Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Eighth Day Of Christmas, New Year's Day 2014

Happy New Year!

In  much of Western Christianity today is celebrated either as the Solemnity of Mary or the Festival of the Circumcision and Name of Jesus. The Gospel for the day is simply one verse from Luke:

And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

Our music is Johann Sebastian Bach's cantata for New Year's Day, Jesu, nun sei gepreiset, ("Jesus, now be praised."), BWV 41. Those who would enjoy an English translation will find one here.

Monday, December 30, 2013

The Seventh Day Of Christmas 2013

The Seventh Day of Christmas is New Year's Eve. In much of Christian Europe this day is also known as Silvester or the Feast of Sylvester. One of the more interesting iterations of celebrating the arrival of the new year occurs in Scotland. It's known as Hogmanay. It's a nice blend of old and new elements including fireworks, bonfires, torchlight processions, and driving out the trolls.

For today's music, here's a very notable interpretation of an old tune...

Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Sixth Day Of Christmas 2013

Today is Monday of Christmas Week. It is a quiet day in the Christian calendar, a day without a festival or commemoration. Six days of Christmastide with its feasting and celebration are behind us and we have six more days to experience. At this midpoint we'll enjoy a feast day of another kind...

... and music to match. The Boar's Head Carol dates from 15th century England. The presentation and feast it describes likely has pagan origins as do many of our Christmas traditions. In the U.S., restoration of this traditional whole pig roast, complete with apple, appears to be strong among churches and colleges. Here is a bold treatment of the carol by Steeleye Span and Maddy Prior:

The boar's head in hand bear I,
Bedeck'd with bays and rosemary.
I pray you, my masters, be merry
Quot estis in convivio (Translation: As many as are in the feast)


Caput apri defero (Translation: The boar's head I offer)
Reddens laudes Domino (Translation: Giving praises to the Lord)

The boar's head, as I understand,
Is the rarest dish in all this land,
Which thus bedeck'd with a gay garland
Let us servire cantico. (Translation: Let us serve with a song)


Our steward hath provided this
In honour of the King of Bliss;
Which, on this day to be served is
In Reginensi atrio. (Translation: In the Queen's hall)


Saturday, December 28, 2013

The First Sunday After Christmas 2013

This year the Fifth Day of Christmas coincides with the First Sunday after Christmas.  The Gospel reading for this day - Matthew 2:13-23 - ends with the return of the Holy Family to Israel:

But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, "Rise, take the child and his mother to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child's life are dead." And he rose and took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there, and being warned in a dream he withdrew to the district of Galilee. And he went and lived in a city called Nazareth, so that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, that he would be called a Nazarene.

The Holy Family                Salvadore Dali, 1959

Music for the day is a chorus from Ralph Vaughan Williams's Christmas cantata, "Hodie," written in 1954.

The blessed son of God only
In a crib full poor did lie;
With our poor flesh and our poor blood
Was clothed that everlasting good.

The Lord Christ Jesu, God's son dear,
Was a guest and a stranger here;
Us for to bring from misery,
That we might live eternally.

All this did he for us freely,
For to declare his great mercy;
All Christendom be merry therefore,
And give him thanks for evermore.

The quote from the Gospel of Matthew is taken from the English Standard Version published in 2001.

Friday, December 27, 2013

The Fourth Day Of Christmas

On this day of Christmas we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Innocents. The Innocents are the young male children of Bethlehem killed by King Herod in his attempt to eliminate the threat to his power from a newborn King of the Jews.

Massacre of the Innocents                                       Peter Paul Rubens, ca 1611

Music for the day is the "Coventry Carol" , a song from the mystery play, The Pageant of the Shearmen and Tailors. Guild plays in Coventry, England, date to the 14th century but the documentation of their contents did not appear until the mid 1500's.

In the play, an angel appears to Joseph and tells him to take Mary and the Child to Egypt to escape Herod's slaughter. Immediately thereafter, three mothers from Bethlehem enter with their children and sing the carol.

Lully, lullay, Thou little tiny Child,

Bye, bye, lully, lullay.

