This semester started with two weeks of online learning (of which today is the last day before students and teachers return to campus after Martin Luther King, Jr. Day), so it’s been an unusually slow start to the already sleepy January term. However, that hasn’t stopped my music classes from listening to great music; indeed, we’re now covering what is perhaps my favorite period in the history of Western music: the Romantic Era.
While I adore Baroque and classical composers and their works, Romantic music builds upon the forms established in those eras, stretching and expanding upon them to reach new heights of emotional intensity and musical expressiveness. The music of the Romantic composers delights with its musical exploration of the supernatural, the mysterious, the Gothic, and the nationalistic.
Here we are—another Christmas Eve. It’s a night full of magic, mysticism, and wonder—the Light and holy version of Halloween, when the tenuous division between our corporeal existence and the supernatural world is thin.
Last year I wrote of my family’s Christmas Eve traditions, which are changing up a bit again this year. In lieu of the usual evening candlelight service, we’re going to an afternoon service at a church in my younger brother’s neck of the woods. Afterwards, we’ll be enjoying Chinese food—a newer tradition for us—and some fondue, a tradition from my sister-in-law’s side of the family. We’re beginning to sound like 1970s Jews on Christmas.
Here’s wishing you and yours a very Merry Christmas tomorrow—and some Christmas Eve merriment tonight! With that, here is 24 December 2019’s “Christmas Eve“:
The American experiment in self-government is at perhaps its lowest ebb since the 1850s, a decade whose division and partisan rancor rival our own. That decade’s statesmen’s failures to address sectional tensions—and, ultimately, to reconcile two fundamentally incompatible views of the world—resulted in the secession of eleven States that no longer believed the national government was acting in accordance with the Constitution.
It brings me no joy to make such a grim assessment, nor to contemplate what comes next as a result, but it is a necessary task. My sincerest wish is that our great Union remain intact, and that we see some restoration of constitutionalism. An increase in States’ rights and federalism—greater sovereignty at the State level and less power at the federal level—would go a very long way in resolving at least some of our national issues.
One carol that escaped my notice last year was “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” It’s one of my favorites, so I’m surprised I didn’t write about it (although it did enjoy the spotlight in my Christmas Day post).
Apparently, my pastor noticed—not that I didn’t write about it on this blog, which I’m certain he doesn’t know exists, but that I didn’t play it at church. In one of his sermons, he said, “One of my favorite carols is ‘Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.’ I didn’t hear it this Christmas season. I don’t know why they didn’t play it, but…” and then he went on to make whatever point he wanted to make. Of course, all he had to do was ask, and I would have played it!
When writing this morning’s post about “Away in a Manger,” I completely neglected to mention or recognize the anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941. That attack—premised on the ludicrous idea that attacking America would cow our nation into re-opening trade exports to Japan’s thirsty navy—brought the United States into the Second World War, with Adolf Hitler foolishly declaring war on the United States three days after the Japanese attack. The attack also resulted in 2403 American deaths, both military and civilian, as well as the destruction of a huge chunk of America’s Pacific Fleet.
The world is a very different place than it was in 1941. In scanning Pearl Harbor headlines, one Business Insider headline seemed indicative of our fear of death: that daily deaths last week were higher than the number of deaths on the “date which will live in infamy.” Never mind that the nation’s population is substantially larger and more elderly (and, dare I say, less healthy) than it was in 1941. The Virus is a quasi-mystical force to be feared, so we huddle alone in our homes and avoid contact (ironically engaging in the very Japanese activity of mask-wearing).
By contrast, the response from Americans in 1941 was valorous. Hundreds of thousands of young men volunteered. My own paternal grandfather, who was only sixteen at the time, enlisted. He did so by purchasing a huge Bible, and then filled out the family genealogy by antedating his birth by two years. He then took the Bible and kicked it around in the dust of the road to give it the appearance of age, and presented the Bible and its doctored genealogy to the recruiting office. Pretty soon he making air supply runs for Uncle Sam.
What would happen now if the ChiComs the West Coast (actually, that might save the Republic…)? I have a hard time believing soy boys would be rushing to enlist. After all, they’ve been indoctrinated into believing our nation is a wicked tool of imperialism. They’d probably welcome our new Chinese overlords.
But perhaps the Spirit of ’41 is still strong in America. I like to think it is, at least here in the South.
Regardless, let us never forget the men who gave their lives that day, and throughout the war. They defeated great evil, and made America great.
This week I’ve been teaching and learning a great deal about George Frideric Handel, the great German composer who became, over his long life, a great British one. In discussing Handel and other Baroque composers with my students, we also veered into the world of hymns.
Hymns were and are important in Protestant congregations as simple, memorable tunes with theologically rich texts. Hymn melodies are often based on folk tunes or popular compositions. In some cases, such as the lovely Christmas carol “Silent Night,” the text is written first, then set to music (indeed, most hymns, being based on Scripture, evolved this way). Sometimes the tune is written, then an enterprising poet sets the text. Such was the case with Isaac Watts, who set his text for “Joy to the World” to a Handel melody. And, of course, there are hymns written and composed by the same person.
In talking about hymns, I brought to my students a slender little hymnal in my small collection of them, The Cokesbury Worship Hymnal. From what I can gather, my copy was published in or after 1966, when the copyright from 1938 was renewed. There is a stamp on the inside front cover stating that the hymn book once belonged to Carteret Street Methodist Church, which I thought was in Charleston, but appears to be in Beaufort, South Carolina. The hymnal includes 296 hymns, with fifty responsive readings—a good collection, but slim by the standards of a pewback hymnal.
But we can’t give up on our man. Donald Trump didn’t give up on us. Yes, I know he mildly denounced the Proud Boys, but as even Gavin McInnes noted, Trump probably doesn’t even really know who the Proud Boys are. Maybe he should, but if he knew the PBs, he’d probably applaud their patriotism.
Leave that aside. President Trump delivered—big time—for his supporters. Three Supreme Court justices. Hundreds of lower court judges. Lower taxes. No more critical race theory training for federal employees. Substantial protections for religious liberty. A roaring economy. And, quite frankly, common sense.
In looking back to November 2019’s archives, I found this post from 4 November 2019, “Trump Stands for Us.” It’s a powerful reminder for why we love Trump, and how he’s fought for us. Now it’s our time to fight for him:
While preparing a separate post on hymns (which I will likely post Friday), it occurred to me that today is Veterans’ Day in the United States, the observance formerly known as Armistice Day. I’ve never thrown back to past posts on a Wednesday before, but it seemed fitting to recognize our fallen heroes on the day.
It’s hard to believe that the centennial observance of the Great War has already passed, yet we’re still dealing with the fallout from that terrible war just over a century later. The more I’m learning about the great Baroque, classical, and Romantic composers of Europe, the more the senseless loss and nihilistic destruction of that conflict weighs on me—and that the shimmering, confident civilization that fostered those composers also destroyed itself.