Monday, December 03, 2007

Musical Memories


I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

I thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along the unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

And in despair I bowed my head
'There is no peace on earth,' I said,
'For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.'

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
'God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on earth, good will to men.'

Till ringing, singing on its way
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

"This carol was written on December 25, 1863, when the American Civil War (1861-1865) was at its height. The famous poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was saddened by the horrors of this conflict, for 'hate seemed overstrong at the moment.' His son, who was serving as lieutenant in the Union Army at the time, had been wounded. When Longfellow heard the Christmas bells chiming out, he came to the realization, from the depths of his despair, that 'God is not dead, nor doth He sleep!' He believed that God is powerful enough to overcome the world's strife, and to bring peace and good will to Earth. And in ending each stanza, the poet stresses this idea with the phrase, 'Of peace on Earth, good will to men.' "

I was in 6th grade. We were learning this song in music class. I had never heard it before. I loved it. I could hardly wait to sing it for the program. Suddenly we were moving. It probably wasn't sudden at all. It probably just seemed like that to me. We were moving back to Minnesota from Arkansas to be nearer my grandparents. Grandpa S. wasn't doing well. We left just before Christmas - just before the program. It stuns me when I think of how strong some memories are. Every time I hear that song, I think of that missing school Christmas program.

Living in that northern Minnesota town was a tough few years (more about that in the next post). Dad was a pastor and this church was a very hard place to serve. We only stayed 3 1/2 years and Dad had to leave the pastorate for awhile to salvage his health. We moved to the Twin Cities, where he worked for Sears as a salesman, a very good salesman.

This move was good for us in several ways. One was the opportunity to be in a very good school system, with a great music program. I was fortunate to be able to play the piano for the choir in 9th grade. The same girl that I competed with for speed in typing class was my "rival" in music class. It made us both better than we would have been without that competitive spirit. I was to be the main accompanist for our Christmas program that year. I was SO excited and SO nervous.

Two weeks before the concert, I got sick. I didn't get well and bounce back right away, as normal. I was so sick that I was in bed, feverish, achy, had no appetite. In fact, my mother's Christmas baking made me nauseous. The light made my eyes hurt, so I couldn't read or watch t.v. I even got tired of "Little Drummer Boy," as my only entertainment was the radio and that song was played dozens of times every day.

It was a real blow when I realized I was not going to be jumping out of bed, dressing up, and playing for the concert. I was devastated. By the time I was diagnosed with infectious mononucleosis, it was Christmas vacation and I was still miserable. I was sick for two more weeks, and it took me a year to feel strong again. But the biggest disappointment was missing that concert.

On a different note, last night we had our annual "Hanging of the Greens" at our church. As each element of our traditional celebration was discussed, we learned more about the history of that tradition.


"The actual origin of caroling as a part of the Christmas celebration is really unknown. Several countries have claimed to be the birthplace of the custom. From the first, music of some kind was a part of the church festivals in honor of the birth of Jesus. We know that caroling existed in Germany in the 15th century because Martin Luther wrote that when Christmas was celebrated he went with others from house to house and village to village singing popular Christmas carols. We could safely assume that caroling was first done by the Choir of Angels who sang, 'Glory to God in the Highest and on earth peace and good will to all people.' "


Sunny Chick said...

Thank you for stopping by! I love Colorado, even with the unusually warm weather. Have a good one! Debe

Michelle-ozark crafter said...

That was a very interesting post. Yes, some things will always stay with us. I think of my hubby and the story he told of when he was in high school. he is a wonderful singer and sang in the choir. He had a chance to tour with the choir and all he needed was the matching sweater to be able to go. His mother refused to get him the sweater. That lost opportunity has stuck with him to this day.

Myrna said...

Interesting--I can just imagine you being even more miserable when you realized you were not going to be in the concert. At that age it would be such a huge disappointment.

I have a special feeling for that old Christmsa Carol. When I was in the second grade my sister and I lived with an aunt and uncle because my mother died the year before and my dad just couldn't handle taking care of us at the time. Aunt Frankie made sure we took piano lessons that year. My uncle told me he would give me $1 is I learned to play that by christmas. I was determined to get that dollar and I did. I do not play the piano now--didn't take lessons after that year (except for about five months when I was a teenager and again stayed with them).However, when I hear that song I can remember playing it over and over. Sweet memory!

