Saturday, December 24, 2016

Christmas Eve 2016

Holy Night

On December 24, 1818 the Christmas carol "Stille Nacht" was performed for the first time by its creators, composer Franz Xaver Gruber and lyricist Joseph Mohr, during Mass at a small church in rural Austria.

It is of course impossible to know for certain, but this is quite probably the single most beloved Christmas carol ever written. The English-language translation of the original song as well as instrumental versions of Gruber's musical setting are familiar to millions.

For me at least, there is no song more closely associated with Christmas Eve than this one.


There is just a single day left before Christmas Day now, and while Christmas Eve is
no longer so hectic for me as it once was, I know that for the world at large there is still much preparation and anticipation of what is to come tomorrow morning.

St. Patrick's Cathedral interior

One of the Catholic traditions which has waned in popularity in my lifetime is Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. I have not attended
a parish that still offers a true Midnight Mass for more than 20 years.

On December 24, 1948 the very first televised Midnight Mass was broadcast live from
St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City.

"What's the big deal with this 'Midnight Mass' thing?"

It is the first liturgy of Christmas, or at least it was until churches began moving it to the early evening of Christmas Eve many years ago...

Enough, Already

The first bowl game for my college football rooting interests took place yesterday, with No. 25 Navy playing Louisiana Tech in the Armed Forces Bowl in Forth Worth, Texas. Louisiana Tech won 48-45, kicking a field goal as time expired.

My beloved Kansas City Chiefs also lost last Sunday on a field goal as time expired. I've seen quite enough of that sort of thing to last me for awhile, thanks...

"Those last-second losses are tough to take, eh?"

Yes, they are...the Chiefs game was particularly bitter because they never trailed until the clock read 00:00...

While We Sleep

From the indispensable comic strip Non Sequitur, by Wiley Miller, which you should read every day, as I do (even though Wiley is a squishy liberal).

Until Next Time...

When I was first learning "Silent Night" in Catholic elementary school choir class, I also learned the story about how the song was first performed on a Christmas Eve in 1818. Ever since then, it is one of the two songs I most closely associate with this day on the calendar.

Of course, the version I sang most often was John Freeman Young's English translation from 1859, but the nuns also taught us a verse or two of the original German as well.
It is no exaggeration to say that it is my favorite Christmas song, secular or religious.
I have an iTunes playlist that consists of nothing but recordings of "Silent Night" by artists in every musical genre.

My current favorite version was done in 2013 by Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter Kelly Clarkson. It was included on her platinum-selling Christmas album Wrapped in Red, which debuted
at No. 3 on the Billboard 200 and spent several weeks at No. 1 on the Top Holiday Albums chart. It was by far the best-selling holiday album for 2013.

Part of what makes this version of "Silent Night" so special is that Clarkson is joined
by acclaimed country singers Trisha Yearwood and Reba McEntire for some gorgeous harmonizing. Most versions of the song wind up bringing a tear to my eye, but this one really turns on the waterworks.

To promote the album Clarkson also filmed a TV special, Kelly Clarkson's Cautionary Christmas Music Tale, which featured music from Wrapped in Red.

Today's first send-off is the trio's live performance of "Silent Night" on Kelly's TV special, from her VEVO channel. Enjoy...

The other song I associate most closely with Christmas Eve is "O Magnum Mysterium," a responsorial chant I first heard at Christmas Midnight Mass as a young boy. Although I have no recollection of it being sung in English once the Vatican II vernacular Mass became the norm, I have always remained fond of recordings of it being sung in Latin, usual by choral ensembles like Chanticleer (the Victoria setting) and the Los Angeles Master Chorale (the Morten Lauridsen setting).

In 2000 one of my all-time favorite vocalists, Linda Ronstadt, released  
A Merry Little Christmas. It was the only holiday-themed album of her recording career.

Although Linda does a fine job on the secular material, what makes the album special for me is her angelic renditions of traditional religious classics like "O Come 
O Come Emmanuel" and "Away 
in a Manger."

For the album's reverent version of "O Magnum Mysterium" (Victoria setting), Linda
is joined by the Choir of Tuscon, and the result is one of the most moving versions of the chant you'll ever hear.

Today's second send-off is the original album track, from Linda's YouTube channel. Enjoy...

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