Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Carols

My favorite music at Christmas are the traditional carols and hymns that have been sung for hundreds of years . They impart a timeless joy and hope during this season of anticipation, and breathe a peace, solemnity, and cheer that transcends generations. Some carols speak of goodwill to others (such as Good King Wenceslas), but most are of Christ and his birth. Penned ages ago, in a time that knew great illiteracy, suffering, and loss, these songs impart the gospel and speak of hope and redemption in a simple way but it is their very simplicity makes them complex and enduring. And though we continue to hear them today, we often forget to listen to what the carols are saying to us. I would encourage anyone reading this blog to read the history and lyrics of songs that you may have heard a hundred times already this Christmas season, to reflect on their words, and then to listen once again and see if you haven't gained a new appreciation for them. :)

The 12th century Wexford Carol (lyrics here), performed beautifully by Alison Krauss and accompanied by YoYo Ma

Ding Dong! Merrily on High (lyrics here) and In the Bleak Midwinter (lyrics here), both performed by King's College Choir

French carol circa 1553, Bring a Torch, Jeanette Isabella (lyrics here); musical version by Fernando Ortega

Let all Mortal Flesh Keep Silence is a 4th or 5th c. chant, whose present day text is based on the liturgy of Saint James. Unlike other carols, this one speaks not just of the Incarnation of Christ, but of his anticipated redemption and of his eternal reign. One of my favorite versions is performed simply but beautifully by Fernando Ortega.

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