years later, another Jesuit priest heard the carol and wrote it down. It was translated into French under the title "Jesus est ne." In 1926, poet J.E. Middleton wrote an English interpretation that is widely known today.

I highly recommend the spectacular book, "The Huron Carol", which is beautifully illustrated by Frances Tyrrell. It includes the music for The Huron Carol, the only surviving verse in the old Huron language, and two verses from the eighteenth century French translation.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

December 14

Bogoróditse dyévo (O Mother of God)
a Russian carol, by Arvo Pärt
performed by the choral ensemble, Chantage

Bogoróditse dyévo, raduisya,
Blagodatnaya Mariye
Gospod s Toboyu.
Blagoslovenna Ty v zhenakh,
I blagosloven plod chreva Tvoyevo,
Yako Spasa rodila yesi dush nashikh.

Rejoice, O mother of God.
Virgin Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee;
blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb,
for thou hast borne the Saviour of our souls.

Arvo Pärt's Bogoróditse Djévo takes as its text a part of the Russian Orthodox liturgy. It was composed as a commission for King's College, Cambridge's Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols in 1992, and reflects the composer's own religious heritage.

This piece is an example of Pärt's signature tintinnabuli technique, which combines melodic voices moving between tonic chord tones, giving the effect of continuous tonic resonance. Pärt has compared this technique to "...the dichotomy of the spirit and the flesh, or of the heavenly and the earthly."

As you listen to the work, you can hear this concept emerge in the texture of the music, as well. The carol begins as a religious chant which is sung as a sustained chord, softly punctuated by the sounds of the words of the text. Then, the solemnity changes to a celebration, as the chords become more harmonious and "active", with jubilant melodic lines. By alternating back and forth between these two musical styles, the composer achieves contrasting expressions, both of which effectively express "divine joy".

A bonus...

A dear friend of mine sent me this video this morning, and I love it... I give you:
The Hallelujah Chorus, Northern-style!

Hallelujah Chorus -Kuinerrarmiut Elitnaurviat 5th Grade - Quinhagak, Alaska

(And, for the record... The teacher has promised that his students' first lesson of the New Year will address the correct use of the apostrophe!! He sounds like my kind of guy.)

Monday, December 12, 2011

December 13

A Tender Shoot
performed by The Choir of King's College, Cambridge

A tender shoot has started up from a root of grace,
as ancient seers imparted from Jesse's holy race:
It blooms without a blight, blooms in the cold mid-winter,
turning our darkness into light.

This shoot Isaiah taught us, from Jesse's root should spring;
The Virgin Mary brought us the branch of which we sing;
Our God of endless might gave her this child to save us,
Thus turning darkness into light.

The lyrics of this carol describe Christ as the ‘tender shoot’ that sprang from the root of Jesse, as written in the book of Isaiah, Chapter 11. These verses are a prophecy that are an important part of many celebrations of Lessons and Carols (including those at King's College Chapel, in Cambridge, England on Christmas Eve):

And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots:

And the spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD;

And shall make him of quick understanding in the fear of the LORD: and he shall not judge after the sight of his eyes, neither reprove after the hearing of his ears:

But with righteousness shall he judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth: and he shall smite the earth: with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked.

And righteousness shall be the girdle of his loins, and faithfulness the girdle of his reins.

The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them.

And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together: and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.

And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice' den.

They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.

(Isaiah 11:1-9)

Isaiah again returns to this imagery in Chapter 53, verse 2:

For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him.

The carol, A Tender Shoot was written by the German pianist, conductor and composer Otto Goldschmidt (1829–1907). He settled in England in 1858 with his wife, the famous Swedish soprano Jenny Lind, who was nicknamed ‘The Swedish Nightingale’. The original German lyrics were translated into English by William Bartholomew (1793-1867). Interestingly, the carol was first made famous by its regular inclusion at the Advent Carol Services at St John's College, Cambridge under the direction of the late Dr. George Guest. One of the choir's most popular recordings of A Tender Shoot was made in the early 1960s.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

December 12

We Wish You a Merry Christmas
performed by The Muppets

"Piggy pudding??!"

