Friday, November 16, 2007

Tunes for November

One of the nice things about the month of November is Thanksgiving. (BULLETIN! They've got 6 inches of snow in Dixville Notch! None here though.) One of the things I like to do with my computer is to put all my music on it and then make playlists for various occasions, feelings, etc. Here is some of my annotated playlist for Thanksgiving. In most cases I have the whole album, but I've recently discovered Amazon's Digital Download service. For some reason it seems easier for me to use than iTunes (maybe because I don't have an iPod?)

1. Many and Great, O Lord, Are Your Works - The University of Notre Dame Folk Choir -- Crossroads of Praise. This is one translation of The Dakota Hymn (Wakantanka taku nitawa tankaya qaota) -- Dakota words and tune translated by Joseph Renville, a Minnesota missionary. This hymn is said to have been sung by the 38 Dakota executed on December 26, 1862 in Mankato, Minnesota after the "Sioux Uprising" earlier that year. In the last 20 years, there has been a lot of effort at healing relationships between white Minnesotans and the Dakota (as well as the Ojibwe) and this hymn is often sung at gatherings promoting such healing. It's good to remember the American Indian at this time of year. I like this hymn so much that it is on my playlist twice, the second time in a recording by the Holy Trinity Bach Choir from Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in New York City called With One Voice: Joining Hearts and Voices and available from Augsburg Fortress Press. Not to take away from the musicianship of either group, but I'm not quite satisfied with their renditions. I'd like to hear it sung by a small congregation accompanied only on drum.

2. For the Beauty of the Earth - Bread for the Journey -- Global Songs, Local Voices. The familiar hymn (I swear we sang it once a month in my former church) to a different, Asian tune, sung by a Twin Cities-based group who do a lot of great multicultural, peace and justice-themed music. One of many songs in this list that is itself a list of things to be thankful for.

3. Come, Ye Thankful People, Come -- Joyfull Strings -- Celtic Hymns. A hammer dulcimer duo from Nevada City, CA plays the Thanksgiving hymn I've got to have every year. I like the imagery of the soul as grain: "First the grain and then the ear, Then the full corn doth appear, Oh, Our Father, grant that we Wholesome grain and pure may be." A choral version is also on my list, performed by the Festival Chorus and Hosanna Singers on a disc called 50 Church Classics.

4. All Things Bright and Beautiful -- The Mormon Tabernacle Choir -- Peace Like a River. Another one of those "list" songs, and it's by Frances Alexander (who also wrote Once in Royal David's City). This is not the tune that's in most hymnals, but a newer one by John Rutter. (And, will someone who knows something about music tell me why I can instantly recognize something by John Rutter even if I haven't heard it before?)

5. Over the River and Through the Woods -- 52 Key French Gasparini Carousel Organ -- Gypsy Queen. Now, you've got to have this on any Thanksgiving playlist, but it's hard to find one that's not (a) sung by a bunch of reedy little children's voices and (b) changes "For it is Thanksgiving Day" to "For it is Christmas Day." Back in 1844 when Lydia Maria Child wrote the words, it was still Thanksgiving, not Christmas, that was the big winter holiday in New England. The carousel organ is a lot of fun to listen to, and you can find the words here.

6. This Is My Father's World -- The Mormon Tabernacle Choir -- Peace Like a River. In the New Century Hymnal there are more inclusive words to this, but I can't seem to remember them. My wish is that there will come a time when we can sing some of these old songs, and some new songs about God the Mother, and everyone will be OK with all of them. This may not happen in my lifetime. The thing I do object to is that the new version took out "the music of the spheres." Yes, I know the earth is more or less elliptical and that the stars, being made of burning gas, are not exactly spheres. But the image of the stars, moons and planets all singing and making music together is a powerful one that should not be lost to scientific correctness. (End of rant.)

7. Simple Gifts -- The Armstrong Family -- The Wheel of the Year. A good reminder from the Shakers that not all gifts (things to be thankful for) are tangible. Apparently, the Armstrongs often sang on Studs Terkel's radio show in Chicago, and as far as I can discern, this is their only recording. I wish there were more.

8. What a Wonderful World -- Louis "Satchmo" Armstrong -- All-Time Greatest Hits. I've heard a story that Armstrong really didn't want to record this -- it was one of those "B-sides" that becomes a bigger hit than anyone could imagine. The line "I hear babies cry, I watch them grow, They'll learn much more Than I'll ever know" has a special resonance as we have just welcomed another grand-nephew into the family. What will his world be like 60 years from now? I hope the things he'll learn will be good ones.

9. Now Thank We All Our God -- Huddersfield Choral Society -- The Hymns Album. Love those British choral societies! This is a classic hymn of thanksgiving that is sung all year round, whenever the person choosing the hymns feels we have something to be especially thankful for. It's a good rousing recessional. May we soon have "blessed peace to cheer us."

10. Blessings -- Liz Story -- Thanksgiving. Yes folks, my eclectic tastes extend even unto New Age instrumental arrangements and meditations. This one is good for letting the words inside speak for themselves -- a useful corrective for me as I tend to get too caught up in the felicitous phrasing of others.

11. Wondrous Love -- Chanticleer -- Wondrous Love: A World Folk Song Collection. Love is a wondrous thing, and something we should all be thankful for, no matter whence it comes. If you are not of the Trinitarian Christian persuasion, there is a version in the Unitarian Universalist hymnal, Singing the Living Tradition, without the Fall-Redemption theology.

12. We Gather Together -- The Dale Warland Singers -- Harvest Home. Despite the warlike and triumphalist words, this hymn means Thanksgiving to a lot of people. I'm more used to singing an updated version of "We Praise Thee, O God, Our Redeemer, Creator." I think the most important words in this hymn are the first three. For many people, Thanksgiving is a favorite holiday because it is largely about gathering together with those we love.

More tomorrow!


Songbird said...

I could have written #6 myself!

Auntie Knickers said...

I realized afterwards that I meant to say also that some songs could have gender-neutral imagery as well. I've seen some good ones, and not all of them were written by Onkel Hankie Pants.

Cathy said...

I have some of those - and you and I share very similar music tastes!

elinor said...

I'm afraid that the John Rutter recognition comes not from your great musical expertise, but from the fact that many church chior directors, not naming names, seem to have a Rutter Fetish and can't give their chiors anything else to sing.

can you tell I don't like John Rutter?

Auntie Knickers said...

I kind of like John Rutter, but yet, I always feel as though I shouldn't -- however based on some of the modern choir music I've heard lately, he is one of the few modern composers doing church anthems with tunes! But there's also Howard Goodall, who I think is not as well known here, but he composed the setting of Psalm 23 which is the theme for The Vicar of Dibley.

Onkel Hankie Pants said...

It is my understanding that John Rutter is much more popular with church choirs in the U.S. than he is with choristers in his native England. I wonder how many American choir directors, selecting yet another Rutter work, are aware that he, like his predecessor in the English religious music biz Ralph Vaughn Williams, is not a Christian believer. I do not share Elinor’s dislike of Rutter, but then my musical tastes are rather pedestrian compared with hers. I do know that if Mr. Rutter were to offer to set one of my hymn texts to music, I would wet myself (short-run outcome) and die happy (long-term outcome).

With regard to the music of the spheres, ditto on the loss of great imagery. It’s interesting that, to accommodate our current scientific understanding of the cosmos, we abandon imagery based on an earlier scientific (not religious) understanding of the cosmos. By the way, aren’t the “spheres” not the heavenly bodies themselves, but the invisible spherical “shells” in which they are positioned?