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Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Wings as Drifted Snow: Christmas Morning Choir


     As a final chapter of my Yuletide saga I was invited to play my penny whistle for the introduction before mass at the Annunciation Catholic Church, along with Pat the choir director on keyboard, his sister Lynn on auto-harp, and her husband Henry on violin and mandolin. All three of them are professional musicians, and I was honored to be the lone amateur invited into the fold. Interestingly, Henry is of Russian-Jewish stock, but he one of the founding members of a Celtic band named after Inishowen in the Republic of Ireland, the old stomping ground of his wife’s ancestors. He has an effervescent personality and a snappy sense of humor, so it was fun to jest back and forth with him as we scrambled for sheet music and adjusted mics before mass.

    Lynn is a Third Order Franciscan and used to be a novice at EWTN. However, she decided that her true vocation lay elsewhere than the convent, so she left before she made her final vows and went on to embrace martial life. Nevertheless, she showed me true Sisterly charity before and during the performance, and the feathery sensation of being hugged by her in her fur-trimmed Christmas coat has left me with a fond holiday memory. Her brother Pat is my surrogate godfather who my family met while recording a series of religious music CDs at his studio. He sold that business a year ago, but our friendship with him continues as strong as ever. In fact just a few days ago, we met a local restaurant called Parrot's Pizza for a little post-Christmas celebration involving, among other things, bacon n’ cheese and M&M pizza……

    Getting back to the choir loft, we merry three played "Hark the Herald," "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen", and "Joy to the World" as opening numbers. Other than several finger-fumbles resulting in shrill notes on my part (oh, well!), I believe the whistling worked out quite nicely in conjunction with the other instruments. The sound had a very nice folksy flare to it and made me think about traditional European Christmas celebrations in which family and friends gather to worship the Christ Child with timeless songs. So many old friends from Christian history also came to mind, like Isaac Watts and Charles Wesley, and I took pleasure in the thought that they might be listening, somewhere, to us playing their hymns so many years after their deaths. I also could not help but recall scenes from The Adventures of Long John Silver series as I listened to Christmas melodies that rang with the jolly spirit of “The Cask and Anchor” during the season of Yuletide revelry.

    To finish up our serenade, I sang the lead and Lynn sang the harmony on "Gabriel's Message," a haunting Basque carol telling the story of the Annunciation and conveying the sense of astonishment and intensity that the Virgin Mary surely must have felt when she was visited by the angel with “his wings like drifted snow/his eyes of flame”. Then I sang two rousing verses of "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentleman" in time with a fiddle tune that flowed like a reel, and eased out with a solemn rendition of "What Child is This?" backed up by harmonies from Pat. I wonder if King Henry VIII realized that his rather racy lovers’ ballad, “Greensleeves”, would one day be put to such a superior use. Though that happy accident is no thanks to him, I will gladly give him a nod for giving us the tune seems waft along the elegant corridors of Tudor England to the present.

    After the three of us finished our intro music (which lasted for about an hour before mass), we settled back into the pews in the loft and tried hard to focus our minds on the Liturgy of the Word. But I must admit it was rather hard to concentrate on the priest’s homily. The church building, which had been built by German immigrants in the 19th century, was so beautifully decked out in festive greenery and glittering ribbons that I felt absorbed by it. I gazed up at the ceiling beams and read the words of the Angelus prayer painted across them: “Behold the Handmaid of the Lord/Be It Done unto Me in Accordance with Thy Word.” What a priceless gift Our Lady gave us by her fiat, her blessed “yes” to the will of God! She gave your Son flesh and blood, the same flesh and blood we received in the choir loft that Christmas day, and the same flesh and blood that was laid in a manger in the bleak midwinter so long ago. 


The Annunciation Catholic Church


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