Monday, December 31, 2012

The Twelve Days

Following Christmas Day, I have been posting carols and hymns on Facebook, one each day for the Twelve Days of Christmas. Again, prompted by my reading in Walter Wangerin's "Preparing for Jesus" devotional book, I have taken December 26 as the First Day of Christmas. I'm not entirely certain how that works. That is, why isn't the 25th the First Day? Too lazy to sort that out, I've just decided that the 25th has to be the Feast Day of the Nativity, and then take Wangerin's word for the counting. Hey, I'm on Christmas break, and my church life does not (yet) require of me this level of liturgical sophistication. Would that it may, in future.

The 12th day, then, will be January 6, the Epiphany. With that date's post (on Facebook and again here), I will move on from daily seasonal songs. More's the pity!

First day of Christmas, December 26. I posted Fum, Fum, Fum because of its lyric:
On December 5 and 20, fum, fum, fum.
not thinking about it being St. Stephen's Day, which would have required this instead:
But here I have a thing with the Continental Reformers. With them, eager to observe the "evangelical feasts" - the remembrances of biblical events - and less so to honor various saints days and speculative occasions. But there is St. Stephen, Deacon and Martyr, with a whole chapter of the Bible given to him. So, lots to pack into the First Day of Christmas.

Second day of Christmas, December 27. I posted a fun recording of God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen played by Jethro Tull. In the Lessons and Carols service I planned for so many years, the congregation's voice on this carol was always thrilling. In celebration mode, however, the funky stylings of a pop group seemed apt. The carol chosen for its lyric:
. . . let nothing you dismay, for Jesus Christ our Savior was born on Christmas Day,
To save us all from Satan's power when we had gone astray:
O tidings of comfort and joy!
If I had found an online recording with a congregation singing, that would have been my first choice.

Third day of Christmas, December 28. Thanks to a preemptive Facebook posting (from Bryan Park?) I was reminded that this date commemorates the Holy Innocents, the children slain in Bethlehem. The Coventry Carol is the only carol suitable for such a day. It always surprises me how popular this carol is. Do people actually listen to the words? And yet for me, too - and I have"always" known the words to this - it is a favorite. Maybe that's why I have so long been materialism-adverse in this season. It raises the question, though. Since the massacre in Bethlehem followed the visit of the Magi, who technically belong to Epiphany, why this commemoration on this date, and not in January? (The same could be asked about St. Stephen, by the way.) Liturgical calendars; I'm pretty ignorant, I guess. In keeping with the folk music history and quality, I might as well have posted this video. I've never been a huge Joan Baez fan, but I acknowledge her place in my generation's music. And I'm pretty sure this recording uses a concertina, so there is that. Plus, note the arranger and conductor is none other than Peter Schickele!

Fourth day of Christmas, December 29. I just had to get What Sweeter Music into the season, and since I didn't make it fit in Lessons and Carols, that was another reason to keep thinking about music for the season, and to keep posting favorites. What was it with Robert Herrick and all his amazing nativity poetry?
    Chorus. WHAT sweeter music can we bring,
    Than a Carol, for to sing
    The Birth of this our heavenly King?
    Awake the Voice! Awake the String!
    Heart, Ear, and Eye, and every thing
    Awake! the while the active Finger
    Runs division with the Singer.
    From the Flourish they came to the Song.
    Voice 1: Dark and dull night, fly hence away,
    And give the honor to this Day,
    That sees December turn'd to May.
    Voice 2: If we may ask the reason, say:
    The why, and wherefore all things here
    Seem like the Spring-time of the year?
    Voice 3: Why does the chilling Winter's morn
    Smile, like a field beset with corn?
    Or smell, like to a mead new-shorn,
    Thus, on the sudden?
    Voice 4:                                 Come and see
    The cause, why things thus fragrant be:
    'Tis He is born, whose quick'ning Birth
    Gives life and luster, public mirth,
    To Heaven and the under-Earth.
    Chorus: We see Him come, and know Him ours,
    Who, with His Sun-shine, and His Showers,
    Turns all the patient ground to flowers.
    Voice 1: The Darling of the World is come,
    And fit it is, we find a room
    To welcome Him.
    Voice 2:                                 The nobler part
    Of all the house here, is the Heart,
    Chorus: Which we will give Him; and bequeath
    This Holly and this Ivy Wreath,
    To do Him honor; who's our King,
    And Lord of all this Revelling.
    [The Musical Part was composed by Master Henry Lawes].
    Robert Herrick
Fifth day of Christmas, December 30. Because it is an old favorite, and rarely heard, I posted The Holly and the Ivy. It just needs to be sung and heard more, and I never got it into a program at College Church. I made my list for this series on Christmas Eve. I have revised it along the way. But I could not squeeze in the other old and rarely heard option, All poor men and humble:
And here I admit my ignorance. This is obviously the traditional tune for these words. (If the internet is any judge here. I did get a classic copy of the Oxford Book of Carols for Christmas, but am too lazy to walk over and look this up :~) But it is not the tune I learned for the carol. My loss. Here repented and rectified. Marvelous text. 