Maine Mom said...

What a disappointment to miss 2 concerts you were looking forward to. :-(

I'd like to buy the Little People nativity set. Maybe this will be the year. We had a different kid-friendly set, but most of the pieces are missing now.

Diane J. said...

I love music of all types, but especially Christmas songs and carols. This one is a favorite of mine but is not well known in my area. I doubt there's 2 other people in my church that could sing this song. It's always been interesting to me how hymns and songs can be so regional in popularity.

Robin said...

That's one of my favorite Christmas hymns. I remember one time we were singing it at church as the song leader said - "Let's just sing the first three verses". Well, after we sang the third verse everyone stopped. I said - "Wait - we can't stop there - we need to sing the good part!" It made me wonder how often we are really listening to the words we sing!

Susie said...

I love Christmas carols too. It never fails to surprise me how certain songs will just bring back a long forgotten moment in time.
If I don't get back over here for a while have a wonderful anniversary celebration in Hawaii.
Thanks for you loving and supportive comments. I'm still figuring out what to do. I'll let you know..

Karen H. said...

Good Afternoon Dawn,
What a beautiful post. I always love to find out where some of our Christmas songs originate from. I know it was a big disappointment to find out you wasn't going to be in the concert. I'm curious about something tho. I've seen you and a few others mention the term "hanging of the greens". I was wondering what that meant. I am a Methodist and we don't do that unless they call it something else here. Well, take care my friend and have a great Tuesday. May God Bless You and Yours.

Karen H.

groovyoldlady said...

I love the words to that carol, but I've never liked the traditional hymn book melody. My Mom had an album of Christmas Songs and some popular crooner sang the words to an altenate melody. To me, that's just how the song should be sung.

Every single year when I hear someone start to play the hymn book tune, I feel immensely disappointed!

Nancy said...

That is a favorite carol, & enjoyed the history behind it, this was a good read.

Midlife Mom said...

Great post! I love the words to that carol. So sorry you didn't get to play in the Christmas concert, how disappointing especially when you are a child. We are snowed under but it's so pretty! Mom and Dad left for Florida just in time and missed it all. They like the heat.

My computer is down so I am on Hubby's, the storms do it to mine every time!

Mary said...


This is a wonderful post. I loved the bit of history about the song that you included. I had never heard the history of that particular Chrismas carol and since I am a history buff, I found it very interesting.

Sorry I haven't been around as much. As you know, this is a busy season and I'm waaay behind.

Thanks for dropping by and leaving a comment on my soldier post.


inspired said...

wow the ONE who watches over us neither sleeps nor slumbers \O/

Penless Thoughts said...

Interesting!!! In the 3rd grade I was to be a bridal attendent in my teachers wedding. I had my dress and everything. I got sick and didn't get to do it. My mother loaned my dress to the girl who stood in for me. She was heavier than I and ripped my dress. I was so upset. Funny how these memories live with you said!

Nadine said...

I love hearing about the history of song or behind the traditions we have.

How sad for you to be so ill at the time of the year and for so long.

Tammy said...

I loved hearing the history behind this song, Dawn!

And I feel so sorry for you that you had to be so disappointed two different times...bless your heart!
It is amazing how powerful our memories can be when associating songs or other things with events!

Linda said...

What a sweet post Dawn. You have such a gift for story-telling. I can just feel your disappointment. I am so proud of your musical talent though. Imagine playing for the choir in 9th grade. I'm struggling to learn the simplest songs. I may be a tad too old!
You must be counting down the days with great anticipation. Have an absolutley wonderful time. I can't wait to hear all about it when you get back home.

Sharon Lynne said...

This history was interesting. I like to know how things came to be.

So sorry about that memory. That is wonderful that you can play. I took piano for 5 years...but just play for myself. I could never accompany. However, my mother did talk me into playing for the local Good News Club when I was young.

You will be doing the hula soon! Have fun!