Sunday, December 24, 2006

Today is my dancing day.

Tonight my family and I went to the caroling service at the Cathedral of the Madeleine in Salt Lake. The Cathedral is just four blocks from my apartment (the bells woke me this morning with a glorious racket!), and so I attend musical services there whenever I can. Truth be told, I had already attended the caroling service last week with some friends, but I'm a bit of a Christmas music junkie and I begged the family to come with me today so that I could get another fix. This year the program included a couple of my favorites that are somewhat unusual: the Middle English lullaby "Myn Lyking" and "Jesus Christ the Apple Tree" which I've slooowly been trying to adapt for a quartet of women. I also fell in love with a couple that were new to me: "Lo! He Comes with Clouds Descending" (Regent Square) and "Of the Father's Heart Begotten" (arr. Willcocks). Today the service started at 4:00, so the sun was setting through the nave windows. The nativity window was opposite us -- a blood red robe foiling the pearly white baby Jesus. It was the perfect place to be on Christmas Eve. Sometimes the Mormon Christmas experience cries out for an injection of Catholic pageantry.

Another of my favorite unusual carols is "Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day," in which the voice is Christ as the Bridegroom. The unusual thing is that the first verse he apparently sings the night before he is born:

Tomorrow shall be my dancing day:
I would my true love did so chance
To see the legend of my play,

To call my true love to my dance:
Sing O my love, O my love, my love, my love;
This have I done for my true love.

Then was I born of a virgin pure,
Of her I took fleshly substance;
Thus was I knit to man's nature,
To call my true love to my dance:
Sing O my love, O my love, my love, my love;
This have I done for my true love.

Then in a manger laid and wrapped I was,
So very poor this was my chance,

Betwixt an ox and a silly poor ass,
To call my true love to my dance:
Sing O my love, O my love, my love, my love;
This have I done for my true love.

Then afterwards baptized I was;

The Holy Ghost on me did glance,
My Father's voice heard from above,
To call my true love to my dance:
Sing O my love, O my love, my love, my love;
This have I done for my true love.
Maybe I'm taking the word "tomorrow" too literally, but the reason I like to think of it that way is that it recalls a passage in the Book of Mormon in which a prophet on the American continent hears the voice of Christ on the night before the Nativity, reassuring him that the prophecies have not been false. I'm probably wrong, but I like to think that this carol is about a similar moment.

I hope you'll post any of your favorite carols that are less well known. "Silent Night" is beautiful, and that's precisely why we shouldn't sing it to death.


Belladonna said...

I love church bells! I have dear friends who are Orthodox Christians so I go to services with them sometimes. Their bells are an integral part of their services and play a significant role. You can see them HERE.

Last April I went to their Pascha Services which commemorate the resurrection of Christ. It was absolutely amazing.

Since St. Silouan's congregation observes a different calendar, they won't observe the Nativity until January 7. If I can get a substitute for my Primary class I may go to services with my pals that day in honor of their celebration of the birth of Christ.

Ninny Beth said...

I heart "In the Bleak Midwinter" It's not precise in it's imagery...but oh it is beautiful.
And I love the final line

What can I give him
poor as I am
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb
If I were a wise man
I would do my part
But what I can I give him
Give my heart.

Marie said...

Church bells are great -- I'm sorry they were phased out of LDS houses of worship.

I was looking at a British death record the other day at work and the person's occupation was "bell tuner." I wondered if that meant church bells, and if so, how do you tune a bell? Get it a new dinger thing?

I also like "In the Bleak Midwinter." Growing up I had an arch nemesis, a boy who was in my Sunday School classes and also my grade at school. He scared off teacher after teacher at church and was generally a bully. However, he had a beautiful tenor voice and was asked to sing a solo in this carol in our high school choir one year (the verse that begins "Enough for him..."). All the other guys in the choir would snicker at the lines "breast full of milk" and "the ox and ass," but he took it very seriously and sang it beautifully and with great feeling. I think of that every time I hear the song now -- it was lovely before, but knowing that even this cranky guy loved it made it more lovely somehow.

Joanne said...

For the Christmas program, our ward choir sang different words to "Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day." I'd never heard it before. Fun! Judd likes the original words. He wonders why truth or freedom or whatever could not be "dancing" instead of "marching as to war."

We spent Christmas at Judd's parents' home which is near a small veterans cemetery with bells that play several times each day. I could hear them from the back yard. I loved the fact that I actually "heard the bells on Christmas Day" this year! Also several military tunes, ecumenical hymns, and even Handel's "I Know That My Redeemer Liveth" and "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring."

Joanne said...

Bach's "Jesu."

Marie said...

Man, the Cathedral bells can't compete with that play list. Where was this musical cemetery?

Remember how the bells at BYU would play the first line from "Come, Come Ye Saints" on the hour? I always thought it was spooky how the note on "your" was a whole step interval rather than a half -- made it sound like a dirge.