Search This Blog

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Tidings of Comfort and Joy

     One of my New Year's Resolutions for 2012 is to jump-start this little blog and put up a new post at least once a week. I hope you will find it enjoyable and (at least occasionally!) a source of inspiration. First off, I might as well chronicle my 2011 Christmas experiences.

    I performed at a local nursing home with my singing group under the stalwart leadership of Madame Maureen, in spite of some internal tension that threatened to cause division earlier in the year. Thankfully, good will towards men (and women) prevailed, and we came together in joyful song to celebrate the Christ Child's birth. I was scheduled to sing "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen", so I wore an old-fashioned dress that I found in a thrift store and a marvelous Cavalier hat that I picked up from an antique shop. The result was that I looked just the way I hoped I would, rather like something out of 17th century England!

    I read on computer that "God Rest Ye Merry" may have originated as far back as the 16th century and used to be sung by the town watchmen to the gentlemen of the town in hopes of making some extra money over the holiday season. There is something so earthy and yet profound about the old London carol that it has endured in the popular imagination and outshined some other, perhaps more eloquent, pieces. In the end, is not pure simplicity always superior to artful showiness?

    One comical interlude in the nursing home concert occurred when I sang "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" accompanied by Tim on violin and Maureen on piano. Tim and I had scurried into the hallway before the show to go over our parts, and we both were under the assumption that our directress wanted us to do only one verse. However, when we performed the piece on stage, Maureen didn't stop her piano playing at the end of verse one, but started going right into verse two! I gave Tim a puzzled look which he returned, and then instinctively started belting out: "Christ by highest Heav'n adored...." The poor lad was pretty lost, but he did a great job jumping back into action in mid-verse. I may have been singing a bit too loudly as a result of the confusion, but I think the blend of piano and violin probably covered me. Besides, most of the elderly residents probably have aural impairments anyway!

    Poor Charles Wesley was probably wagging his finger at us from the grave as he performed. He had favored using the tune of "Christ the Lord is Risen Today" to accompany his poem, "Hark! How All the Welkin Rings” (later changed to the more familiar title, “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”), and no doubt would have found the present punchy melody appalling. But Felix Mendelssohn and the public at large had other ideas! So maybe our punchy performance style was just in keeping with the rollicking history of the poem and tune!

    I thank the good Lord for allowing me to share my talents of song with others and for letting me have the chance to spend time with the people who I care about. That is the real magic of Christmas, infused with keen sense of hope, and illuminated with the spirit of comfort and joy. Wassail to the blogosphere!

Olde English Christmas Wassailers


  1. Poor Charles Wesley would not only be wagging his finger from the grave regarding the tune we now use but also about the words too. His original opening lines were, "Hark how all the welkin rings! 'Glory to the King of kings...'" Like the words of many of our most loved hymns & carols, they have been adapted over time. How many people now know what the 'welkin' is?

  2. Hi,!

    I never heard about the 'welkin rings' part! Do you know what it means? Hmm...I shall have to look that one up. I have heard about the missing fourth verse of "Hark the Herald" that starts, "Come Desire of Nations, come..." I think Wesley wrote it, but then again one can never tell when a song starts circulating! "Ghost writers" abound....

    1. 'Welkin' is archaic English for the 'the heavens' or 'the skies'.

      As for a fourth verse, you're quite correct & it is the work of Charles Wesley.

      Come, Desire of nations, come,
      Fix in us thy humble home;
      Rise, the woman's conquering Seed,
      Bruise in us the serpent's head.
      Now display thy saving power,
      Ruined nature now restore,
      Now in mystic union join
      Thine to ours, and ours to thine.

  3. Huh...'all the welkin is cloudy today...'? Now, ya don't hear that much in casual conversation, although perhaps you might have in the 18th century! Thanks for the definition and for posting the fourth verse.

    It's funny, because I learned a different version of verse 4. Picking up from "Bruise in us the serpent's head", it goes:

    Adam's likeness now efface;
    Stamp thine image in its place.
    Second Adam from above,
    Resonate us in thy love.
    Hark, the Herald etc.

    Have you ever heard that version? If so, who do you think wrote it? Wesley or a wanna-be Wesley?

    1. No I haven't. The version of the fourth verse I previously gave you, comes from 'The English Hymnal' first published in 1906. The compilers deliberately printed the words of several hymns as originally written, rather than as adapted over time. In the case of 'Hark the herald', they printed both the original as Number 23 & the version we now sing as Number 24.