Lullay, thou little tiny Child,
Bye, bye, lully, lullay.

O sisters too, how may we do,
For to preserve this day
This poor youngling for whom we do sing
Bye, bye, lully, lullay.

Herod, the king, in his raging,
Charged he hath this day
His men of might, in his owne sight,
All young children to slay.

That woe is me, poor Child for Thee!
And ever mourn and sigh,
For thy parting neither say nor sing,
Bye, bye, lully, lullay.

The Third Day Of Christmas 2013

December 27 is the Third Day of Christmas and the feast day of Saint John the Evangelist and Apostle. John was one of the Twelve. He stood at the foot of the cross at the Crucifixion. At the direction of Jesus, he cared for Mary until her death. Most Bible scholars credit John with the authorship of the Gospel of John, three Epistles of John, and the Book of Revelation.

St. John the Evangelist                                El Greco, ca 1600

Music for the day is Johann Sebastian Bach's cantata, Sehen welch eine liebe hat uns der vater erzeiget, BWV 64. The title translates as "Mark ye how great a love this is that the Father has shown us." Bach wrote this piece for the Third Day of Christmas in 1723 during his first year in Leipzig. Those who would like a translation of the libretto can find one here.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Second Day Of Christmas 2013

On this Second Day of Christmastide, Western Christianity also celebrates its first martyr, Saint Stephen.

Saint Stephen detail from the Demiforff Alterpiece                       Carlo Crivelli,1476
In 1853 John Mason Neale and Thomas Helmore published a song that unites both the season and the saint. Perhaps you've heard it...

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The Close Of Christmas Day

On this day we attended Christmas worship, put the finishing touches on dinner, welcomed our guests, enjoyed dinner, exchanged gifts, watched A Muppet Christmas Carol, played games, said goodbyes to our guests, and washed all the dishes. By 10 o'clock we settled into quiet relaxation beside the glowing fireplace.

It is time to listen to a Christmas tradition...

This story never ages. 

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas Day 2013

Merry Christmas!

...from the 5th century Roman poet, Aurelius Prudentius

Of the Father’s love begotten,
Ere the worlds began to be,
He is Alpha and Omega,
He the source, the ending He,
Of the things that are, that have been,
And that future years shall see,
Evermore and evermore!

O that birth forever bless├Ęd,
When the virgin, full of grace,
By the Holy Ghost conceiving,
Bare the Saviour of our race;
And the Babe, the world’s Redeemer,
First revealed His sacred face,
evermore and evermore!

This is He Whom seers in old time
Chanted of with one accord;
Whom the voices of the prophets
Promised in their faithful word;
Now He shines, the long expected,
Let creation praise its Lord,
Evermore and evermore!

O ye heights of heaven adore Him;
Angel hosts, His praises sing;
Powers, dominions, bow before Him,
and extol our God and King!
Let no tongue on earth be silent,
Every voice in concert sing,
Evermore and evermore!

Christ, to Thee with God the Father,
And, O Holy Ghost, to Thee,
Hymn and chant with high thanksgiving,
And unwearied praises be:
Honour, glory, and dominion,
And eternal victory,
Evermore and evermore!

The Descent of Peace (Butts set)   William Blake, circa 1815

to the 20th century American composer, Charles Ives...

Little star of Bethlehem!
Do we see thee now?
Do we see thee shining
O'er the tall trees?
Little child of Bethlehem!
Do we hear thee in our hearts?
Hear the angels singing:
Peace on earth, good will to men!

O'er the cradle of a King,
Hear the angels sing:
In Excelsis Gloria, Gloria!
From his Father's home on high,
Lo! For us he came to die;
Hear the angels sing:
Venite adoremus Dominum.

Christmas Eve 2013

It is the Eve of Christmas. Tomorrow we celebrate the birth of the Savior of the world. Today we continue to ponder the extraordinary, a virgin carrying the Son of God in her womb.

These words have been set to music for a thousand years. This stunning setting was written in 1994 by the American composer, Morten Lauridsen.

O great mystery and wondrous sacrament, that animals should see the newborn Lord lying in their manger. Blessed is the Virgin whose womb was worthy to bear the Lord Jesus Christ. Alleluia!

