Saturday, 24 December 2016

Friday, 23 December 2016

O Holy Night (I post this every year)

My favourite rendition of O Holy Night.  by Nat King Cole

The History of "O Holy Night" , and Merry Christmas everyone.

The following is not my writing.  I "lifted it" from the WWW

Stories Behind the Music: "O Holy Night"

"O Holy Night" remains one of the world's most beloved Christmas carols, with uplifting lyrics and melody.

The lyrics were written by Placide Cappeau (1808-1877), a resident of Roquemaure, France (located a few miles north of the historic city of Avignon). Cappeau was a wine merchant and mayor of the town, as well as an occasional writer of poetry.

 Known more for his poetry than his church attendance, it probably shocked Cappeau when his parish priest, shortly before Cappeau embarked on a business trip, asked him to pen a poem for Christmas mass.

In a dusty coach traveling down a bumpy road to France's capital city, Cappeau considered the priest's request. Using the gospel of Luke as his guide, Cappeau imagined witnessing the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. Thoughts of being present on the blessed night inspired him. By the time he arrived in Paris, "Cantique de Noel" had been completed.

Moved by his own work, Cappeau decided that his "Cantique de Noel" was not just a poem, but a song in need of a master musician's hand. Not musically inclined himself, the poet turned to one of his friends, Adolphe Charles Adams, for help, when he arrived in Paris.

Adams was an acquaintance of Monsieur and Madame Laurey, who were friends of Cappeau. The son of a well-known classical musician, Adams had studied in the Paris conservatoire. Adams was at the peak of his career, having written his masterpiece, Giselle, only a few years before, in 1841. He was also the composer of over eighty operatic stage works. His talent and fame brought requests to write works for orchestras and ballets all over the world.

Yet the lyrics that his friend Cappeau gave him must have challenged the composer in a fashion unlike anything he received from London, Berlin, or St. Petersburg.

As a man of Jewish ancestry, for Adams, the words of "Cantique de Noel" represented a day he didn't celebrate and a man he did not view as the son of God. Nevertheless, Adams quickly went to work, attempting to marry an original score to Cappeau's beautiful words. Adams' finished work pleased both poet and priest. The song was performed just three weeks later at a Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, 1847, in Roquemaure.

Initially, "Cantique de Noel" was wholeheartedly accepted by the church in France and the song quickly found its way into various Catholic Christmas services. However, the song's popularity declined after its initial acceptance, based on the reputations of the lyricist and composer. Late in his life, Cappeau left the church and became an active part of the socialist movement. He was described as a social radical, a freethinker, a socialist, and a non-Christian.

Church leaders also discovered that Adams was a Jew, and the song--which had quickly grown to be one of the most beloved Christmas songs in France--was suddenly and uniformly denounced by the Church. The heads of the French Catholic church of the time deemed "Cantique de Noel" as unfit for church services because of its lack of musical taste and "total absence of the spirit of religion." Yet even as the church tried to bury the Christmas song, the French people continued to sing it.

Fortunately, more rational perspectives have prevailed. By 1855, the carol had been published in London, and has been translated into many languages. The best known English translation is " O Holy Night" authored by John Sullivan Dwight (1813-1893), a Unitarian minister, an American music critic and journalist who made his home at the Transcendentalist community of Brook Farm, Massachusetts

. Dwight felt that this wonderful Christmas song needed to be introduced to America, and he saw something else in the song that moved him beyond the story of the birth of Christ. An ardent abolitionist, Dwight strongly identified with the lines of the third verse: "Truly he taught us to love one another; his law is love and his gospel is peace. Chains shall he break, for the slave is our brother; and in his name all oppression shall cease." The text supported Dwight's own view of slavery in the South.

Published in his magazine, Journal of Music, Dwight's English translation of "O Holy Night" quickly found favor in America, especially in the North during the Civil War. By coincidence, Christmas became a legal holiday in Massachusetts the same year as Dwight published his translation.

Adams had been dead for many years and Cappeau and Dwight were old men when on Christmas Eve 1906, Reginald Fessenden, a 33-year-old university professor and former chief chemist for Thomas Edison, did something long thought impossible.

 Using a new type of generator, Fessenden spoke into a microphone and, for the first time in history, a man's voice was broadcast over the airwaves: "And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed," he began in a clear, strong voice, hoping he was reaching across the distances he supposed he would.