"No, FIGGY pudding... it's made with figs."

"Oh! Sorry!"

"And bacon."


Saturday, December 10, 2011

December 11

It Came Upon The Midnight Clear
performed by Sara Groves

It came upon the midnight clear,
That glorious song of old,
From angels bending near the earth,
To touch their harps of gold;
“Peace on the earth, good will to men,
From Heaven’s all gracious King.”
The world in solemn stillness lay,
To hear the angels sing.

Still through the cloven skies they come
With peaceful wings unfurled,
And still their heavenly music floats
O’er all the weary world;
Above its sad and lowly plains,
They bend on hovering wing,
And ever over its Babel sounds
The blessèd angels sing.

Yet with the woes of sin and strife
The world has suffered long;
Beneath the angel strain have rolled
Two thousand years of wrong;
And man, at war with man, hears not
The love-song which they bring;
O hush the noise, ye men of strife
And hear the angels sing.

And ye, beneath life’s crushing load,
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow,
Look now! for glad and golden hours
Come swiftly on the wing.
O rest beside the weary road,
And hear the angels sing!

For lo! the days are hastening on,
By prophet-bards foretold,
When with the ever circling years
Comes round the age of gold;
When peace shall over all the earth
Its ancient splendors fling,
And the whole world send back the song
Which now the angels sing.

The words for this carol were written by American poet Ed­mund H. Sears, and first published in the Christ­ian Re­gis­ter in 1849. Sears is said to have writ­ten these words at the re­quest of his friend, W. P. Lunt, a min­is­ter in Quin­cy, Mass­a­chu­setts. It was first sung at the 1849 Sun­day School Christ­mas cel­e­bra­tion. There are several musical settings for the tune, one of the most popular (although rather "stodgy"-sounding, in my opinion) was adapted from a traditional English tune by Sir Arthur Sullivan, who, although most famous as the musical-half of the composer/librettist team, Gilbert and Sullivan, was a brilliant and prolific composer in his own right. The other, and perhaps more familiar tune (to North American ears, I suspect) was written in 1850 by Richard S. Willis.

I'm usually extremely skeptical when popular music artists attempt to re-create "old standards" at Christmastime. Indeed, most most of the music I have been forced to endure as I've made my way through crowded shopping malls this year has made me want to cover my ears and sprint, screaming, for the parking lot. (Yes, Justin Bieber, I am talking about YOU. And, sadly, many others.) However, this rendition of the carol performed by Sara Groves proved to be a pleasant surprise, perhaps because I have never felt particularly attached to the original tunes. Seeing as this piece has American origins, I think that the "gospel"-style of singing the angel chorus near the end to be unique, and somehow... appropriate.

Friday, December 9, 2011

December 10

Madonna and Child in Glory with Cherubs
by Giovanni Battista Salvi da Sassoferrato

What Child is This?
performed by The Choir of St John's Church,
Elora, Ontario, Canada.

What Child is this who, laid to rest
On Mary's lap is sleeping?
Whom Angels greet with anthems sweet,
While shepherds watch are keeping?

This, this is Christ the King,
Whom shepherds guard and Angels sing;
Haste, haste, to bring Him laud,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.

Why lies He in such mean estate,
Where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christians, fear, for sinners here
The silent Word is pleading.

Nails, spear shall pierce Him through,
The cross be borne for me, for you.
Hail, hail the Word made flesh,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.

So bring Him incense, gold and myrrh,
Come peasant, king to own Him;
The King of kings salvation brings,
Let loving hearts enthrone Him.

Raise, raise a song on high,
The virgin sings her lullaby.
Joy, joy for Christ is born,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.

"What Child Is This" was written by English poet and lay theologian William Chatterton Dix as a poem entitled "The Manger Throne". It was first used as a hymn text in Sir John Stainer's Christmas Carols New and Old, 1871. Its well-known tune, "Greensleeves", is a traditional English ballad with an interesting history. The earliest known publication of this tune is in two books of 1580. One is by Richard Jones, entitled "A new Northerne Dittye of the Lady Greene Sleeves", and the other is by Edward White: "A ballad, being the Ladie Greene Sleeves Answere to Donkyn his frende".

