December 24, 2013
It is another cold, wintry morning this Christmas Eve, 2013, in San Antonio, TX. 28 degrees at 5:17 a.m. Global warming?
I have not researched it but this certainly feels like the coldest December of all my 18 Decembers in the Alamo City. And since it is Christmas Eve morning, I naturally am thinking of another place – Bethlehem, Israel – in another time when it was probably also cold (although I just learned that Bethlehem is only 2 degrees farther N in latitude than San Antonio and that it is currently 50 degrees there!)
My thoughts of the Nativity are also the result of Handel’s Messiah playing in the background as I prepare for my Christmas Eve tradition of listening to the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols from King’s College Cambridge, which is aired live on most public radio stations at 9 a.m. CST. If you don’t know the history of this choir or this choral event, you should. It has been held continuously for the past 95 years, starting at the close of WWI, in a chapel that is over 500 years old and features a boys choir that has also been in existence since the reign of Henry VI. Of course, the program celebrates a story that is now almost 2000 years old. Some traditions are worth knowing, and worth maintaining. Here’s the link to the chapel and the program if it interests you:
Over the past five years of B.A.B.E.S. posts I have revealed many things about my personality and interests, but I don’t know if I have confessed to being addicted to choral music, particularly sacred choral music. Actually, I think it is just music in general that I love, but lately sacred choral music has possessed me. That is due in part to my new position as president of a local arts group, a professional chamber choir. No, I don’t sing, but I do love to listen. And anything that can make me listen rather than talk is a powerful force of nature, indeed. If you doubt that anything can be forceful enough to render me speechless, please listen to this performance of Morten Lauridsen’s setting of O Magnum Mysterium, (Latin for “Great Mystery“) sung in the same chapel at King’s College:
I can’t explain it at all, but over the past several years I have come to be inspired by (and in awe of) the ability of the human voice to sing so beautifully that I just want to sit, listen and contemplate. Of course, the Christmas story has inspired countless beautiful choral works, through one voice or a choir of many voices. Indeed, the very first Christmas oratorio with chorus appears in the actual text of the story:
And in the same region there were shepherds staying out in the fields, and keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. And the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring good news of a great joy which shall be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find the babe wrapped in cloths, and lying in a manger.”
And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, Peace among men, with whom He is pleased.”
If you have never heard Handel’s musical version of these events, do yourself a favor and sit and listen and contemplate for just a few minutes.
The entire oratorio (158 minutes worth and also recorded in King’s College Chapel), is here: http://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=handel’s+messiah&FORM=VIRE3#view=detail&mid=A0D27E213ECA17854504A0D27E213ECA17854504.
Chances are, though, that this is my obsession and not yours. I understand that we all have different interests and that the Spirit moves us in different ways, and some of us not at all. I certainly know that sacred choral music has not gripped my family like it has me (nor has baseball, for that matter). If the music did not interest you, perhaps you will be amused by a review of my Christmas Eve post from last year, commenting on the Hot Stove action and how a 1st century GM might have put together a winning ball club from the free agents appearing in the Christmas Story.
However you decide to spend this Christmas Eve, I wish for you and your family peace, glad tidings and joy – but also a little quiet contemplation.