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Music for Christmas Steve

This is Christmas Steve. He appeared on the bottom of my son’s foot on December 24th, as a way of reminding me that some people haven’t had a shower in a while.

As you can see, Christmas Steve is running a little bit behind. Christmas Steve’s house is not clean. Christmas Steve may have made more promises than can reasonably be kept, and Christmas Steve is feeling neither calm nor bright.

However, Christmas Steve is going to make one last stab at getting it together. Christmas Steve is going to breathe slowly, drink plenty of fluids, and pause before speaking. Christmas Steve is going to set a good example for the next person Christmas Steve meets today. And it is going to be a good day.

Here is what Christmas Steve is listening to today (and yes, Christmas Steve is recycling this post from the Register last year):

1. Of the Father’s Love Begotten

Tell me again how there’s this wide, unbridgeable gulf between people who love theology and people who just love God. This is a pure love song, stuffed to the gills with doctrine. Read all the verses here.

2. Creator of the Stars of Night

I don’t know the musical term for this, but notice how each verse ends on a note that goes up, instead of down? But it doesn’t feel unsatisfying. Instead, it creates the impression that here is a song we could continue singing forever. Here we see the difference between a question that can’t be answered, and a question that we can delight in hearing answered forever.

3. The Friendly Beasts

It was strangely difficult to find a plain, pleasant version of this song that wasn’t gooey or groany. Some cowboys do a decent job with this good little Christmas tune.

4. How Bright Appears the Morning Star

I’m torn. The full-on Bach experience makes me feel like I’ve wasted my life, since I’ve never been one of the altos involved in this:

But on the other hand, this Texas Boys Choir does a neat, sweet job of it:

5. In the Bleak Midwinter

Now, give these young folks a chance! This is the Bombay Bicyle Club:

Or, if it’s not to your liking, here is enough Holst to hold you over:

6. Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming

At first I was skeptical at the slow tempo, but now I see how this rendition gives the music all the room it needs to expand, or, well, to bloom. Perfect.

7. Huron Carol

Adapted from a 16th-century French folk song by the missionary martyr John de Brébeuf. This version is in the Huron language and uses instruments like the ones that would have been played at the time.

8. Angels from the Realms of Glory

I couldn’t find the tune I’m more familiar with; so as long as I’m not getting quite what I want, here’s an Annie Lennox version.
Beause it’s Annie Lennox, she sounds earthy and androgynously powerful, but so fragile at the same time — and then it just sort of veers off into that trademark mechanized Annie Lennox boogie hamster wheel. Oh, well. Try it, you might like it!

9. Josef Lieber, Josef Mein

Whenever someone says they love some cheesy Christmas song because it makes Mary seem so familiar and so human, I want to say, “But wait, listen to this!” It doesn’t get more familiar than a young mother turning to her husband and asking for a hand — and he obliges so tenderly. This is a lullaby originally sang during Medieval mystery plays. Here are a few of the verses:

1. “Joseph dearest, Joseph mine,
Help me cradle the child divine;
God reward thee and All that’s thine
In paradise,”
So prays the mother Mary.

2. “Gladly, dear one, lady mine,
Help I cradle this child of thine;
God’s own light on us both shall shine
In paradise,
As prays the mother Mary.”

8. Little man, and God indeed,
Little and poor, thou art all we need;
We will follow where thou dost lead,
And we will heed
Our brother, born of Mary.

10. And of course we must end with In Dulci Jubilo.

Big sound from four singers here!

Today I learned the word “macaronic,” which refers to a style of work where all kinds of languages are thrown together, not necessarily in the most elegant or scholarly way. Like, apparently, a peasant dumpling.

Everyone should try singing this song at one point, if only for the sheer pleasure of saying, “Nun singet und seid froh!” (Pronounced “Noon zinget oond zide fro.”) A tasty, raucous dumpling perfect for the most international feast of all, where the whole world is thrown together to celebrate the birth of our king on Christmas morning.

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