William Shakespeare mentions it twice in "The Merry Wives of Windsor":

I would have sworn his disposition would have gone to the truth of his words; but they do no more adhere and keep place together than the Hundredth Psalm to the tune of 'Green Sleeves.'

(Act II, Scene one)

Let the sky rain potatoes; let it thunder to the tune of 'Green Sleeves.'

(Act V, Scene five)

Another one of its early appearances as a hymn tune was as the setting for “Carol for New Year’s Day, to the tune of Green Sleeves". "The old year now is fled" is from a black-letter collection printed in 1642, and can be found in the Ashmoleon Library in Oxford.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

December 9

Nativity at Night by Geertgen, 1484-90

Veni, Veni Emmanuel
(O Come, O Come Emmanuel)
performed by The King's Singers

Veni, veni Emmanuel,
Captivum solve Israel,
Qui gemit in exilio
Privatus Dei Filio.
Gaude, gaude! Emmanuel
nascetur pro te, Israel.

Veni, o Jesse Virgula;
Ex hostis tuos ungula,
De specu tuos tartari
Deduc et antro barathri.
Gaude, gaude! Emmanuel
nascetur pro te, Israel.

Veni, veni, o Oriens
Solare nos adveniens;
Noctis depele nebulas
Dirasque noctis tenebras.
Gaude, gaude! Emmanuel
nascetur pro te, Israel.

Veni clavis Davidica;
Regna reclude caelica;
Fac iter tutum superum,
Et claude vias inferum.
Gaude, gaude! Emmanuel
nascetur pro te, Israel.

Veni, veni Adonai,
Qui populo in Sinai
Legem dedisti vertice,
In majestate gloriae.
Gaude, gaude! Emmanuel
nascetur pro te, Israel.

O come, O come Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here,
Until the Son of God appear.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel!

Oh, come, oh, come, great Lord of might,
Who to Thy tribes on Sinai's height
In Ancient times once gave the law
In cloud, and majesty and awe.

Oh, come, strong branch of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satans tyranny;
From depths of hell Thy people save
And give them vict'ry o'er the grave.

Oh, come, Thou Key of David, come
And open wide our heavenly home:
Make safe the way that leads on high
And close the path to misery.

O Come Thou Dayspring, from on high
And cheer us by Thy drawing nigh;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death's dark shadows put to flight.

O come, Thou Wisdom from on high,
And order all things, far and nigh;
To us the path of knowledge show,
And cause us in her ways to go.

O come desire of nations, bind
All peoples in one heart and mind;
Bid envy, strife, and quarrels cease;
Fill the whole world with heaven's peace.

This is a carol with most ancient origins, and is the last of the seven great "O Antiphons" that are sung for Advent, beginning one week before Christmas. These antiphons—short devotional texts chanted before and after a psalm or canticle—are sung before and after the Magnificat, the Song of Mary, at Vespers.

The text for this, the last antiphon for Christmas Eve, is based upon the Biblical prophecy from Isaiah 7:14

Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.

Hebrew עִמָּנוּאֵל "God [is] with us" consists of two Hebrew words: אֵל (’El, meaning 'God') and עִמָּנוּ (ʻImmānū, meaning 'with us').

Matthew 1:23 states fulfillment of this prophecy in the birth of Jesus of Nazareth:

Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.

The Twelfth Century Latin verses were translated by the Nineteenth Century English carol writer John M. Neale, who also wrote "Good King Wenceslas." The tune that we recognize today was adapted from a number of Twelfth Century plainsongs which were chanted according to the natural rhythms of the words. Some believe that the music originates from a processional sung by Franciscan nuns in the Fifteenth Century, but it may well have Eighth Century Gregorian origins.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

December 8

Yorkshire moor in winter

Sweet Bells
a lovely folk version of "While Shepherds Watched"
performed by
"The Barnsley Nightengale" a.k.a. Kate Rusby

I do love this charming version of the more formal (and, if I may say so, more than slightly whine-y sounding) "While Shepherds Watched". I have never been very fond of the traditional carol, and confess to stooping to the more juvenile lyrics, "While shepherds washed their socks by night, all seated on the ground..." Being a knitter with a weakness for all things woolly, of COURSE I imagine those shepherds cleaning their beloved hand-knits with extra care (using nothing but eucalan, of course!)

