“Peace be theirs and good luck who sing joyfully …”
Thus begins the third verse of a haunting and rare hymn, “Ah, Bleak and Chill the Winter Wind” (by Reverend Bates Burt).
And so begins the season of Christmas carols. Songs of peace on earth and of good will to humanity. Songs of the light that shines in the darkness.
Thus begin the harmonious days of the Nativity, the first advent of the Prince of Peace.
The best way to start is the Albemarle Choir Christmas Concert. You have the choice between two representations. The premiere will be on Sunday, December 5 at 4 p.m. at the United Methodist Church in Edenton. The second will take place the following Sunday, December 12 at 4 p.m. at the First United Methodist Church in Elizabeth City.
There will be harmony. There will be joy and mirth: “Songs, songs, now we’re going; Christmas bells are ringing! There will be tenderness: the poignant, almost heartbreaking arrangement of “Some Children See Him” (lyrics by Wihla Hutson, music by Alfred Burt, inimitably arranged by Jay Rouse).
“The children in each different place will see the face of the baby Jesus as their own, but shining with heavenly grace and filled with holy light. O set aside every earthly thing and with your heart as an offering. the love that was born tonight.
You can read this last verse from “Some Children See Him”, but you won’t really feel it in your heart, until you hear Michael Morgan’s piano, Anna Darr’s cello, and the harmony of the songwriter. Choral under the direction of Lynwood Winslow.
You may remember this song performed by Andy Williams at the time, and more recently by James Taylor. But it took on even more importance in this time of disharmony.
“Leave every earthly thing aside,” and follow the children, who seem to have an easier time accepting the simple, ancient truth that Jesus truly loves children, all the children of the world: “Children of every different place see the face of the baby Jesus, like theirs, but shining with heavenly grace.
Harmony is the vehicle that broadcasts “Peace on Earth, Good Will towards Men” from this point of the Holy Night at all times and places. It is precisely the harmony of the angelic armies that deeply lodges Peace and Good Will in every heart.
You might be interested to know that in classical Christian philosophy angels, of which there are countless, are only described as a harmonious chorus. They are not and cannot be individualistic atoms. They are described by Saint Gregory the Theologian as “second suns” which, as an assembly, reflect and shine divine grace throughout the cosmos.
Many ancient writers, having the advantage of writing before the Modernist era, described angels as leading various parts of the spectrum of sound and light through the universe. As particular rainbow bandwidths in a prismatic network. Or as part of a great eternal choir which is the conduct of divine providence
The angels sang of Eden on this Holy Night of light and peace. What made their music beautiful and memorable was the union of the memory of an unfallen Eden with the hope of a rediscovered paradise – Eden Again.
It is an undeniable fact that this memory and this hope are lodged deep in the folds of human consciousness. This thought can be mitigated, but it cannot be dismissed. You and I were made for better than darkness and despair. This is neither our beginning nor our end.
You and I are made for peace on earth and goodwill. Nothing less. We may have forgotten this, but not the angels and the children.
Each choir is an analogue of the Celestial Choir of Bethlehem. When you sing in your church choir or in your “Joy to the World” congregation, you are effectively participating with the angelic host.
You and I sing in the harmony of Bethlehem.
And what a privilege it is. In the second half of the Albemarle Choir concert, we sing excerpts from Handel’s Messiah. I sing the second bass, which is about as low as you can get (“bass”, of course, is for “basement”), so in Messiah’s “Glory to God” it’s the sopranos, violas and tenors who sing this first angelic announcement: “Glory to God in the highest heavens”.
But we, the basses, can join, in unison of an octave, in “And peace on earth”.
Participation in the heavenly angelic choir is open to all, no audition is necessary. All it takes is a willingness to harmonize, to blend in with the sound and the song. What is required is a desire for childlike joy and wonder, and a promise to join in the “Good Will towards Men”.
We are all welcome to these harmonious days.
Let us sing happily in harmony for the Shining One, and take our part in His Peace on Earth.
Thadd White is editor-in-chief of Bertie Ledger-Advance, Chowan Herald, Perquimans Weekly, The Enterprise & Eastern North Carolina Living. He can be contacted by email at [email protected]