Shocked radio operators on ships and astonished wireless owners at newspapers sat slack-jawed as their normal, coded impulses, heard over tiny speakers, were interrupted by a professor reading from the gospel of Luke. To the few who caught this broadcast, it must have seemed like a miracle, hearing a voice somehow transmitted to those far away. Some might have believed they were hearing the voice of an angel.

 Fessenden was probably unaware of the sensation he was causing on ships and in offices; he couldn't have known that men and women were rushing to their wireless units to catch this Christmas Eve miracle.

After finishing his recitation of the birth of Christ, Fessenden picked up his violin and played "O Holy Night," the first song ever sent through the air via radio waves. When the carol ended, Fessenden read another selection from the book of Luke: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men of good will." The Christmas program was picked up as far south as Norfolk, Virginia; when the program was repeated on New Year's Eve, it was heard as far away as the West Indies.

Since that first rendition at a small Christmas mass in 1847, "O Holy Night" has been sung millions of times in churches in every corner of the world. And since the moment a handful of people first heard it played over the radio, the carol has gone on to become one of the entertainment industry's most recorded and played spiritual songs. This incredible work--requested by a forgotten parish priest, written by a poet who would later split from the church, given soaring music by a Jewish composer, and brought to Americans to serve as much as a tool to spotlight the sinful nature of slavery as to tell the story of the birth of a Savior--has become one of the most beautiful, inspired pieces of music ever created. The lyrics are reprinted below.

O Holy night, the stars are brightly shining
It is the night of the dear Saviour's birth
Long lay the world in sin and error pining
Till He appeared and the soul felt His worth
A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices
For yonder beams a new and glorious morn
Fall on your knees! Oh, hear the angel voices!
O night divine! O night when Christ was born!
O night divine! O night, O night divine!

Led by the light of faith serenely beaming
With glowing hearts by His cradle we stand
So led by light of a star sweetly gleaming
Here came the wise men from the Orient land

The King of Kings lay in lowly manger
In all our trials born to be our friend
He knows our need
To our weakness no stranger
Behold your King! before the lowly bend!
Behold your King! before Him bend!

Truly he taught us to love one another 
His law is love and His gospel is peace 
Chains shall He break, for the slave is our brother 
And in His name all oppression shall cease

Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus rise we
Let all within us praise His holy name
Christ is the Lord
Then ever, ever praise we
His pow'r and glory ever more proclaim
His pow'r and glory ever more proclaim


Thursday, 22 December 2016

Raise your glass to the great Diane Rhem

I first encountered the Diane Rehm show on New Hampshire Public Radio when I was driving to Dartmouth in that State.

At first I thought her speaking voice to be a bit odd, but when I discovered the reason for its idiosyncratic cadences I began to admire and respect her courage and determination as a broadcaster, (See link below).

My local stations in Pittsfield  (WAMC) and Cambridge (WBUR) were too high and mighty to air the Diane Rehm Show, so it was not until I moved to Sarasota that listening to it became a very important part of my weekday mornings, as I tuned into WUSF.

Diane's  programme has two distinct and discrete live broadcasting hours, one from 10:00 - 11:00, the other from 11:00 to Noon.  Her topics are eclectic and broad, her guests include people with a wide range of interests and political views,

What I have most liked about Diane is that she has never failed to name horse-sh-t as horse-sh-t. She has never let her guests get away with half-truths, evasions and pomposity.  To be on her show is to have your feet held to the fire.

I add that Ms. Rehm is never unprepared,  Her pre-show research is formidable, aided by (I think) an all female staff.  Way to go!

After thirty seven years of broadcasting,, her final two hours will be tomorrow, December 23rd.  I will be glued to the radio between 10:00 and Noon.

Together with millions of other Americans I will believe that I am saying au revoir to a dear and trusted friend.  I have often had the fantasy that I could sit down for dinner with Diane Rehm in a fine Washington D.C. restaurant; that I would learn so much from her; and that she would be interested in my life.

Hail and farewell Diane Rehm.  You have enriched my life in so many important ways.  Thank you.


P.S.  I cannot end without bragging that Diane Rehm is a proud and devoted Episcopalian, YEAH!

