Category Archives: Music

‘Look For the Silver Lining’

In case you missed the memo, today is the last day of 2019. That doesn’t make it the end of the Teens Decade (even though Dennis Prager says it does), but that’s not a fight I want to have right now. In any case I’m more than ready to ashcan this one.

2019 was a year in which I hoped for much, and (mostly due to my own mistakes) ended up with my teeth scattered in the gravel. On top of that, we suffered a tragedy in my extended family – which I’ll not discuss right now – last weekend, just to wrap it all up in an ugly, asymmetrical bow.

I’m bemused by the memes going around pointing out that we’re about to enter the new Roaring Twenties. I kind of like that. Both my parents were born around 1920, and I grew up among people to whom that year was recent history – because it was. So I’m more comfortable with the Jazz Age than with whatever Age we’re shambling into now.

I looked for songs that became hits in the year 1920, and here’s one: “Look For the Silver Lining.” From the musical “Sally,” which debuted that year. Music by Jerome Kern, lyrics by Clifford Grey and book by Guy Bolton, who was P. G. Wodehouse’s regular collaborator. There’s are a couple songs with Wodehouse lyrics in the play, “Joan of Arc” and “The Church Around the Corner,” recycled from earlier flop shows. “Sally” was a big hit, and made a star of its female lead, Ziegfield Girl Marilyn Miller.

It’s not a bad message to start a year with, even a century later.

‘A Thousand Candles In the Gloom’

It being Christmas Eve, you probably expected a Christmas song from Sissel. And you shall not be disappointed.

But wait! There’s myrrh! (As the meme says.)

Below is my quick translation of the lyrics. The original hymn is Swedish, music and words written in 1898 by Emmy Kohler.

A thousand candles in the gloom

Shine all around the earth,

And heaven’s stars are smiling down

To hail the Savior’s birth.

In palace and in cottage low

The news goes round tonight

Of He who in a stable born

Is God and Lord of Light.

Thou shining star of Bethlehem

So bright and fair above

Remind us of the angels’ song

Of light and peace and love.

To each poor lonely heart on earth

A beam of blessing send

So they may find the way that leads

To Bethlehem again.

Christmas Blogging

Pastor and author Ronnie (Kringle) Martin asked for five favorite Christmas songs that are not hymns. I offered these:

  1. Christmas Waltz (Bonus French version)
  2. One Cold and Blessed Winter (O Bambino)
  3. Christmastime Is Here
  4. White Christmas
  5. Gloria, by Charlie Peacock

And that got me thinking about Christmas things.

How many Christmas songs do we play that don’t have anything to do with Christmas? “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” (with a new cute video from Idina Menzel and Michael Bublé) is a winter song, not a Christmas song, but then “Silver Bells” is a Christmas song, and it has very little to do with it.

“My Favorite Things,” “It’s a Marshmallow World,” “Let It Snow,” “Winter Wonderland,” “Frosty the Snowman”? Not Christmas songs. How did “My Favorite Things” get on the seasonal playlist anyway?

Maybe the same way a movie set in December with Christmas trees, perhaps with a Christmas party, gets labeled as a Christmas movie. Is Die Hard a Christmas movie or a movie set near Christmas? Is Home Alone one? (BTW, the score from Home Alone has good Christmas music. “Star of Bethlehem” is marvelous.)

Dixie-Ann Bell writes, “5 Reasons Little Women is a Great Christmas Movie” She enthuses over the theme, and oh my word! I tucked the main theme from this Thomas Newman score into my head years ago and forgot where I’d heard it. I don’t remember where I thought it was from; I think I ruled out Emma and Sense and Sensibility.

Continue reading Christmas Blogging

‘In the Bleak Midwinter’

The nice thing about December is that if I can’t think of anything to blog, I can post a Christmas music video. In my case, that usually means something from Sissel.

“In the Bleak Midwinter” is in keeping with the weather, in my neighborhood. Poem by Christina Rossetti, music by Gustav Holst. Orchestration by a bunch of heretics in Salt Lake City.

The Fanciful History of Greensleeves

Greensleeves was all my joy,
Greensleeves was my delight,
Greensleeves was my heart of gold,
and who but Lady Greensleeves

“Greensleeves” is a 400-year-old tune you may know as “What Child Is This?” Ralph Vaughan Williams composed his “Fantasia on Greensleeves,” a marvelous piece made all the more so by starting with this melody.

Many people tell fanciful stories about the origin of this song. Was it written by Henry VIII for Anne Boleyn, who “cast [him] off discourteously” without losing her head for the moment? Was it an old Irish song, as we all know every good song is? Was it first sung by dog-headed men surrounded by rats? The rumors abound. The Early Music Muse drills into this musical history and reveals the truth, as is so often the case, rather boring. In short, a musician wrote a hit tune that many people used for their own songs, and everyone loved it–they still do. It’s the feature song in the K-drama I just blogged about, Mr. Sunshine. While Savina & Drones have a good composition based on Greensleeves, what Vaughan Williams did with it can’t be outdone for sublimity.

‘Jesus, I Long For Thy Blessed Communion’

I was surprised to find this hymn on YouTube. It’s a classic hymn for the Haugeans (the Lutheran “sect” I grew up in. Though we never actually sang this one much in my church), and it’s sung my none other than the divine Sissel Kyrkjebo. I didn’t even know she’d done it.