Annuciation to the Shepherds                William Blake, 1809

Postcard: Wiener Werkstatte
Blake Illustration: Whitworth Art Gallery, University of Manchester

Monday, December 23, 2013

Christmas 2013: Art And Music For December 23

The Wexford Carol, originating in 12th century Ireland, is one of the oldest carols in the Christian world.  

The complete lyrics...

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 right well what came to pass
From every door repelled, alas
As was 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
Arise 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 lay
They humbly cast them at his feet
With gifts of gold and incense sweet.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Fourth Sunday In Advent 2013

On the fourth Sunday of Advent we light the Angel's Candle symbolizing the annunciation of Christ's birth.

The Annunciation of Mary                                                              Salvador Dali, 1967

In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.” “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a Virgin?” The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God.” “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.” Then the angel left her.

                                                                                                                    Luke 1:26-38

Music for the day is the 15th century English song text, Adam Lay Ybounden, performed by the Mediaeval Babes.

in Middle English...

Adam lay ibounden
Bounden in a bond
Foure thousand winter
Thought he not too long

And all was for an apple
An apple that he tok
As clerkes finden
Wreten in here book

Ne hadde the apple take ben
The apple taken ben
Ne hadde never our lady
A ben hevene queen

Blissed be the time
That apple take was
Therefore we moun singen
"Deo gracias!"

in  Modern English ...

Adam lay in bondage
Bound by a contract
For four thousand winters
That he hadn't thought would be too long

And all because of an apple
An apple that he took
As clerics found
Written in this book

Had the apple never been taken
The apple been taken
Neither would our Lady ever have
Been the Queen of Heaven

So blessed be the moment
That apple was taken
For now we can sing
"Thanks be to God"

John Marin: Modernist Impressionist Expressionist

Self-Portrait, late 40's or early 50's                           John Marin

On this day in 1870 the American modernist painter, John Marin (1870-1953), was born in Rutherford, New Jersey. Marin was trained at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, spent a few years searching for his muse in Europe, then returned to his home country where he exhibited his work at the famous Armory Show of 1913. A decade later he had attracted the attention of major collectors including Duncan Phillips whose world-renowned collection of modern art would form the core of the Phillips Memorial Gallery in Washington, D.C.

I was introduced to Marin's work when David Grimsted took his entire history class to the Phillips Gallery for an exploration of American culture through the artist's eye. Not sure how much history was absorbed that day, but I left with an appreciation of John Marin's work still going strong after 43 years.

Brooklyn Bridge, 1913

Pertaining to Fifth Avenue and Forty-Second Street, 1933

Blue Sea, 1945

Credits: All images from the Phillips Collection website.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Pajama Boy: Fashions By The Krell

You science fiction movie buffs out there know all about "monsters from the id." Those creatures are always very telling. Sometimes they're dangerous not only to others, but to the very people who created them. We may have a case in point with Pajama Boy.

It seems one of the latest Obamacare promotional ads from Organizing for Action features Pajama Boy.  The ad may be revealing much about the perception of the liberal minds running the show regardless of whether or not it attract clients. The usual lefty media suspects are running interference for "PB" and his sponsors but I doubt much can be done to disperse the creepiness. National Review Online's Charles Cooke has some humorous commentary about Pajama Boy and what he represents to the great minds responsible for managing our national government until January 2017. Do enjoy the comments as well.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Fletcher Henderson: He Helped Put The Blues In Jazz And Jazz In Swing

Fletcher Henderson and his orchestra
If you enjoy the sound of big band, swing, and jazz, today marks a significant birthday in the history of that evolutionary strain of American music. Residents of Georgia can also celebrate this day as a birthday of one of their own. Who the subject of all this celebration? His name is Fletcher Henderson (1897-1952). He was born into a well-educated and musical family in the southwest Georgia town of Cuthbert. Henderson earned a degree in chemistry and mathematics but as a black man he had a difficult time finding work in those fields and soon turned to music to make a living. That musical career took him from accompanying Ethel Waters, Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith and other blues singers, through the creation of an orchestra that included Don Redman and Louis Armstrong, to work as a composer-accompanist for Benny Goodman at a formative time for the swing era.

