Mitt hjerte alltid vanker (My Heart Always Wanders)

A recent Xmas music favorite of mine (OK, “last decade or so” is recent, isn’t it? 😉 ) is the Danish/Norwegian hymn, “Mitt hjerte alltid vanker.” Both the tune and the lyrics speak to me.

Here’s a beautiful rendition by Sissel:

But I’m strongly drawn to Tine Thing Helseth’s instrumental version:

As translations of lyrics go, this is rather rough–sacrificing both a good wedding with the meter of the tune and rhyme scheme–but I think this captures the heart of the meaning about as well as it can. I like the twist Tine Thing Helseth’s album featuring this piece takes on the title though: “My Heart Is Always Present.”

Mitt hjerte alltid vanker – English translation/version

My heart will always wander
To where our Lord was born,
My thoughts will always go there
And take on their true form.
My longing does belong there,
With the treasure of my faith;
I never shall forget you,
O blessed Christmas night!

Oh come, and I will open
My heart and my mind
And sigh with longing,
Enter, Jesus
For this home is Your own,
You bought it for yourself
So I will remain faithful,
With you here in my heart

I’ll willingly spread branches
Of palms around your bed.
For you and you alone
I will gladly live and die.
Come, let my soul find joy
In this moment of delight:
To see you born right here,
Deep inside my loving heart.

Playing Christmas Music Already?

For most of my life, until recently, Christmas music began at least mid-October, if not a bit earlier, because that’s when rehearsals for performances of Christmas music began in the volunteer music groups I have been a part of since early childhood. For a large part of my life, Christmas music began even earlier–sometimes soon after Easter, in fact–because in many cases I was responsible for the selection of material, rehearsal, production and direction of such programs, often for several different groups, and sometimes even in different venues with different organizations in the same year.

And a few times, such preparation begged for new music, or new arrangements suited to a particular program, which also fell to me to write or arrange.

So, folks who rail against Christmas music played before Thanksgiving really amuse me. I now listen to Christmas music for enjoyment, enrichment, and sometimes () with an ear to performance all throughout the year, whenever the mood strikes, for while Easter is definitely the single most important Holy Day for Christians, the celebration of the Incarnation is a celebration of the promise that Easter fullfills.

And so, when I listen to Christmas music–real Christmas music, not pop pap, these words always echo in the back of my mind somewhere:

Trees and lights and bells and carols,
Bright-wrapped packages piled high;
Winter’s sharp blow joins the heralds:
“Christmastime is nigh!”

Mailmen hurry; shoppers scurry;
Time is fleeing – Oh! So fast!
Parties gather, loud and merry,
Grander than in Christmas’ past.

Pause a moment to remember
That a Savior’s simple birth
Still stirs angel wings in susur’ –
“Peace to men; good will on earth!”

Now the Father’s hands that molded
The first Adam in the clay,
Gently ’round a manger folded,
Cradle a Baby in the hay.

So the Greatest Gift extended,
Gift of love and peace to all,
“God’s great love to man descended”
Calls us to a manger stall.

— “The Gift” ©1990 David W Needham

So, yeh, if it’s not pop pap (or pop crap like “Merry Christmas Baby” or other such crap songs), I’m all in for Christmas music year-round.

The Gift

No music for this post, although I usually accompany it with a midi arrangement after Mannheim Steamroller’s “Silent Night.”

The Gift

Trees and lights and bells and carols,
Bright-wrapped packages piled high.
Winter’s sharp blow joins the heralds:
“Christmastime is nigh.”

Mailmen hurry; shoppers scurry;
Time is fleeing–Oh! so fast.
Parties gather, loud and merry,
Grander than in Christmas’ past.

Pause a moment to remember
That a Savior’s simple birth
Still stirs angel wings in susur’–
“Peace to men; goodwill on earth.”

So, the Greatest Gift extended–
Gift of love and peace to all;
God’s great love to man descended
Calls us to a stable stall.

Tiny Babe, Eternal Son;
First step to Calv’ry, vict’ry won.

©1990-1991 David W Needham

Have a blessed Christmas.

“What Can I Give Him?”

While I very much like Gustav Holst’s tune, CRANHAM, I do not particularly like it sung to Christina Rossetti’s “In the Bleak Midwinter” but only, really, because of it’s (IMO, of course :-)) unsuitability to the last stanza of the poem. In fact, I’ve more often, over the years, heard the last stanza sung by itself as a simple chorus sung to other tunes. Apparently other musicians felt the same way about the CRANHAM/Bleak Midwinter marriage.

But, being me, I naturally found the other tunes dissatisfying as well, and so I wrote my own poor offering to meet the void I heard. You can judge for yourself whether the verse and tune mate well. As to whether I have embodied the sense of the verse, well, I can say with the Apostle Paul,

Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:12)

This time, it’s not an audio file (though I have examples). No, this time the music posted is for those who can make some music of their own. Here, get out a piano, a quartet of music readers or your soprano recorder –*heh*– and play/sing along. Just CLICK on the graphic for the full size, then if you wish, RIGHT-CLICK and save it for printout (see permissions paragraph below):

What Can I Give Him

(Permission is granted for small group use of the above, including printing sufficient copies–up to 10; this license is for small group use only–for singers/players to sing/play along for amateur, non-profit performance. Copies may not be further distributed, may not be sold and must acknowledge my copyright. Any recordings made must have a copy submitted to me in mp3 format via email and may NOT be sold, exchanged or distributed without my knowledge or permission. Contact me via email–see my contact page–for any exceptions, or to answer any questions you may have. IOW, enjoy, but be ethical about it.)