However, ever since hearing Yorkshire lass Kate Rusby's beautiful Christmas album for the first time last year, I have been resolved that if I ever have a primary class of my own, THIS TUNE shall be the one I choose to have my students perform at the holiday musical-- with bells on! "While Shepherds Watched" turns up in many forms in the South Yorkshire carol tradition, sung to a wide selection of tunes; including Cranbrook (better known nowadays as Ilkley Moor Baht'at).

The lyrics of the carol "While Shepherds Watched" were written by Nahum Tate and Nicholas Brady, and were some of the earliest "poetic paraphrasing" of the traditionally-sung Psalms of David. The tune most usually chosen was "Winchester Old", from Este's Psalter of 1592. Tate and Brady's words appeared in 1696, and were "allowed" by the King in Council, in place of the Old Version of the hymnal of 1556.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

December 7

The Sons of Knute Christmas Dance and Dinner
Written and performed by the incomparable
Garrison Keillor

Garrison Keillor says of Christmas:

“A lovely thing about Christmas is that it's compulsory,
like a thunderstorm, and we all go through it together.”

At no time does this feel more true to me than when I'm fighting my way through crowded malls, shopping bags in tow... and then suddenly look up and lock eyes with another mother. Perhaps she is staggering around with her own packages. More often than not, she is pushing a stroller containing an overtired,overstimulated toddler. Like me, she is "under-the-gun" of The Holidays, and all of the accompanying pressures and deadlines. It's a sort of anonymous solidarity we share, as we smile in recognition and relief at one another, for that one blessed moment. We are just two mums together, making Christmas for our families. Sure, it's hard. If we've done it right, we're completely exhausted by the night the Big Fat Man In Red arrives (and takes ALL the credit, thank-you-very-much. Isn't that just like a man...)

It's the same solidarity I share with my sister on Christmas Eve, as we race for that finish line, wrapping presents with such desperate speed and ferocity that we usually wind up with scotch tape in our hair, collapsed on the floor, giggling like idiots until tears run down our cheeks and trickle into our ears...

It's Motherhood. It's all about giving everything we've got, and then some.

And amazingly, it's worth it.

“Thank you, dear God, for this good life
and forgive us if we do not love it enough.”

--Garrison Keillor, from his book, "Leaving Home"

Monday, December 5, 2011

December 6

The Nativity with Adoration of the Shepherds
by Georgio Vasari, 1546

Tyrley, Tyrlow
Arranged by Peter Warlock
Performed by The Allegri Singers

About the field they pipèd right,
So merrily the shepherds began to blow.
A-down from heaven that is so high.
Tyrley, tyrlow, tyrley, tyrlow, tyrley, tyrlow.

Of angels there came a company
With merry songs and melody,
The shepherds anon gan them aspy.
Tyrley, tyrlow …

The shepherds hied them to Bedlem
To see that blessed sun his beam.
And there they found that glorious leme.
Tyrley, tyrlow …

Now pray we to that meke child,
And to his mother that is so mild,
The which was never defiled.
Tyrley, tyrlow …

That we may come unto his bliss
Where joy shall never miss.
Then may we sing in Paradise.
Tyrley, tyrlow …

I pray you all that be here
For to sing and make good cheer
In the worship of God this year.
Tyrley, tyrlow …

Peter Warlock was a pseudonym of Philip Arnold Heseltine (30 October 1894 – 17 December 1930), an Anglo-Welsh composer and music critic. He used the pseudonym (and several others) when composing, and is now probably best known by this name. As Peter Warlock, he wrote arrangments for many lovely carols, including Adam Lay Ybounden and Bethlehem Down. The music for Tyrley, Tyrlow was written in 1922.

