A star

After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.
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(clear, cold winter’s night with the lone shining star / Julie Cook / 2013)

Christmas Night
Arbeau’s Orchésographie of 1588 is a French
treatise on dancing containing a number of
attractive tunes, one of which (the Branle de
l’official) has become universally popular as
the carol Ding dong! merrily on high. The
melody of Christmas Night (the Branle de
Poitou in Arbeau’s treatise) has also been
used in Peter Warlock’s Capriol Suite for
string orchestra. The words were
specially written for this melody.

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Tract number 3, taken from Christmas Night: Carols of the Nativity, is a beautifully sweet choral “hymn” —sung by what sounds to be a heavenly choir of the cherubim and seraphim which met the shepherds in the field on that single most significant night so very long ago. I often hit repeat in my car as I listen to this most delightful CD. The music is, to me, hauntingly sweet and somewhat other worldly, despite being sung by earthly bound voices with lyrics conceived in these more modern times.
I’ve already posted the lyrics to another tract, but it has been this 3rd “song” that first stirred something deep inside of me, many years ago, when I fist came upon this lovely little CD.
My Christmas gift to you, if I could sing, would be this choral reminder of the significance of why we celebrate this season as we do. . . Merry Christmas


Softly through the winter’s darkness
shines a light,
Clear and still in Bethlehem on Christmas Night
Round the stable where a virgin mother
mild
Watches over Jesus Christ the holy child.

Shepherds kneel in adoration by his bed,
Seraphim in glory hover round his head.
Wise men, guided by the leading of a star,
Bring him gifts of precious treasure from
afar.

Choirs of angels sing to greet his wondrous
birth:
Christ our Lord in human form comes down
to earth.
“Glory to God in highest heav’n” their joyful
strain,
“Peace on earth, goodwill to men” the glad
refrain.

Lullaby! the child lies sleeping: sing lullaby!
Safe in Mary’s tender keeping: sing lullaby!
Guardian angels keep their watch till break
of day:

Lullaby! sweet Jesus sleeps among the hay.
Alleluia! let the earth rejoice today!
Christ is born to take our sins and guilt
away.

Praise the Lord who sent him down from
heav’n above.
Holy infant, born of God the Father’s love.

Words: John Rutter
Melody from Arbeau’s ‘Orchésographie’ (1588)

Candlelight Carol

“I shall light a candle of understanding in thine heart, which shall not be put out”
The Apocrypha II Esdras 14:25

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(sunset out of Julie’s back door / 2013)

Years ago, 1987 to be exact, I bought a little CD, (yes they had them back them), that I have actually worn out. I had to buy a new copy last year. I think I just saw it in a music store, intrigued by the cover, I wanted to give it a try. If you’ve been a reader of this little blog of mine, you most likely know how much I love Illuminated Manuscripts and the art of Medieval Europe as well as the Renaissance. The cover jacket of the CD is a reproduction of the Adoration of the Magi taken from the Book of Hours by Boucicaut which was the initial draw for me to reach for this soon to be tiny treasure in my world.

The CD is entitled the Christmas Night – Carols of the Nativity / The Cambridge Singers / The City of London Sinfonia / conducted by John Rutter. The theme of this album is centered around the birth of Christ. The words and music of the 22 carols span more than six centuries. The music is pure joy to my heart. It echoes of a different time, harkening to a time of innocence that is both ancient and magical—despite a few of the songs more current inception, all maintain the style which is based on Gregorian chants, early French organum and courtly music of long ago.

The voices of those singing is what I think of when I think of the adoration offered by the cherubim and seraphim—tender, otherworldly, reverent, and of a holiness that goes beyond comprehension.
The lyrics of many of these songs, when read, then heard, are so painfully profound and yet tenderly sweet.

When I was in college, studying Italian Renaissance Art History, I was always deeply moved when studying Bernini’s statue of the Ecstasy of St Teresa (Cornaro Chapel, Santa Maria della Vittoria, Rome). I’ve written about this statue before. St Teresa had written very vividly about the visions she had received from God:
Beside me, on the left, appeared an angel in bodily form…. He was not tall but short, and very beautiful; and his face was so aflame that he appeared to be one of the highest rank of angels, who seem to be all on fire…. In his hands I saw a great golden spear, and at the iron tip there appeared to be a point of fire. This he plunged into my heart several times so that it penetrated to my entrails. When he pulled it out I felt that he took them with it, and left me utterly consumed by the great love of God. The pain was so severe that it made me utter several moans. The sweetness caused by this intense pain is so extreme that one cannot possibly wish it to cease, nor is one’s soul content with anything but God. This is not a physical but a spiritual pain, though the body has some share in it—even a considerable share.