Sixth day of Christmas, December 31. There is no Rose of Such Virtue is an ancient text, with many lovely settings. I first heard it in the Britten Ceremony of Carols. The only setting I have conducted is that by Robert Young, which I posted this morning. But, like many, I simply cannot shake the Britten:
Not to mention that, in a couple of days I will use another carol from the Ceremony, and didn't want my daily posts to be too Britten-heavy. Another Britten piece for Christmas might have shown up in the Lessons and Carols, and earlier in the Twelve Days. Another time. [sigh]

Monday, December 24, 2012

Lessons and Carols, 9: Happy Christmas Morning!

Changing up the order to allow the joyous Christmas morning hymn to immediately follow the reading. Happy Christmas!

Ninth Carol: In dulci jubilo
text:14th century, Latin and German (attributed Heinrich Suso)
Let me encourage you to click the text link to see the original text and the English translation.
You may wait until after presents are opened. 
music: combined settings by JS Bach and 2 Praetoriuses

Ninth Lesson: John 1:1-14

Ninth Hymn: O Come, All Ye Faithful
As Walter Wangerin started all this last Monday,  we'll use as a benediction words from his Christmas Eve devotional:
On this night it all comes true.
Every song receives its meaning.
All promises are kept.
The Lord of glory makes a doorway
Of the Virgin's tender flesh,
And comes, and slumbers in a creche.
Walter Wangerin, Jr. Preparing for Jesus (Zondervan, 1999), 127

Postlude: Angel's Dance
composed Steven Amundsen, St. Olaf College Orchestra
In keeping with the "dream team" nature of these Lessons and Carols, and the joy of the morning.
Gloria in excelsis Deo!

Lessons and Carols, 8

At King's College chapel, on Christmas Eve, you will hear a sequence of readers. Beginning with a boy chorister, the readers advance in age and "status" until the final reading from the Provost of the University. (The Lord Mayor of Cambridge makes an appearance somewhere along the way.) I love that pattern, what is does for inclusivity, and how it provides a sense of movement as the revelation, the story, unfolds. In our setting at College Church we have done something like, but ending with a staff pastor in the final Lesson. I think any opportunity to read scripture is a privilege, and would be happy to draw any of those straws.

Eighth Reading: Matthew 2:1-12

Eighth Carol: Three Kings
text: Laurence Housman
music: Healey Willan
     "Who knocks tonight so late?"
     the weary porter said.
     Three kings stood at the gate,
     each with a crown on head.
        The serving man bowed down,
        the Inn was full, he knew.
        Said he, "In all this town
        is no fit place for you."
     A light in the manger lit;
     there lay the Mother meek.
     This place is fit.
     Here is the rest we seek.
        Come, come. They loosed their latchet strings,
        so stood they all unshod
        "Come in, come in, ye kings,
        and kiss the feet of God."

Eighth Hymn: Of the Father's Love Begotten
At College Church we began using this hymn - one of the most ancient of Christian hymns still in common use - as a musical context for the congregation to recite the Nicene Creed in the Christmas Eve service. They are, indeed, hand in glove.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Lessons and Carols, 7

When I plan a real Lessons and Carols, I put things together, let the plan sit, go back to reconsider, think about a balance of styles, etc. It occurred to me here that my choral selections have all been on the rather reflective side. Today should prove a bit more lively.