“Silent Night”

Perhaps the mot-sung Christmas carol, this performance, again by “Celtic Woman” features two of my fav soloists from the group. Multiple favs? Yes: three. This performance features two: the soprano with the most consistently beautiful tone and vowels (Méav Ní Mhaolchatha), and the violinist (“fiddler” Máiréad Nesbitt). Lovely sounds, perfectly suited to this carol.

Stille Nacht! Heil’ge Nacht!
Alles schläft; einsam wacht
Nur das traute hoch heilige Paar.
Holder Knab’ im lockigen Haar,
Schlafe in himmlischer Ruh!
Schlafe in himmlischer Ruh!

Stille Nacht! Heil’ge Nacht!
Gottes Sohn, o wie lacht
Lieb’ aus deinem göttlichen Mund,
Da uns schlägt die rettende Stund’.
Jesus in deiner Geburt!
Jesus in deiner Geburt!

Stille Nacht! Heil’ge Nacht!
Die der Welt Heil gebracht,
Aus des Himmels goldenen Höhn,
Uns der Gnaden Fülle läßt sehn,
Jesum in Menschengestalt!
Jesum in Menschengestalt!

Stille Nacht! Heil’ge Nacht!
Wo sich heut alle Macht
Väterlicher Liebe ergoß,
Und als Bruder huldvoll umschloß
Jesus die Völker der Welt!
Jesus die Völker der Welt!

Stille Nacht! Heil’ge Nacht!
Lange schon uns bedacht,
Als der Herr vom Grimme befreit
In der Väter urgrauer Zeit
Aller Welt Schonung verhieß!
Aller Welt Schonung verhieß!

Stille Nacht! Heil’ge Nacht!
Hirten erst kundgemacht
Durch der Engel Alleluja,
Tönt es laut bei Ferne und Nah:
“Jesus der Retter ist da!”
“Jesus der Retter ist da!”

Continue reading ““Silent Night””

“In the First Light”

Twenty years ago, an album, “Glad: The Acapella [sic] Project” provided a major impetus in the resurgence of a cappella singing. Mind you, Glad had already experienced a good run as a Christian “band,” beginning in 1972, but this watershed album was the group’s real breakout. I can’t find it anywhere but as a used recording–and then only at as a cassette tape, so you’ll have to look for a CD at a used CD store, I imagine–but I did want to feature one cut from the album, because it is a seriously good Christmas song: “In the First Light.” If you find it to be as good as I do, perhaps you’ll look up (and purchase) other Glad projects.

Thou Who Wast Rich Beyond All Splendor

Certainly this is one of the most powerful presentations of the Christmas story in brief song form. Chip Stam has this to say of this hymn:

Serving as Editorial Secretary for the China Inland Mission, Frank Houghton made a trip to China in 1934 to see first-hand the progress of the work. This hymn was written at a particularly difficult time in the history of the missions to China. Missionaries had been captured by the communist Red Army and released in poor health after over a year of suffering. Others had been captured never to be heard from again. In 1934 the young missionaries John and Betty Stam (my great aunt and uncle) were captured in Anhwei and beheaded . The news of these sorrows had reached the mission’s headquarters in Shanghai. Though this was a very dangerous time for both the Chinese Christians and the foreign missionaries, Frank Houghton decided he needed to begin a tour through the country to visit various missionary outposts. While traveling over the mountains of Szechwan, the powerful and comforting words of 2 Corinthians 8:9, “though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor,” were transformed into this beautiful Christmas hymn.

Thou who wast rich beyond all splendour,
All for love’s sake becamest poor;
Thrones for a manger didst surrender,
Sapphire-paved courts for stable floor.
Thou who wast rich beyond all splendour,
All for love’s sake becomes poor.

Read the rest of the lyrics at Chip Stam’s 1996 WQOTW post.

“Lo, How a Rose”

One of the most beautiful Christmas songs ever, rich in imagry, beautiful marriage of tune and text. Sample the choral voices singing in German, then click on through on the link below to hear the rest beautifully sung by Kathleen Battle. Her voice can be heard in the full performance found here.

Lo, how a Rose e’er blooming
from tender stem hath sprung!
of Jesse’s lineage coming,
as those of old have sung.
It came, a floweret bright,
amid the cold of winter,
when half spent was the night.

Isaiah ’twas foretold it,
the Rose I have in mind;
Mary we behold it,
the Virgin Mother kind.
To show God’s love aright,
she bore to us a Savior,
when half spent was the night.

The shepherds heard the story
proclaimed by angels bright,
how Christ, the Lord of glory
was born on earth this night.
To Bethlehem they sped
and in the manger they found him,
as angel heralds said.

This Flower, whose fragrance tender
with sweetness fills the air,
dispels with glorious splendor
the darkness everywhere;
true man, yet very God,
from sin and death he saves us,
and lightens every load.

Continue reading ““Lo, How a Rose””