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Teresa’s mystical words were beautifully and vividly captured by Bernini in such a powerfully visual, as well as visceral sculptural marvel. Bernini’s massive work appears lighter than air as Teresa appears to almost levitate, as the Angel gently takes hold of her cloak. Bernini captures the very moment the angel pierces Teresa’s heart. To gaze upon the statue is to be afforded a glimpse of something beyond words. The pain and yet utter and complete ecstasy captured in the expression of Teresa’s face is both consuming as well as tremendously immense, as we, the viewer, feel as if we are witnessing something that perhaps we should not be privy to as it is almost too private, too intimate and entirely too personal.

The music of this CD is, to me, similar to witnessing the consuming flame of Teresa’s heart. Something that goes almost beyond me and of my mere earthly comprehension. There are several songs, hymns, arrangements on the CD that pull at my heart, transporting me to somewhere else. One of the many tracts of the CD that I find to be so moving is tract 10, the Candlelight Carol. To read the words is moving yes, but coupled by the musical arrangement and heavenly voices—it is simply beautifully overwhelming:
Candlelight carol
This was written in response to a commission
from the Church of the Assumption,
Pittsburgh, in 1984. Originally for the organ, the
accompaniment was later scored by the
composer for flute, oboe, harp and strings,
in which version it is performed here.

How do you capture the wind on the
water?
How do you count all the stars in the sky?
How can you measure the love of a
mother,
Or how can you write down a baby’s first
cry?

Candlelight, angel light, firelight and starglow
Shine on his cradle till breaking of dawn.
Gloria, gloria in excelsis Deo!
Angels are singing; the Christ child is born.

Shepherds and wise men will kneel and
adore him,
Seraphim round him their vigil will keep;
Nations proclaim him their Lord and their
Saviour,
But Mary will hold him and sing him to sleep.

Candlelight, angel light, firelight and starglow
Shine on his cradle till breaking of dawn.
Gloria, gloria in excelsis Deo!
Angels are singing; the Christ child is born.

Find him at Bethlehem laid in a manger:
Christ our Redeemer asleep in the hay.
Godhead incarnate and hope of salvation:
A child with his mother that first Christmas
Day.

Words and music: John Rutter

The words are tender and sweet as they depict the intimate connection between new born and mother–and yet we, the listener, already know that there is a weight of an unseen heavy burden which lies upon this tiny little figure held gently by a loving mother. Mary, no doubt, pushes deep down and away those words proclaimed to her by the Angel who had visited her 9 months prior–“that she would give birth to a son who she is to name Yeshua (Jesus) who 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.” Troubling words for any young mother.

How could such a burden ever be for this tiny and most vulnerable new being who Mary now holds so close to her breast? How does one measure the love of a mother, how can one write down a baby’s first cry? How can words ever describe such? Mary must think that perhaps, if she holds him close enough and tight enough, she can always protect him, shielding him from this “proclamation.” How Mary’s heart must have been so conflicted on that particular night so long ago which witnessed a World forever changed.

To think of Mary as any new young mother who meets the small “burden” she has carried, loved, nurtured in utero, and now delivered for the first time, is something I think we often don’t consider in realistic terms. Imagine having the knowledge that your child, your very first newborn, has something about him that is not like other babies. Those who have given birth to children with special physical needs do understand this weight of worry. The joy of meeting someone you have loved and nurtured yet never met for the past nine months, knowing that the life ahead is to marked with hardship and difficulty can be overwhelming– and yet, the very first moment of meeting and of holding overshadows that worry and dread. It is pushed aside momentarily as you cradle, holding and loving, something so terribly sweet that the moment is almost too painful to your heart. Overflowing with a deluge of emotion.

It is such thoughts and emotions, as well as others, that the music of this CD helps to bring to a level of conciseness that, I personally, do not often have when I think of the holy little family so very long ago. I tend to put them—Mary, Joseph and the infant Jesus, on a level other than my own–that somehow the burden of carrying and delivering a child for Mary, was not as it is for us today. But the truth of the matter is that is was much more difficult for Mary. It’s just that I don’t think we often think about Mary in those terms. The words from this tract help me to ponder more of the reality verses the often perceived fairy tale of that life changing event.

May you, during this time of Advent, find through song or visual image, a connection that perhaps you never realized before, to that magical and yet life changing night so very long ago. May you ponder the mysteries that a young family were burdened by which, down through the ages, have come to touch both you and I. Mystery, wonder, and awe. . .lay ahead for all of us as we are all connected to that first moment when Mary held her tiny new born son in her arms. We are all present, then and now.
This is your true Christmas gift.