Seventh Lesson: Luke 2:8-16

Seventh Carol: A Babe Is Born All of a May
text: anonymous, ancient
music: William Mathias (20th century, England)
And yes, it really should be with organ!
 A babe is born all of a may, [maid]
To bring salvation unto us.
To him we sing both night and day.
Veni creator Spiritus. [Come, Spirit, creator]
 At Bethlehem, that blessed place, 
The child of bliss now born he was; 
And him to serve God give us grace, 
O lux beata Trinitas. [O light of the blessed Trinity] 
There came three kings out of the East, 
To worship the King that is so free, 
With gold and myrrh and frankincense, 
A solis ortus cardine. [from lands that see the sunrise (the east)]
A fair song that night sung they 
In worship of that child: 
Gloria tibi Domine. [Glory to you, Lord]
A babe is born all of a may, 
To bring salvation unto us. 
To him we sing both night and day. 
Veni creator Spiritus, 
O lux beata Trinitas, 
A solis ortus cardine, 
Gloria tibi Domine. 
Seventh Hymn: Hark! the Herald Angels Sing

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Lessons and Carols, 6

The carols featured today are what started this whole series off. Monday morning I read the first text in its poetic form in a morning Advent reading. The musical setting featured today is an item I have long admired, and I had hoped to direct it this season. One of the (many) delights I walked away from this fall. I believe I heard these two carols paired in someone else's program; I doubt this reflects my own creativity. But today I do offer two carols, and I hope the reason will be apparent. And yes, there is also still a hymn.

In my ideal Lessons and Carols, time is not an issue.

Sixth Lesson: Luke 2:1-7

Sixth Carol(s): Two Kings and The Best of Rooms
Two Kings, text anonymous; musical setting by Joseph Clokey
(random unnecessary trivia - the composer's father was Art Clokey, creator of Gumby!)
The Best of Rooms, text by Robert Herrick (16th century); musical setting by Randall Thompson (1963)
Two Kings (no video, but I'm glad this performance sung by St. Olaf Choral Ensembles is available!)
     Yet if His Majesty, our Sov'reign Lord,
     Should of his own accord,
     friendly himself invite,
     and say, "I'll be your guest tomorrow night."
     how we should stir ourselves, call and command
     all hands to work, "Let no man idle stand!"
        "Set me fine Spanish tables in the hall,
        See they are fitted all.
        Let there be room to eat
        and orders taken that there want no meat.
        See ev'ry sconce and candlestick made bright,
        that without tapers they may give a light.
     But at the coming of the King of Heaven,
     all's set at six and seven;
     we wallow in our sin.
     Christ cannot find a chamber at the inn.
     We entertain Him always like a stranger,
     and, as at first still lodge Him in the manger.

The Best of Rooms
 Christ, He requires still, wheresoe'er He comes
To feed or lodge, to have the best of rooms:
Give Him the choice; grant Him the nobler part
Of all the house: the best of all's the heart.

Sixth Hymn: O Little Town of Bethlehem 
text: Phillips Brooks (19th century)
tune: Forest Green (trad English) 
If you feel you must hear this hymn sung the way you thought it was going to sound (!) click here for a lovely setting with orchestra and the Vienna Boys Choir.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Lessons and Carols, 5

The "Lessons" of Lessons and Carols move from prophecy about a coming Savior, through the announcement of the gift of a Savior, to the birth of Jesus the Savior. The fifth lesson brings us to the New Testament, to Mary, and to one of my favorite hymns of all, regardless of the season of the year. I like how personal the "Magnificat" can be for people gathered in worship.

Fifth Lesson: Luke 1:26-38
I especially enjoy it when a female high school or college student reads this Lesson!