Warlock was greatly influenced by Renaissance poetry, and the lyrics to this carol date back to the middle of the fifteenth century.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

December 5

Christ Child Asleep by Bernardino Luini

composed by the brilliant Eric Whitacre
lyrics written by Charles Anthony Silvestri
and performed by Polyphony

The evening hangs beneath the moon
A silver thread on darkened dune
With closing eyes and resting head
I know that sleep is coming soon

Upon my pillow, safe in bed
A thousand pictures fill my head
I cannot sleep my minds a flight
And yet my limbs seem made of lead

If there are noises in the night
A frighting shadow, flickering light
Then I surrender unto sleep
Where clouds of dreams give second sight
What dreams may come both dark and deep
Of flying wings and soaring leap

As I surrender unto sleep
As I surrender unto sleep

This piece, although not strictly a "Christmas Carol", is one that I am particularly drawn to this year, for the holiday season. The words put me in mind of a child on Christmas Eve, filled with excitement and trying desperately to stay awake for Santa Claus... but ultimately surrendering to slumber. Whitacre's ability to create a "sound-scape" never ceases to amaze me, and if you listen carefully, you can envision the child's breathing changing to a shallow, rhythmic pace by the end of the piece.

Last year, it was Eric Whitacre's "Lux Arumque" that captivated me at a magnificent carol service at St. John's Church in Elora, Ontario. I have, since then, been completely fascinated by this brilliant young composer's work, both in live performance, and with his "virtual choir" performances, which are readily available on the internet via Youtube, as well as on Mr. Whitacre's own website.

"Sleep" has a most unusual-- and nearly tragic-- story behind it. Thank heavens the piece was rescued by poet Charles Anthony Silvestri. In Mr. Whitacre's own words:

In the winter of 1999 I was contacted by Ms. Julia Armstrong, a lawyer and professional mezzo-soprano living in Austin, Texas. She wanted to commission a choral work from me that would be premiered by the Austin ProChorus (Kinley Lange, cond.), a terrific chorus in which she regularly performed.

The circumstances around the commission were certainly memorable. She wanted to commission the piece in memory of her parents, who had died within weeks of each other after more fifty years of marriage; and she wanted me to set her favorite poem, Robert Frost’s immortal Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening. I was deeply moved by her spirit and her request, and agreed to take on the commission.

I took my time with the piece, crafting it note by note until I felt that it was exactly the way I wanted it. The poem is perfect, truly a gem, and my general approach was to try to get out of the way of the words and let them work their magic. We premiered the piece in Austin, October 2000, and the piece was well received. Rene Clausen gave it a glorious performance at the ACDA National Convention in the spring of 2001, and soon after I began receiving letters, emails, and phone calls from conductors trying to get a hold of the work.

And here was my tragic mistake: I never secured permission to use the poem. Robert Frost’s poetry has been under tight control from his estate since his death, and until a few years ago only Randall Thompson (Frostiana) had been given permission to set his poetry. In 1997, out of the blue, the estate released a number of titles, and at least twenty composers set and published Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening for chorus. When I looked online and saw all of these new and different settings, I naturally (and naively) assumed that it was open to anyone. Little did I know that the Robert Frost Estate had shut down ANY use of the poem just months before, ostensibly because of this plethora of new settings.

After a LONG legal battle (many letters, many representatives), the estate of Robert Frost and their publisher, Henry Holt Inc., sternly and formally forbid me from using the poem for publication or performance until the poem became public domain in 2038.

I was crushed. The piece was dead, and would sit under my bed for the next 37 years because of some ridiculous ruling by heirs and lawyers. After many discussions with my wife, I decided that I would ask my friend and brilliant poet Charles Anthony Silvestri (Leonardo Dreams of His Flying Machine, Lux Aurumque, Nox Aurumque, Her Sacred Spirit Soars) to set new words to the music I had already written. This was an enormous task, because I was asking him to not only write a poem that had the exact structure of the Frost, but that would even incorporate key words from “Stopping”, like ‘sleep’. Tony wrote an absolutely exquisite poem, finding a completely different (but equally beautiful) message in the music I had already written. I actually prefer Tony’s poem now…

And there it is. My setting of Robert Frost’s Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening no longer exists. And I won’t use that poem ever again, not even when it becomes public domain in 2038.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

December 4

"How far is it to Bethlehem?"
performed by The Choir of King's College, Cambridge

How far is it to Bethlehem?
Not very far.
Shall we find the stable room
Lit by a star?
Can we see the little child,
Is he within?
If we lift the wooden latch
May we go in?

