Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Tuneful Tuesday: Epiphany Mix

With one hour and 5 minutes to go before it's Wednesday, here are my Epiphany season choices (really more of Epiphany itself, for the most part). Many of the songs are available as digital downloads from amazon.com.

1. Breakin' Up Christmas -- Mike Seeger, Penny Seeger, and other family members -- American Folk Songs for Christmas.
Maybe tomorrow I'll start breaking up Christmas -- i.e. taking down the tree. "Breakin' up Christmas" actually refers to the Appalachian mountain custom of having two weeks of house dance parties after Christmas. You can read a bit about it here and if you don't have the album cited above, you can watch this:

2. Beautiful Star of Bethlehem -- The Judds, or Emmylou Harris -- Christmas Time with the Judds, or Light of the Stable.
Emmylou Harris's version of this is available as a digital download, but really I like the Judds' version best, because of their harmonies. I think Cordeliaknits, Sisterknits and I have probably bought 4 or 5 copies of that Judds CD because it is a car favorite and keeps getting lost, and we just can't do without it at Christmas. Beautiful Star of Bethlehem is a bluegrass/gospel song, but almost no one seems to agree on who wrote it -- I have credits on various albums for Adger Pace, A. L. Phipps, R. Fisher Boyce, and James D. Vaughn. It has an interesting conceit of equating Jesus with the Star: "Jesus is now the star divine, Brighter and brighter he will shine."

3. Brightest and Best -- Jean Ritchie -- Carols for All Seasons.
The words, for the most part, were written by Reginald Heber, and the tune Morning Star by James Harding; the words have also been set to several other tunes, according to the Cyberhymnal. Jean Ritchie, and most folksingers, sing this to the Southern Harmony tune Star in the East, and add a first verse (Hail the blest morn, See the great mediator...) which doesn't appear to be by Heber. Both tunes are beautiful in their own way, but in fact I only have recordings of Star in the East.

4. The Magi (The Heart of Man's a Palace) -- Peter, Paul and Mary -- A Holiday Celebration.
A slightly more modern take on the magi and what they have to teach us. Available as digital download from Amazon.com for about 99 cents. According to one website, it was written by Peter Yarrow and Joe Henry.

5. We Three Kings -- The Roches -- We Three Kings.
This is not my favorite Christmas carol to sing in church if there is a lessons and carols-type Christmas Eve service. It's a great temptation to use it with the Matthew reading about the magi. But it's just too long and draggy at that point. However, I do like the version by The Roches and especially the instrumental parts. We Three Kings was written by Rev. John Henry Hopkins, Jr. for a Christmas pageant at the General Theological Seminary in New York. Although not printed until 1863, it is said to have been written in 1857, thus this past Christmas was its 150th anniversary. I have to wonder whether those high-achieving Episcopal divinity students at GTS still put on a Christmas pageant? I can just see each of the magi coming in, wearing the finest dressing gowns they could muster, each carrying his "gift" as the song reaches the proper verse.

6. 'Twas on a Night Like This (also known as The Star Carol) -- Cathy Barton, Dave Para, The Paton Family et al. -- 'Twas on a Night Like This.
The tune is the carol of the Italian bagpipers, a traditional tune played by shepherds from the Abruzzi Mountains who came to some of the villages and cities of Italy in December to play their pipes and get a few coins. There are several versions with words in Italian or English, but I like this one by Pete Seeger. He called it The Star Carol, but as there are also two other well-known Star Carols (one by the ubiquitous John Rutter and the other by Alfred Burt and Wihla Hutton), this recording uses its first line. You can download Pete Seeger's own version (for the usual 99c) by going here. There are many other musical treasures to be found on that site as well.

7. Marche des Rois -- The Taverner Consort -- The Carol Album.
This tune and song have quite a different view of the Three Kings, much more majestic. The song is said to be from 13th century Provence, and the tune was used by Bizet in his L'Arlesienne suite. Here's a very nice rendition:

8. Peace Round -- Cathy Barton, Dave Para et al. -- 'Twas on a Night Like This.
The tune is an old English canon, and the words are by Jean Ritchie, who must surely have been thinking of Psalm 133 when she wrote them. Another version is the Israeli folkdance Hineh Mah Tov, which is a more direct quotation from the psalm, and which I used to dance to rather clumsily in my folkdance class (it was part of my gym requirement) at A Host at Last University. You can hear Hineh Mah Tov here -- and I'm excited to have discovered this site!

9. Quaker Benediction -- Gordon Bok -- 'Twas on a Night Like This.
This isn't a song, although I have seen a hymn based on this quotation. It's from the work of Howard Thurman, an African-American theologian and activist who died in 1981. Thurman was an ecumenical kind of guy -- he was ordained a Baptist minister, studied with Quakers and I believe is claimed as a Quaker, and was Dean of Marsh Chapel at Boston University, a fine old Methodist institution. May we all carry on the work of Christmas through the short season of Epiphany, and throughout the year.

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