Fifth Carol: The Angel Gabriel to Mary Came
traditional Basque carol

Fifth Hymn: Tell Out, My Soul, the Greatness of the Lord
text: Timothy Dudley-Smith, from Mary's Song, the Magnificat
tune: Woodlands, composed by Walter Greatorex
(some readers will recognize the composer's surname as the tune name 
for a setting of Gloria Patri, which tune he also wrote)

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Lessons and Carols, 4

Working this series of posts has reminded me of two aspects of planning services and programs. One - there is often so much material, that sorting through the options is like being a child in a candy shop . . . on a limited budget. Two - while in most of life I don't dwell much on options, or "what might have been" once a decision is made, in a program like this I am always second-guessing selections. Oh well, that is one of the beauties of Lessons and Carols: it's a Christmas program, and it's hard to "miss," with so much beautiful music available. Also, ideally one prepares Lessons and Carols annually, and the readings don't change (or, not much) so one gets second chances. As already noted, this series is scratching that worship planning itch. It's just been a surprise to also be experiencing the self-evaluation that comes with that!

Fourth Lesson: Isaiah 11:1-10
This is one of those places with an optional/alternate Lesson. I wish we could have Ten Lessons and Carols. But then, I wonder if the Church erred when it reduced Advent from six weeks to four!

Fourth Carol: Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming

Fourth Hymn: O Morning Star, How Fair and Bright
text: Philipp Nicolai (1599) trans Catherine Winkworth
tune: Wie schoen leuchtet, also written by Nicolai (adapted from an older psalm tune)
Lutherans are the only readers likely to have sung this as a congregational hymn. That's a shame, and I consider it one of the shortcomings of my ministry that even at College Church we never had the congregation try it. They could manage it. Anyway, here is a very nice men's chorus arrangement, stanza one only. Full text is linked above.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Lessons and Carols, 3

When you do tune in (or click the url) to the King's broadcast on Christmas Day, you might also want to open the pdf of the service booklet. Itself a bit of classic design - elegant simplicity with lots of white space on the page - it also provides all the text of the readings and the music, historical background, etc. I happened to notice that the 2012 program is already available. And it is an exercise in self discipline to not look at that while I am putting together my own online, one day at a time Lessons and Carols.

A Service of Nine Lessons and Carols
From King's Study, Winfield

Third Lesson: Isaiah 9:2, 6-7
The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined. For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.
King James Version, taken from
Most of the lessons are read without abridgment, but Isaiah 9
requires so much context that it's just easier on the brain (and the heart) to cut to the chase

Third Carol: The Dream Isaiah Saw
text: Thomas Troeger, from Isaiah11
music: Glenn Rudolph
You can hear the commissioning choir's recording on Spotify. 
Type the title into the search bar there and click on the Bach Choir option. 
You will hear it there in all its percussive glory.

Third Hymn: Joy to the World
from India
from Africa
from Italy
from France

I've linked to other recordings - well, for a hopefully obvious reason. But beyond "to the world," except for Africa, I have had the privilege of being in these other places. Africa is there just because the music is so joyous, and this setting so . . . joyful! If you have time for only one, let me point you to France. So earnest it made me laugh for joy.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Lessons and Carols, 2

I'm making my way to the international broadcast of the Service of Nine Lessons and Carols from the chapel of King's College, Cambridge. I miss planning worship services, and this is one way to get at that, even if it's only for my personal satisfaction, and to keep my skills (hopefully!) sharp. And, unbound by resources, time, and space, this is sort of a dream Lessons and Carols.

A Service of Nine Lessons and Carols
From King's Study, Winfield

Second Lesson: Genesis 12:1-3

Carol: Jesus Christ, the Apple Tree 
author: unknown
composer: Elizabeth Poston

(Here is the poem sung so beautifully by the choir of St. John's College, Cambridge, in the above video)

Hymn:  O Lord, How Shall I Meet You?
text: Paul Gerhardt (1653) translated Catherine Winkworth, revised
tune: Wie soll ich dich empfangen (Johann Cruger, 17th century)
(I hoped to find the setting for choir and congregation that I know so well. But here is a fine recording of a German congregation singing the tune. English words are below the video.)
O Lord, how shall I meet you, how welcome you aright?
Your people long to greet you, my hope, my heart's delight.
O kindle Lord most holy, your lamp within my breast,
To do in spirit lowly all that may please you best.