May we stroke the creatures there,
Ox, ass or sheep?
May we peep like them and see
Jesus asleep?
If we touch his tiny hand
Will he awake?
Will he know we've come so far
Just for his sake?

Great kings have precious gifts,
And we have naught,
Little smiles and little tears
Are all we brought,
For all weary children
Mary must weep.
Here, on his bed of straw
Sleep, children, sleep.

God in his mother's arms,
Babes in the byre,
Sleep, as they sleep who find
Their heart's desire.

This beautiful poem is by Frances Chesterton, who was the wife of the famous author, G. K. Chesterton. Mrs. Chesterton was a lovely and talented woman, who also taught Sunday School. Concerning Frances teaching a group “of little Devils”, G. K. wrote that when the children look up, “ ... they will see the most glorious and noble lady that ever lived ... with a halo of hair and great heavenly eyes that seem to make the good at the heart of things almost too terribly simple and naked for the sons of flesh ....”

The couple were devoted to one another, and there has, over the years, been some dispute as to which author should be attributed credit for the writing of several pieces of poetry. One such poem has been featured in my Musical Advent Calendar in years past: "Here Is The Little Door" is a mesmerising carol that is written from the point of view of the Wise Men, as they end their long journey and approach the infant Christ in the stable in Bethlehem. It is my own belief that the words to the carol were actually penned by Frances Chesterton, as there are definite similarities between that piece, and other poems that she wrote for the Christmas celebration.

I have very vivid memories of singing "How far is it to Bethlehem?" as a very small child, myself. I remember being trussed up in a snow-white choir gown and a tiny beanie hat, firmly secured to my head with innumerable bobby pins. We in the primary choir had processed into the loft ahead of the seniors, and I can still feel the trembling of my innards as we children stood to pipe out the tune in our little bird-like voices.

It fascinates me that as a grown-up, some thirty-five years later, I have difficulty remembering important information like people's names, telephone numbers and computer passwords... and yet, I can still remember every single word of the lyrics I learned as a member of the choir, many moons ago.

Friday, December 2, 2011

December 3

"Toy Packaging"
performed by Sara Groves

Let the games begin, people... IF you can get the @#$%*&!! package open, that is.

And, to answer your question: YES, I do own one of these gadgets.
I just can't find the damn thing.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

December 2

Maybe This Christmas
performed by Canadian Ron Sexsmith

This is another one of my favourite new Christmas tunes, which was made popular by the hugely entertaining British film, "Nativity!" last year. If you haven't seen it, be sure to pick it up over the holiday season... It's the best thing since "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever"! Trust me.

And speaking of all things wonderful, not to mention Canadian... here is a suggestion for any child's Christmas book collection: a quintessential "Canuck" rendition of another carol altogether, "A Porcupine in a Pine Tree". Those of you who have followed this blog in years past will know and remember my general loathing of "The Twelve Days of Christmas", not only for it's nauseating repetitive nature, but for the serious over-play we are forced to endure, usually performed by some of the very worst, "up-and-coming entertainers" of the new millennium.

This lovely little book has given me pause for thought, however, and a whole new way for me to chime in at holiday sing-a-longs... and drat the funny looks I may receive!!

This IS The Great White North, after all.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

December 1

It's December at last!

A very warm welcome to you all on this snowy day, as we begin our annual Musical Advent Calendar here at "I Can Fly, Just Not Up". Every day until Christmas, I will feature a new carol for your listening enjoyment. Be sure to check in regularly, as each musical selection will only be posted for twenty-four hours. Every piece of music has been carefully chosen to reflect what I believe are the most beautiful arrangements available this Christmas season, and I hope that you will enjoy each one.

