December 4, 2016

Advent Pic and Cantata of the Week II

December Fields

December Fields

ADVENT II

Bach Cantata 70, “Watch! Pray!”

BWV 70 is an expansion of a cantata Bach wrote seven years earlier in Weimar. The music for this earlier work has been almost entirely lost. It was one of a group of three cantatas (BWV 70a.186a,147a) that Bach produced in December 1716 based on texts by the Weimar court poet Salomo Franck.

BWV 70a was written for the 2nd Sunday in Advent, however in Leipzig cantatas could only be performed on the 1st Sunday in Advent but since the readings for both Sundays deal with the end of time and the coming of Christ it was not for the anonymous librettist of BWV 70 to take over Franck’s text without change. Four recitatives were added, based on Matthew’s account of the last judgement (the gospel for the 26th Sunday after Trinity) and a chorale verse to conclude first part of the cantata. The six movement cantata of 1716 is thus expanded seven years later into an eleven movement work with a two–part structure.

Here is the tenor aria that begins the second part of this expanded cantata. In the Advent season, it calls us to lift up our heads with hopeful anticipation of the coming of Christ and the new creation.

(Source: Bach Cantatas Website)

Hebt euer Haupt empor
Und seid getrost, ihr Frommen,
Zu eurer Seelen Flor!
Ihr sollt in Eden grünen,
Gott ewiglich zu dienen.

Lift up your heads
and be consoled, you devout people,
may your souls blossom!
You are to flourish in Eden
to serve God for ever.

Cantata texts by Salomo Franck, Christian Keymann

Saturday Ramblings: December 3, 2016

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RAMBLER OF THE WEEK

As far as we know, there is only one person left in this world who was born in the 19th century. On Tuesday, Emma Morano celebrated her 117th birthday. I think that’s worthy of our Rambler of the Week honor, don’t you?

Ms. Morano, the oldest of eight siblings, was born on the 29th of November, 1899 in the Piedmont region of Italy. According to a report at the BBC, she survived an abusive marriage which started with blackmail, the loss of her only son, and a diet which most would describe as anything but balanced.

It was a regime Morano took up as a young woman, after the doctor diagnosed her with anaemia shortly after World War One. For over 90 years, she ate 3 eggs each day, two of them raw, while consuming very few fruits and vegetables. These days, we are told, she has cut down to just two eggs a day along with a few biscuits.

Ms. Morano’s courage in standing up to her abusive husband and the character quality of determination she showed then and throughout her life inspired a musical show that tells the story of her life in prose and dance. The show is being performed in the northern Italian town of Verbania, where she lived for most of her long life.

This amazing woman has not left her two-room flat for 20 years now but she was surrounded by well-wishers on Tuesday who took part in her birthday celebrations. The New York Times reports that at one point during the festivities, she said, “Hey, isn’t there anything to eat here?” Afterwards, she took a nap.

We join them today and say “Buon Compleanno!” to Emma Morano, our Rambler of the Week.

• • •

ADIOS, FIDEL

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On the other hand, one of the world’s most notorious revolutionaries and dictators died this past week. The world bid “Adios” to Fidel Castro, who died this week at age 90. Leftist world leaders joined Raul Castro in a massive ceremony commemorating the late leader.

Millions cheered Fidel Castro on the day he entered Havana. Millions more fled the communist dictator’s repressive police state, leaving behind their possessions, their families, the island they loved and often their very lives. It’s part of the paradox of Castro that many people belonged to both groups.

Few national leaders have inspired such intense loyalty — or such a wrenching feeling of betrayal. Few fired the hearts of the world’s restless youth as Castro did when he was young, and few seemed so irrelevant as Castro when he was old — the last Communist, railing on the empty, decrepit street corner that Cuba became under his rule.

He held a unique place among the world’s leaders of the past century. Others had greater impact or won more respect. But none combined his dynamic personality, his decades in power, his profound effect on his own country and his provocative role in international affairs.

In addition to the comprehensive Miami Herald article linked above, here are a few other places you can go to access information about Fidel Castro.

• • •

CHRISTMAS GOAT AFLAME!

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Well, I’ll be Gavlebockened.

Each year, people in the in the Swedish town of Gavle erect giant Christmas goat effigy. Each year, said goat becomes a favorite target of arsonists. Last year, the goat, made out of wood and straw, made it to December 27 before getting torched.