Love caused your incarnation, love brought you down to me.
Your thirst for my salvation procured my liberty.
O love beyond all telling that led you to embrace
in love, all loves excelling, our lost and fallen race.

You come, O Lord, with gladness, in mercy and goodwill,
To bring an end to sadness and bid our fears be still.
In patient expectation we wait for that great day
When a renewed creation your glory shall display.

O Lord, how shall I meet you, how welcome you aright?
Your people long to greet you, my hope, my heart's delight.
O kindle Lord most holy, your lamp within my breast,
To do in spirit lowly all that may please you best.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Lessons and Carols

Christmas Eve. Cambridge, England. King's College, 3pm. A Service of Nine Lessons and Carols.

Christmas Eve. Winfield, Illinois. King's home, 9am. The international live broadcast of "A Service of Nine Lessons and Carols" from King's Cambridge.

Our tradition is not nearly so hoary, and it is not unbroken, but this family has long enjoyed - with millions of others around the world - the worship and the wonder of this service. And it was a surprise to learn, back around 1999, that College Church in Wheaton had never "put on" a Service of Lessons and Carols. It seemed such a . . . well, such a College Church kind of service. And so it was a delight to introduce this into our series of Sunday evening December services. We ran it about a decade, and after a hiatus, the Chancel Choir revived it this year.

Without me.


And this brief run of posts is not offered as a contrarian plan to that evening. Far from it. It is just my vision for "A Service of Nine Lessons and Carols," for 2012, if I had been in a position to plan such a service, and a choir to work with. If I manage it, the series of posts will end on Christmas morning, with the Ninth Lesson, and the final carol(s).

I'm thinking of it this morning because my daily Advent reading, from Walter Wangerin's Preparing for Jesus, included a poem, the setting of which I had planned to use in this season at College Church, had I stayed put long enough. That poem, paired with another, will be featured later in their proper place. For now, to whet your appetite and to encourage you to find the December 24 live broadcast (or live-stream) and carve out 90 minutes of that day to enjoy it, I give you:

A Service of Nine Lessons and Carols
from King's Study, Winfield

Prelude: O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

Introit/Processional: Once in Royal David's City 


Bidding Prayer 
Jesus, God of all our hopes,
We thank you for being our Wonderful Counselor - we need you to show us the way;
our Mighty God - we need you to protect us from all evil;
our Everlasting Father - we need the comfort of being in your family;
our Prince of Peace - we need your peace in a troubled world.

Give us grace that we may seek the way, the truth, and the life.
Without you, we would wander off course - broad is the way that leads to destruction.
Without you, we would embrace error and walk in darkness.
Without you, we would remain in our sins and never know eternal life.
We praise you, that you have come so that we might have life and have it abundantly.
Just as you sent your messengers, the prophets, to prepare the way of salvation, may we prepare the traditions that nurture our spiritual lives and celebrate the dawning of your everlasting Kingdom.
Heaven and earth await that great event.
Even so, come, Lord Jesus!
taken from Wendell Hawley, A Pastor Prays for His People (Tyndale, 2010) 
Wendell is a friend, pastor, and colleague from College Church.

First Lesson: Genesis 3:8-15
"Lessons" are Bible readings, and they are the centerpiece, the focus, the main event of the service. The music hangs on the readings. So, seriously, I encourage you to read before or as you listen. Before for maximum effect, during for the sake of time! I am providing a link to each reading.

First Carol:  Adam Lay Ybounden
At the birthplace of this service, King's College Chapel, the "carols" are the items sung by the choir, while the congregation sings "hymns." 

A Lessons and Carols that included a Carol and a Hymn for each Lesson could become quite long. But not longer, I think, than 90 minutes, which is the time you'll want to set aside for the Decembver 24 broadcast. But one day at a time, I think we'll keep this pattern. Today's hymn I could not find recorded. Too bad. I think it has a haunting tune, and I love to hear the College Church congregation sing it.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

A childhood worship memory

In my last post I mentioned the Rev. Phillips, at the Bronson (MI) Methodist Episcopal Church. He was tall - OK, he seemed tall to me - and dignified, and warm. (Oh! maybe he is why I do not understand the supposed disparity between dignity and warmth, between formal and personal!) People liked him. My family liked him. I liked him. Because of him, I wanted to be "a minister someday."