There is nothing I love more than sitting quietly and listening to music, especially at Christmastime. During this often frantically busy season, it is good for the soul to take a few moments for oneself, to remember what all of the hoopla and celebrations are really about: the birth of Jesus Christ.

Relax, rest and enjoy, my friends. And, a very happy Christmas to you all.

The Wexford Carol
"Carul Loch Garman", "Carúl Inis Córthaidh"

Performed by: The Cambridge Singers

Good people all, this Christmas time,
Consider well and bear in mind
What our good God for us has done,
In sending his beloved son.
With Mary holy we should pray,
To God with love this Christmas Day;
In Bethlehem upon that morn
There was a blessed Messiah born.

The night before that happy tide,
The noble Virgin and her guide
Were long time seeking up and down
To find a lodging in the town.
But mark how all things came to pass:
From every door repelled, alas!
As long foretold, their refuge all
Was but a humble ox's stall.

Near Bethlehem did shepherds keep
Their flocks of lambs and feeding sheep;
To whom God's angel did appear,
Which put the shepherds in great fear.
"Prepare and go," the angels said,
"To Bethlehem, be not afraid;
For there you'll find, this happy morn,
A princely babe, sweet Jesus, born."

With thankful heart and joyful mind,
The shepherds went the babe to find,
And as God's angel had foretold,
They did our Saviour Christ behold.
Within a manger he was laid,
And by his side a virgin maid,
Attending on the Lord of life,
Who came on earth to end all strife.

There were three wise men from afar
Directed by a glorious star,
And on they wandered night and day
Until they came where Jesus lay.
And when they came unto that place
Where our beloved Messiah was,
They humbly cast them at his feet,
With gifts of gold and incense sweet.

This beautiful Irish carol originates from Enniscorthy, County Wexford, and is one of the most ancient in the European tradition. The tune is somewhat unusual, as it seems far too "jolly" and lilting to reflect Medieval music, and yet neither does it exactly fit the Irish folk music of the time. Presumably, this carol was originally written not only to tell the tale of Christ's birth, but also to express the joy of Christmastime... such is the beauty of the carol tradition: a departure from the solemnity of religious rites, and an expression of human celebration. The words may well have changed through the years of oral tradition, and then through translation into different languages, but the lovely sentiment remains.

Dating from the twelfth century, "The Wexford Carol" is one of the best known of the Kilmore Carols Cycle. In total, there are thirteen carols in the cycle, eight of which are sung during the Christmas period. The first is sung at Mass on Christmas Day, and the last on the Sunday that is nearest to the Twelfth Day. The annual singing of this ancient carol cycle has occurred at the tiny village church in Kilmore for over two hundred years. They were first introduced to the parish by the Very Rev. Peter Devereux, who was Parish Priest circa 1751. The beautiful carols are handwritten in a leather-bound book- the work of Mr. Richard O'Neill, a famous old schoolmaster.

It has long been a tradition at this church that these carols be sung by men only. The singers consist of six local gentleman, and the group has always included a member of the Devereux family, a tradition that is being continued to the present day. The singers divide into two groups of three, and each group sings alternate stanzas.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

A little bit of awesome...

Arthur Christmas!

If you are feeling like I am this November, you are probably in need of a serious drop-kick into some "Christmas Spirit". Well, a few hours of this film should do you very nicely, just as it did me this very afternoon, with my own girlies, my sister, and a couple of nephews in tow. The 3-D effects are spectacular, and giggle-fests abound! It's the first thing I shall purchase in the New Year, once it hits DVD... one of the best holiday films I've ever seen, which I plan to enjoy with my family over and over again, in years to come.

It's been a very busy few weeks, as I've been teaching my very first grade three class! Next to the births of my children, it's been the hardest and most rewarding thing I've ever done in my whole life...

But I'm now feeling refreshed, renewed and downright EXCITED to begin writing this year's Musical Advent Calendar... Stay tuned, dear readers, as I plan once again to post some of the Christmas season's most beautiful music.

See you on December 1st!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

November-- ALREADY??!

