Looking toward Christmas

Blessed Virgin

I’m a church choir director, so Christmas inevitably begins in August for me. This year one piece is giving us fits, a new setting of Anglican priest (and later bishop), Phillips Brooks,’ “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” It’s not dissonant and doesn’t appear difficult at all, but no musical material ever recurs. The similar harmonic treatment from verse to verse gives the illusion of a constant melody, though no actual repeating “tune” ever emerges. The effect is glorious, but it doesn’t make the singers’ lives easy. So in trying to help them to get a handle on this brand new music, I’ve tried to dig deeper into the familiar words. Here’s what I find, a very Benedictine essay on radical interior transformation.
Overall, the constant theme is the invasion of the interior life by the historical event of Jesus’ birth in the world–our transformation into a new Bethlehem. Continue Reading

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