Which I soon outgrew, but that's another story.

This story is funny because it goes against everything I have written in the opening paragraph. Except about Rev. Phillips being tall. It has nothing to say about that.

Our organist was Mrs. Billie Hunsinger. She was as proper as the minister was dignified. White haired, at least in my memory. And can you picture the classic Methodist Episcopal chancel - the altar rail, the communion table, the pulpit, and the choir stalls divided and facing each other over the open center? It's naturally difficult to get a good photo that shows this. If you've seen it you know what I mean. If you haven't, I hope you will someday. It's like the Kings College chapel, without the screen dividing the nave from the chancel, and an altar (kneeling) rail across the front.

So, that's the setting. I swear this is true. In my wildest imagination at that age, I could not have made this up. Rev. Phillips announced the hymn, which was new for this congregation. He said a few words about it, and explained that Mrs. Hunsinger was going to play it through for us.

Then he turned, and he said . . .

"Hit it, Billie."

Advent 1

My spiritual awakening traces (as far as I can tell) back to an Advent season when I was in 5th or 6th grade. We attended a Methodist Episcopal Church (yes, I remember Methodism before the UMC) in Bronson, Michigan. It was a charming old sanctuary, classic in every way, in my memory at least, and this would have been one of the last years that congregation had before it was replaced by a "totally 60's" new sanctuary. And Reverend Phillips was a charming pastor. The first thing I "wanted to be when I grow up," apart from the usual grade-school boy dream of fireman, etc., was a minister. That was entirely because of my young admiration of Rev. Phillips.

I soon outgrew that, but that's another story.

The Advent season was the only time in my home that we routinely got out the Bible and read. That was Mom. She prepared the Yule log (seriously, we had a Yule log) and we would read and light the candles. I have no idea how often this happened. It may have been only one year, but it is powerful in my memory, and tied to one particular Advent at Bronson Methodist.

What I recall is the sense of it all, not the particulars. I do know that we heard sermons from Isaiah. And . . . that's pretty much it! The readings, the fact (but not the content) of sermons, the look of the church, and a Yule log. It would be years before I knowingly put all this together; years after I had begun to understand the relationship that was stirred by the Spirit of God through the words of Isaiah proclaimed by Rev. Phillips. And it came together one Advent.

So this has been a special season for me, and consequently for my own family, all my adult life. Karen and I learned Advent worship in the Village Church of Western Springs when we were newlyweds and beginning a family. We took that into my ministry of music at Berean Baptist Church in Minnesota, where it was a delight to help move along the nascent seasonal observation there. When we came to College Church, we found a rich season well developed, and it was in so many ways like finally finding our Advent "home."

It should not, then, be a surprise that it is now, at the beginning of this season, that I begin to fully understand what I am missing during this ministry hiatus. The "ordinary" season has past, and while College Church is hardly a liturgical calendar kind of place, there is that sense of new beginnings that comes with Advent there. This year we will see that from the other side of the chancel, particularly when we attend "Lessons and Carols" as part of the season.

We have been visiting churches this fall. Not so much to "find a church" but to get to places that we had never been able to see before. But for Advent, we thought it would be a good idea to settle into one church for the four Sundays. We narrowed this down to two options, and Saturday night made our choice. It seemed like such a good choice, for all the right reasons. But you know, it was not, as it turns out. Advent can be celebrated properly in myriad ways. So when I say that this way didn't quite "do it for us," it is hardly a critique of the service or of the excellent church we attended. It should have worked on every level, and yet it didn't. So, since we never thought we'd consider this particular church a place we could settle long term, we will change course for the coming Sundays.

And, no surprise here, our other option will have a service very much like what I've had the privilege of planning and leading for decades. Very much, I am pretty sure, like that Advent season long ago in Bronson, when my spirit was stirred for the coming of Christ into my life.

Monday, December 3, 2012

The advent of Advent

This would have been my 28th season of music ministry in the season of Advent.