Holy cow, it's been awhile, people.

I wish I knew a better way to jostle my way back into the blog-o-sphere than to just bombard you with random "bullets"... but honestly, after so many months away from you all, I can't figure out a more efficient way to catch you all up.

So, here goes:

-I DID IT. My greatest accomplishment this year was to be hired on to teach for a major Ontario board of education. It took several years of volunteering in schools, some fairly shameless schmoozing, and finally, ASKING certain people-of-influence to help me obtain an interview opportunity. Considering that we graduate over 20,000 new teachers in this province every June, and there are countless more unemployed educators just champing at the bit for work... just my getting in the door for a preliminary chat-and-once-over was no small feat. It was nothing short of miraculous to finally be selected from the thousands upon thousands that applied. Now, I'm eligible to apply for "LTO" (long-term occasional) work, and am hoping to be called fairly regularly for daily supply jobs, until I manage to somehow magic up a contract opportunity. Teaching is what I was meant to be doing, all this time-- I think I've known it since I was a very small child. But, as the Dixie Chicks put it, I guess I just took "The Long Way Around". After all, sometimes the detour makes you appreciate the final destination that much more. It's still going to be a struggle to find a "niche" for myself, and I'm wrestling with a certain amount of nervousness and lack of self-confidence... but, I'm trying. I'm pushing myself. I'm learning.

-KNIT THROUGH IT. I've been taking my mantra of the past four years very much to heart these past months. Whenever things have seemed impossible, or dire, or just plain glum-- I've picked up my needles. The worse I feel, the more complicated the knitting pattern needs to be. There has been lace: openwork so full of yarn-overs, and fibres so fine, I haven't been able to think of anything more than the movements of my fingers, and the constant counting (and cursing) in my head. It's wonderful when a project is done, to think that something beautiful came out of a period of time when a nervous breakdown might otherwise have been in order. On the flip-side, there have been other projects; much calmer ones in straight garter or stocking stitch, simple enough to be done while having coffee with friends, relaxing in front of a movie, or just sitting in my car, waiting for one of the girlies to emerge from school or an extra-curricular activity. I knit through everything. It has become my version of "yoga": my meditation, my way of finding serenity. And, I'm a lot warmer because of it. Winter's coming, and this IS Canada, after all...

These felted clogs have been The Pattern of
The Fall
this year-- double and triple strands of wool felt into the most deliciously warm footwear I have ever owned-- it's like having two little ovens on the far ends of my legs!! Heaven!!

These French Press Slippers are the footwear of choice for Child Number Two, however... She lamented only this morning that she wished she could wear them to school.

These slippers are for Child Number Three, who wants warm ankles as well as feet. They're knitted in squares, then folded up like an origami project and stitched together before felting. I might just need a pair for myself, when all is said and done...

These Wellie Warmer socks are for ME, and are a wonderful alternative to the polar-fleece rip-offs being sold in major shoe stores, to accompany the three hundred dollar "Hunter" brand rubber boots that are so popular these days. I bought my own wellington boots at our local grocery store for thirty-five bucks (which is an outrageous price for this farm-country girl, actually), and fancy that my hand-knit cuffed socks will actually be warmer, as well as more attractive, than the high-fallootin' version. So there.

Did you all swoon over Part Two of the Harry Potter "Deathly Hallows" movie this year?? I sure did... The knitwear alone had me scouring the internet for patterns the moment I was sprung from the theatre. This Hermione hat knit up beautifully from a fine angora, and all three girlies want one for fall... be accompanied by fingerless, elbow-length gloves. Two out of three girlies are now playing flute, so these will keep those muscles warm during rehearsals!

All you Potter-philes out there will not be surprised to learn that there is an entire pattern book chock-full of beautiful designs, for knitters of all abilities. We've done a six-foot long Hufflepuff scarf and matching tam in grey-and-gold, and I'm still working on my own version of the beloved Weasley jumper!!

CONFESSION: I want to be Molly Weasley when I grow up...

(I actually jumped out of my seat and CHEERED for this scene, much to my children's accute embarassment...)

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