The two verses she sings are translated thus:

1 Jesus, I long for Thy blessed communion,
Yearning for Thee fills my heart and my mind;
Draw me from all that would hinder our union,
May I to Thee, my beginning, be joined;
Show me more clearly my hopeless condition;
Show me the depth of corruption in me,
So that my nature may die in contrition,
And that my spirit may live unto Thee!

7 Merciful Jesus, now hear how I bind Thee
To the sure pledge of Thy covenant word:
“Ask, and receive: when ye seek, ye shall find me;”
Thus have Thy lips, ever faithful, averred.
I with the woman of Canaan unresting,
Cry after Thee till my longing is stilled,
Till Thou shalt add, my petitions attesting,
“Amen, yea, amen: it be as thou wilt!”

Hans Nielsen Hauge, the Norwegian lay revivalist I’ve written about here before, was singing this song as he plowed his father’s field on a day in 1796. Suddenly, he said, he was overwhelmed with the glory of God, and felt himself filled with love for God and all his neighbors, and called to serve them with his whole life. After that he started preaching to small groups — which was illegal. Eventually he would spend ten years in prison for this activity. But by the time he died, he was a national hero, respected by nearly everyone, high and low.

I attended a meeting yesterday where we heard a lecture from a Norwegian scholar, a woman, who’s been studying Hauge’s life and work for years. Her subject was the effect of Hauge’s ministry on public literacy in Norway — because that was one of his many achievements — getting the common people reading (and even writing).

In the midst of this, I came to a new realization about the “liberal” origins of evangelicalism — a subject that fascinates me. As people are no doubt weary of me telling them, early liberalism (late 18th and early 19th Century liberalism) had nothing to do with socialism, or sexual identity, or the size of government. It was simply about whether the common people would be allowed to participate in governing themselves.

I’ll be writing more about this — but probably for the American Spectator Online. Because they pay me, after all.

‘Behold a Host, Arrayed in White

Above is a traditional Scandinavian hymn by the Danish hymnwriter Hans Adolf Brorson. The music was arranged, I believe, by Edvard Grieg. If you’re patient, you’ll hear the English words.

It’s a hymn about the blessed saints in Heaven, based on a passage from Revelation. It’s particularly suited to All Saints Day, which is today. It was also a favorite of my father’s. Gene Edward Veith, at his Cranach blog, laments how this festival day, devoted to eternal life, has come to be overshadowed by celebrations of death and horror.

After a month which (for me) has been full of genuine death, it’s good to contemplate our eternal hope.

Magical Music for October

If you listen to classical music radio, you’ve probably have heard of Smetana’s full orchestra piece on a river in his homeland, which the English call The Moldau. In this 2012 video, Valérie Milot interprets this symphonic poem for harp, and the result is magical. I liked the piece well enough before, but this is marvelous.

‘Les Bicyclettes de Belsize’

You could probably tell that my birthday yesterday left me a little melancholy. I pursued music on YouTube to soothe my savage breast, and came on a version of “Les Bicyclettes de Belsize” sung in 1969 by the French singer Mireille Matheiu. I’ve always loved the song, which first appeared in my college years, but I’d never heard this singer before. She’s sort of a successor to Edith Piaf, and her performance kind of blew me away.

According to Wikipedia, Miss Mathieu is a major star in France. She is a devout Roman Catholic (though famously superstitious) and politically conservative. She has, regrettably, ties to Vladimir Putin in recent years.

The song comes from a 1968 short film directed by Douglas Hickox. In spite of the name, it’s an English film, not French. Nor does London’s Belsize Park appear anywhere in it.

Beauty doesn’t have to make sense.

The prospects are fair

In case you’re in the vicinity of Cambridge, Minnesota, I’ll be playing Viking at the Isanti County Fair there tomorrow. The event goes on until Midnight, I guess, but I don’t think I’ll be there that long. I’ll have books to sell and sign.

Unless my car breaks down. Or I have a heart attack. Or fall down a well, or something. You never know.

For your Friday treat, here’s something delightful I think I haven’t posted here before — though what do I know? It’s Sissel singing “Sukiyaki.” A bizarre fusion of cultures here — a Norwegian girl in a folk costume singing a Japanese song in Norwegian. But you can’t deny it works. She was born to sing this song.

I suppose this counts as cultural appropriation, and is therefore evil. But if she sang it in Japanese, that would be cultural appropriation too. In fact, how can you avoid the conclusion that learning any foreign language at all is cultural appropriation? Hey you, liberal, trying to be multicultural by learning Spanish! Who gave you permission to plunder somebody else’s language?

Memorial Day

When it comes to Memorial Day, I always seem to perambulate back to “The Mansions of the Lord,” because it just gets me right here. This version includes a lot of Ronald Reagan, so if you don’t care for that, there are other blogs in the web. Have a good day.

I want to post a photo from Saturday at Fort Snelling, but that will have to wait because the picture file is taking forever to appear in Dropbox.

I just finished a big translation job, and I have another smaller one I need to get at today. And that’s good. Because I’m a hard-working man with a vibrant life, not a fat old bachelor with odd hobbies, as I might appear to some.

To all survivors of fallen heroes, may the Lord be with you, today and every day.