President Obama awards the 2013 National Humanities Medal to radio host Diane Rehm during a ceremony in the White House, Monday, July 28, 2014.   (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)



Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Mounties and a King. Christmas music mis-heard. (And a Carol which MUST be re-written!)

We wish you a merry Christmas....

...  has a line which reads

"Good tidings we bring, to you and your kin".

As a lad I was sure that it ought to read

"Good tidings we bring, to you and your King".

So I sang it that way.   After all "bring" and "kin"  do not rhyme,  (and I grew up in a  Monarchy).

U.K. King George VI.  He died when I was
eight years old..


My twin sister and I attended the same schools from first through sixth grades. Our parents wisely insisted that we should never have the same classroom teachers (sibling rivalry and all that stuff).

In what Americans would call 5th grade we each had classroom teachers who were also organists/choir leaders at local Methodist Churches;  hers at Eastville Park Methodist Church, mine at Bethel Methodist Church, St. George  (both in east Bristol, U.K.).

And we sang!  Back in those days we sang a lot in school.

My teacher let it be known (in subtle ways) that his music programme was far superior to the one led my by sister's teacher.  

Thus I was set up to be scornful of the music which I heard from my sister's classroom.

My scorn was reinforced when I heard them singing "Deck the Halls with Boughs of Holly". I was certain that they were singing 

"Deck the Halls with  Boughs of Holly
Fa la la la  etc
All ye Mounties praise the Lord".

"How stupid" I thought.  Why is my sister's teacher so dumb.

It was much much later that  I realised that the song  said "All ye mountains praise the Lord"


The sappy and sentimental hymn "Away in a Manger" used to be attributed to Martin Luther, which is most likely why we sang it with deep piety and misty eyes.

We now know that Luther did not write, or sing, or know the hymn.

But we continue to sing it.

More's the pity, especially because of the part which goes

" The cattle are lowing, the baby awakes,
but little Lord Jesus no crying he makes"


"No crying he makes?" Really?

This is anthropological nonsense Every human baby cries!

This is theological nonsense. If the Christian claim that Jesus is the truly human incarnation of God is valid then the :"Little Lord Jesus"  cried just like every other human baby.

I have asked various congregations to sing it thus:

" The cattle are lowing, the baby awakes,
and little Lord Jesus loud crying he makes"

Those dear congregations have nodded and smiled in agreement.

And then they have sung

" The cattle are lowing, the baby awakes,
but little Lord Jesus no crying he makes"

So much for the power of the pulpit!


Tuesday, 20 December 2016

In doing the right thing I did the wrong thing.

On returning home yesterday afternoon at about 4:30 I was greeted by a very agitated neighbour
D-wn C,

"Michael", she said, "my house if full of smoke, and my thing is beeping, and I don't know what to do".

Here I did the wrong thing, I went into the house.  That could have been dangerous.

Of course I called 911.   The dispatcher asked me a series of questions.  It seems to me that this is necessary in the light of various hoax or prank calls.  And it was important for the fire-fighters to know if anyone was still in the house, and/or if anyone was injured,

The SCFD  was on its way in a matter of 45 seconds. The nearest firehouse is just over a mile away, and we could hear the sirens all the way up Circus Boulevard,

In turns out that D-awn had overcooked some food in her microwave, No harm was done (except to the food!).

D-awn is, to put it nicely, quite fuzzy around the edges, so I was glad to have arrived home just as her crisis began.

And to put it strongly, the firefighters were utterly splendid not only in their response to a possible fire, but in their tender and gracious service to D-awn. They soon had a huge fan in place to blow smoke out of her unit.

The Battalion Chief happened to be in the scene, so I was able to shake his hand and thank him for the response of his team.

Two other notes:

(1) It's clear to many of her neighbours that D-wn should not be living alone.  Now, if only we could convince her one and only son that this is the case,

(2) My unit is at one and of a triplex, D-wns at the other end,  And there is no firewall between the units.  In a worse case secnario all three could be in a blazing inferno in a matter of minutes,  That gives me pause for thought in the middle of the night.

Stock photo'  

Monday, 19 December 2016

Unscramble this (a sentence which needs to be re-written).

From the Dec 18th Sunday leaflet at the Church I attend.

"Please remember the 100,000 Americans who are killed or injured each year by guns in your personal prayers on this occasion".

I know what this is meant to say, but I do not have guns in my personal prayers.  Honestly!