Henderson played an important role in bringing improvisational jazz elements into big band/dance band compositions. Both Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman credited his talent as an arranger for much of their success. It is interesting that his role in the development of American popular music was not well understood until academic studies of the history of jazz appeared late in the last century.

Here are two examples of the Henderson sound. The first is a 1927 recording of the Henderson orchestra, the second is a brief "arranging workshop" featuring Goodman and Henderson followed by the Goodman orchestra performing Henderson's famous arrangement of Blue Skies:

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Erskine Caldwell: 1930s Labor And Lust In The Midland Savannah River Valley Dust

Born in Georgia, Erskine Caldwell (1903-1987) was an only child, a "PK," a preacher's kid. The family moved frequently throughout the South until he was fifteen when they settled in Wrens, Georgia. Still, his father often preached on large circuits, necessitating plenty of travel. In fact, the elder Caldwell traveled so regularly that his son could determine his destinations by the odor of coal smoke on his suit. In time, father took son on many of these journeys. 

The peculiarity, poverty, and injustice of the Depression era South was embedded in Erskine Caldwell's memory and he soon began writing about it. His observations had little to do with remnants of "the late unpleasantness" - the polite Southern term for the War of Northern Aggression, aka, the Civil War - that often gripped the region. Instead, Caldwell wrote of the raw realities of the human condition in the South. This, and his crusade for improving conditions, did not sit well with many Southerners. The dislike was enhanced because he was writing "in absentia." having left the South before 1930. Furthermore, his subject matter often placed him in conflict with censors across the country.

Caldwell had a long career as a writer of both fiction and non-fiction, but he is best known for Tobacco Road (1932), God's Little Acre(1933) and other works from the 1930s. An adaptation of Tobacco Road played on Broadway for eight years - a record at the time - beginning in 1933. A very loose film adaptation directed by John Ford in 1941 contributed to the stereotyping and ridicule of poor white Southerners. God's Little Acre remains one of the most popular novels in the U.S. with over ten million copies in print. A 1958 film version is considered the best presentation of Caldwell themes on film.

Here are clips from both films:


Caldwell, who was born on this day in 1903, is an interesting blend of 20th century authors. He is Sherwood Anderson, William Faulkner, D.H. Lawrence, Christopher Isherwood, Joseph Mitchell, and a reflection of other modernists. Readers who seek more than discourse on the happy veneer of the human condition will enjoy Caldwell's interpretations.

Read more about him in this article from the New Georgia Encyclopedia.

A version of this post appeared in 2012.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Gaudete: The Third Sunday in Advent 2013

Madonna in the Rose Garden            Stefan Lochner, ca 1448

Prepare the way by proclaiming good news. The early church gave the title "Gaudete" to the third Sunday in Advent. The word simply means, "Rejoice!" When you are joyful about something, you share that good news. Think of the custom of the family Christmas letter. Many families will send out letters during these holidays, summarizing the joyful family news of the past year: the birth of a grandchild, a new job, etc. If such joyful events are considered worthy of sharing, how much more the goo news that the Son of God came into our world to save us from sins! Moreover, he is coming again to take believers to an eternity of glory. That is good news believers need to hear again and again. It is a message that we with joyful faith yearn to share with a world that is in desperate need of some good news.
The joyful nature of this Sunday is illustrated by the lone, rose-colored candle on the Advent wreath. It hints of the joyful birth that we are soon to celebrate.

For the seekers of antiquity among our readers here is the chanted Introit - with translation below - from which this Sunday gets it name:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. Let your forbearance be known to all, for the Lord is near at hand; have no anxiety about anything, but in all things, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be known to God. Lord, you have blessed your land; you have turned away the captivity of Jacob.
                                                                     Phillipians, 4:4-6: Psalm 85(84):

May your day be filled with rejoicing!

The opening quotation appeared in the 2013 Gaudete Sunday Bulletin, Abiding Grace Lutheran Church, Covington, Georgia..