I've been surprised to not really miss much about my work in the church over these past eight weeks. I've kept plenty busy. (In fact, instead of writing here this morning, I should be in my study space hunkering down on my term paper!) I've enjoyed the flexibility and freedom of the weekends with my Karen. Evenings home, with my reading finished for the day, and nowhere I have to be. All very sabbatical like.

A couple of weeks ago, it began to worry me that I was not missing the rehearsal of Christmas music. Perhaps the fact that I thought of that should have been a clue to what was really going on inside. Oh yes, we have missed Thursday nights with the choir at College Church. But why was I not missing the music-making that has shaped every week of my life for 26 years? (That missing year equals two sabbaticals.)

The illusion shattered this weekend, in the most dramatic and fulfilling way. It hit (beautifully) on Friday night, when we entered the gym at St Olaf College, for the annual Christmas Festival. This was our fourth or fifth time at the Festival, which stands in my mind as the epitome, the sine qua non, the exemplar of what a church or academy Christmas Festival can and should be.

I've never dreamed of getting a choir to perform to the standards of the St Olaf Choirs. But I have always heard Christmas music there that I've wanted to introduce to my choir. My life - and my choirs - have been enriched by the St Olaf tradition, Advent, Christmas, and et cetera. This year was no exception, except that I'm not now in a position to carry the candle back to a choir of my own. And that was when I truly began to miss the work with the people who get together weekly to make music for worship.

Old Friends Some things in the Festival that we've sung in my choirs: Holst, Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence; Ferguson, arr, He Comes to Us as One Unknown; Christiansen, Beautiful Savior (never more beautiful than when sung by the St Olaf choirs at the end of the Festival, circling the Skoglund Arena).

New Ideas I Could Use "Awake! Awake and Greet the New Morn" (Haugen, arr. Ferguson) Here, I thought, is a new Advent hymn that people would really love to sing. And maybe for another week, even, forget that what they really want is to sing Christmas carols too early. "O Little Town of Bethlehem" (arr. K. Jennings) - a newly composed melody, and a brilliant setting for this familiar text. "Night of Silence" (Kantor, arr. Ferguson) - a setting to introduce and then accompany "Silent Night." Where have I been, to have missed this 1996 arrangement?

Gotta Look This Up Some things that would be fun to learn and use: I don't "know" the Poulenc Gloria, not as a conductor or singer, but only as a listener. Hearing "Laudamus te" reminded me that I have some work to do here. Conductor Christopher Aspaas had several arrangements in this program, each of them very, very nice. But one that stood out was his pairing of the American songs, "Poor Wayfarin' Stranger" with "I Wonder as I Wander." Lovely brilliance, that. His medley "Carols for the Choirs and Orchestra: Love and Joy come to you" was beautiful, and it was nice to see an alternate to the (rightly beloved) model by Carolyn Jennings, sung for years in this Festival.

Familiar and Welcome This is the first year after John Ferguson's retirement from St Olaf. It was good to see so much of his work still in the program. Along with settings by both Kenneth and Carolyn Jennings. I sometimes forget just how perfectly Ms Jennings wrote for choirs, and how well a good church choir can handle her work. Kenneth's work is lovely and impressive, and to my ear more usually better suited to the collegiate level choir. But it is always good to hear their work. Good on you, St Olaf, for keeping this repertoire going. Karen and I were at the Festival the year Steve Amundsen's "Angels' Dance" was premiered. It was great to hear this in person again. "Day Full of Grace," another Christiansen masterwork was also part of the program.

It was a surprise to hear no world music. It was a treat to see how many students in the orchestra sang along with the audience during the carols. And it was a huge surprise to see almost the full orchestra singing along on the final number, the aforementioned "Beautiful Savior." Our seats had never been so close to the orchestra, so perhaps this is nothing new and we just hadn't been able to see it. (Thankfully, St Olaf has managed to avoid the "Jumbotron" syndrome.) But I literally every orchestral face I could see was singing - and obviously singing voice parts - as the program concluded.

It was a little strange hearing all this before the first day of Advent. But it was glorious, and it stirred our hearts, and it prepared the way for this season that prepares the way. And, as always, it was worship. We were lost in wonder, love, and praise!