I’ve spent the last two blogs writing about Chanukah in preparation for Master Chorus Eastside’s upcoming December concerts. It’s been a good way for me to acquaint myself (and probably a fair portion of our audience as well) with the festival. But we have lots of familiar Christmas carols on the program too. And, like Chanukah, many of them revel in light; how fitting for festivals that occur at the darkest time of the year.
For instance, two of our carols, the Provençal Bring a Torch, Jeanette, Isabella, and Torches, an old Galician carol set to music by the modern English composer John Joubert, were sung to accompany Christmas torchlight processionals that made their way to the village crèche. I can imagine these fire-lit processionals, glowing with warmth and radiance, wending their way through the darkened town, singing these carols that call neighbors and friends to relive that night in Bethlehem long ago.
Other carols in our concert, such as Angels We Have Heard on High and We Three Kings of Orient Are, refer to “glory”: the glory of the angels, the glory of the star, the glory of Mary with her Child, all arrayed against the surrounding nighttime. “Glory” means honor, praise, admiration, but it also carries a sense of splendor, of transcendent beauty, of light that surpasses darkness. In fact, in Provence, Epiphany processional celebrations, illuminated by the rays of the setting sun, heralded the arrival on January 6 of magnificently costumed three kings in all their glory, with bright pennants, blazing torches, and a beautiful star suspended above the church altar. It was a glory of light as light faded from the day!
Perhaps our most touching number is a choral arrangement of the modern American classic, Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, unforgettably sung by Judy Garland in the movie Meet Me in St. Louis. Her family is about to move from their beloved St. Louis home to distant, cold New York City, and, in the midst of their sadness and loss, Judy Garland sings it to her little sister, Tootie, played by Margaret O’Brien. The lyrics skillfully suggest light threatened by darkness: “make the yuletide bright, next year all our troubles will be out of sight;” “happy golden days;” “hang a shining star upon the highest bough” (if the fates allow!)
Notice, in this clip from the movie, how darkness and light play against one another: the dim bedroom, Judy’s scarf sparkling in the gloom, the subdued light from the house spilling obliquely across the snowy evening lawn, the brightly lit window of The Boy Next Door surrounded by blackness, the shadow that falls across the face of the two girls as he slowly pulls down his window shade.
Of course, a happy ending prevails, and the family remains in St. Louis. Light triumphs!
Christmas and Chanukah are seasons of light, resplendent in the midst of darkness. So in the spirit of both seasons, raise your voice in carols or Chanukah songs, attend concerts and services, savor traditional commemorations, and celebrate the light!
Dr. Linda Gingrich
Artistic director and conductor
Master Chorus Eastside