Gaudete translation source: Wikipedia page for Gaudete Sunday.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

We Remember Pearl Harbor

This is the 72nd anniversary of the Imperial Japanese Navy's attack on the U.S. Navy's base at Pearl Harbor.

USS Arizona Memorial, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, 2004

There were almost 4000 casualties that day, including 1200 dead.

The attack led to a war effort that included 16,000,000 American men and women in uniform.  Only 1,200,000 of these veterans survive and they are dying at the rate of 740 a day. Soon, the relics, memorials and ceremony will be all that is left to testify to America's greatest generation at war. If we are to survive, we need to remember them now and in the future for what they did to crush evil in the world.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

A Night For Krampus; Or, Oh My Little Darling, You Have Coal In Your Stocking?

When I was growing up there were plenty of warning from parents, great aunts and uncles, and assorted other adults about receiving a lump of coal in my Christmas stocking as payment for a past year of bad behavior. So much for gifts as a sign of grace at Christmastide. On the other hand, perhaps we are a bit overdue on reinstituting some form of payment - punishment if you will - for the erosion of good conduct across the country. Of course, such a move should apply to all age groups but I suggest we begin with the young as they are most easily conditioned.

And the vehicle for this proposal? We don't have to create something new for this plan. Some years ago I stumbled on the perfect messenger. In fact, in many central and eastern European cultures, the visage has been around for centuries. To boot, for the last thousand years or so he has been associated with the most benevolent and generous of figures, Saint Nicholas or Sinterklaas or as we know him today, Santa. So who  is the other half of this duality? His name is Krampus. 

St. Nicholas and Krampus, by Arnold Nechansky, Wiener Werkstatte, 1912

I first discovered Krampus through an interest in post cards. When I began looking at cards from central Europe, especially those printed by the magnificent Wiener Werstatte in the early decades of the 20th century, I noticed that two figures often appeared on the Christmas cards depicting a visit to a welcoming family. One was a traditional Saint Nicholas character dressed in ornate flowing robes and carrying a bag of gifts. The other was a shabbily dressed rather grotesque if not devil-like creature carrying a bundle of switches and a bag. The intention of the visit was to leave a nice gift for the good children or a lump of coal for the "behaviorally challenged." While good children enjoyed their presents, moderately bad boys and girls could expect a swat or two from the switches. The worst cases went into the bag. 

Please, I'm not advocating whipping or kidnapping as a corrective for youth beyond the bounds of civilized coexistence. Rather, I'd just like a little balance for all the feet jabbed into my Economy Class back between Atlanta and anywhere, the screaming tantrums endured at finer restaurants, and the cell phone use at theaters I no longer patronize. Yes, it is time to bring on the coal. 

Tonight, the eve of Saint Nicholas Day, is the Night of the Krampus. Although this night for European adults has taken on an almost Halloween-like character often fueled by alcohol, it remains a fascinating, ancient story of the dual nature of our existence. Those who understand that good does not stand without evil, just as there are no mountains without valleys, can learn more about the Krampus tradition here.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

At Sunset On The First Sunday Of Advent 2013

The Descent of Peace                                       William Blake

I give you the end of a gold string. 
Only wind it in a ball, 
It will lead you to Heaven's gate
 built in Jerusalem's wall.

                                              William Blake, "Jerusalem"

As we enter into the seasons of Advent and Christmastide, it is time once more to explore almost two thousand years of music written and performed for this holy time. Dating from the 7th century, here is the plainsong, Conditor Alme Siderum (Creator of the Stars at Night):

Here is some background on the hymn including its original text and an English translation.

Thanksgiving 2013: All's Well That Ends Well

As promised, it's time to share the Thanksgiving verdict on Skipjack Oyster Dressing. It say it was a strong positive in spite of the detractors complaining about that awful smell coming out of the kitchen. My response is that ever-so-popular phrase, "What difference does it make?"  For the neophytes, it was a minor hit. For the hopeless gastronomes, a feast.

Here's the recipe. And here's a word or two about where the recipe gets its name. Maybe you'll try it for Christmas?