Monday, January 7, 2013

Twelve of One, a Dozen of the Other

The Twelve Days of Christmas have passed, and tonight the Christmas tree goes down, among the last of the seasonal items to be packed away. It has been an unusual season for me - the first December in 28 years in which I have not prepared and conducted Christmas music for worship and programs. I missed it a great deal, which is instructive for me as I press on in my theology studies and discern what is next in my vocation.

Reading Walter Wangerin, Preparing for Jesus, grounded my season, Advent through Christmas. When December began I had no idea that I would be "making music" vicariously through this blog and Facebook posts. The nice personal benefit that came out of that was a rich sense of occasion in the season. I've never really "observed" the Twelve Days of Christmas, in any personal sense. The readings, and the fun challenge of proposing music for each day from December 17 through January 6, helped "keep me in the game." At the Sixth Day of Christmas I recapped a Facebook series of musical offerings, so here today is my re-cap of Days 7 through 12.

As earlier, I add some notes, some alternate recordings, and the occasional optional selection. Enjoy!

Seventh day of Christmas, January 1, 2013
I confessed (a) my ignorance about why there are different ways to count the 12 days, and (b) my laziness that kept me from doing the research about it. Thanks to a couple of rather more interested and energetic friends (friends in real life and on Facebook), I relaxed into the count proffered by Pastor Wangerin. It gave me an extra day of "Christmas" music; and yet, as both ways of counting still end with January 6, Epiphany, in a sense it didn't really matter!
In any case, both methods of counting also mark January 1 as the observation of the Circumcision, the Name Day of Jesus. The gospel song, "What You Gonna Name that Pretty Little Baby" is a family favorite, especially from a recording of the Penumbra Theatre (Saint Paul, MN) production of "Black Nativity." There is a professional recording from a Broadway production of this Langston Hughes stage work. It is, of course, excellent. But for our family taste, the gentler Midwestern version - which we attended several years running - is unmatched. 

Eighth day of Christmas, January 2
A favorite of choirs, congregations, and audiences, Benjamin Britten's This Little Babe, from his Ceremony of Carols simply had to show up somewhere in the 12 Days. I put it here following the "naming" on January 1, because - to my mind - "this little babe, so few days old, has come to rifle Satan's fold" is a natural next statement following, "you shall call his name Jesus, for he shall save his people from their sins." (Jesus means Yahweh saves.)

Ninth day of Christmas, January 3
I just had to get in one of my favorite carols, The Wexford Carol, and this recording by conductor and arranger, Dale Warland. Of course, this is a folk tune and traditional carol, so here is another setting:

Tenth day of Christmas, January 4
I began the turn from Christmas proper, to the Epiphany. I like this selection because it bridges the season so well: Jesus, the Light of the World points back to the angels' announcement of the birth ("Hark! the herald angels sing") and ahead to the theme of Epiphany ("Jesus, the light of the world"). The selection posted on Facebook is nice because the performers and the audience are racially diverse - a great picture of Epiphany and the gospel. But this was a very tight second choice. Its merits are many and obvious, among them the unbridled gospel choir, the excellent lead singer, the totally engaged congregation (this is church), and the Chicago connection - Trinity UCC. Don't let the timing of this video keep you from starting it. The featured song is first in a string of songs. If you have time, treat yourself to the full medley!

Eleventh day of Christmas, January 5. By one reckoning (and, I gather, the more common), this would be the Twelfth Day. By either reckoning, January 5 is Twelfth Night. Time to get your Shakespeare out. Children, Go Where I Send Thee is commonly included in Christmas programs, and is also included in the Black Nativity production in Saint Paul. But, in a strictly liturgical sense, the whole sending/going motif properly belongs to Epiphany. So, another transitional item. As a folk song, it comes in many variants. Some more obscure than others. All of them fun. I stand by my posting of that from the Johnny Cash Christmas special (1977), because . . . well, just because. I might have picked this video there because it is a group that bears mention:

Twelfth day of Christmas, January 6
I may be delusional, but I believe a congregation does not want to be rushed away from Christmas. Preachers outside the liturgical calendar, on the other hand, for any number of reasons, may be all too ready to press on to whatever is next. One way to serve both sides of this post-Christmas dilemma is to sing As of Gladness, Men of Old. Here again, often sung during Advent or on Christmas Eve; but the text screams "later!"
     As of gladness men of old
     Did the guiding star behold,
     As with joy they hailed its light
     Beaming onward, beaming bright;
     So, most gracious Lord, may we
     Evermore be led to Thee.
And again, to be strictly calendrical (?) here is where we could finally program, We Three Kings!
Before I go "back to the beginning," I'd want to offer this setting by . . . the Beach Boys! Go on, listen to it. You know you want to! And it is surprisingly reverent. Enjoy.

But, to come full circle on the season, I really must end back at King's College, Cambridge, Choir in that Chapel:

Christmas Music: I look forward to a much more personal engagement in 2013!

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