This year, it failed to last 24 hours.

It was put up on Sunday, the first day of Advent, but was burnt down soon after despite extra security measures, reportedly by a man who slipped through security while a guard went to take a bathroom break. The torching of the goat has now happened 35 times in the last 50 years. The goat’s construction and attendant festivities cost about $250,000.

What with the Capra-cursed Cubs winning the World Series this year and all, it’s been a bad second half of the year for goats.

• • •

NATIONWIDE “SECRET SANTA”

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I love this story. In New Zealand this year, thousands of people are participating in a “Secret Santa” gift exchange sponsored by country’s postal service.

How do they organize it?

When a person signs up, they submit a Twitter handle along with their information. The Post Office then shares that (and no other personal information) with a person assigned to give them a present. The giver then can read their gift partner’s tweets and try to figure out what he or she might like for a gift.

The gifts get sent to a “Santa Storehouse” run by the New Zealand Post, rather than give out any addresses, and then distributed accordingly. And if people don’t send a gift for the exchange, the gift meant for them will instead be donated to charity.

What a great idea!

• • •

PROUD PAPA BELL

Longtime friend and contributor to iMonk, Michael Bell, sent us this video of his daughter Kaitlyn in a performance of “Inside Out,” from A from Gentlemen’s Guide To Love and Murder.

Excellent job, Kaitlyn! So expressive, and what a beautiful voice.

• • •

COLOSSAL AFRICAN SOLAR FARM

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Sandrine Ceurstemont writes about a visit to a vast power plant at the door to the Moroccan desert that may help to define the energy future of the world.

She reports:

Hundreds of curved mirrors, each as big as a bus, are ranked in rows covering 1,400,000 sq m (15m sq ft) of desert, an area the size of 200 football fields. The massive complex sits on a sun-blasted site at the foot of the High Atlas mountains, 10km (6 miles) from Ouarzazate – a city nicknamed the door to the desert. With around 330 days of sunshine a year, it’s an ideal location.

As well as meeting domestic needs, Morocco hopes one day to export solar energy to Europe. This is a plant that could help define Africa’s – and the world’s – energy future.

…After many years of false starts, solar power is coming of age as countries in the sun finally embrace their most abundant source of clean energy. The Moroccan site is one of several across Africa and similar plants are being built in the Middle East – in Jordan, Dubai and Saudi Arabia. The falling cost of solar power has made it a viable alternative to oil even in the most oil-rich parts of the world.

…The country plans to generate 14% of its energy from solar by 2020 and by adding other renewable sources like wind and water into the mix, it is aiming to produce 52% of its own energy by 2030.

…The success of these plants in Morocco – and those in South Africa – may encourage other African countries to turn to solar power. South Africa is already one of the world’s top 10 producers of solar power and Rwanda is home to east Africa’s first solar plant, which opened in 2014. Large plants are being planned for Ghana and Uganda.

I read a book once which posited that the truly epochal changes in world history occur when humans move from one dominant form of energy to another. Perhaps we are seeing the early stages of one of those changes, one that will be experienced by our grandchildren and great grandchildren and the generations that follow them.

• • •

QUESTIONS OF THE WEEK

screen-shot-2016-11-09-at-5-49-19-pmWill the Roman Catholic Church split over marriage?

How will Castro’s death affect Cuba’s Christian revival?

What can churches learn from public schools about changes that might make teaching children more effective?

Could Tiger Woods mount a comeback?

Was “Lucy” a tree climber?

What’s so funny about Jewish humor?

Who’s on the American Family Association’s 2016 “Naughty or Nice” list of stores that measures “Christmas friendliness”?

Why is Starbucks always in the center of culture war debates?

• • •

WORD OF THE YEAR 2016

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The Oxford Dictionary announced a couple weeks ago that “post-truth” is its 2016 word of the year.

Post-truth is described as “an adjective defined as ‘relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief’.

Though the word has been around for awhile, it gained increased usage this year through the “Brexit” controversy in the UK and the US presidential elections. “Post-truth politics” is the phrase in which it is heard most often.

• • •

TO TREE OR NOT TO TREE?

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We got our (real) Christmas tree put up last weekend and are in the process of decorating it. On Wednesday night we had a “hanging of the greens” service at the church where I’m preaching to put up and trim the tree in the sanctuary.

Edwin and Jennifer Woodruff Tait at Christian History have an article answering the question, “Why Do We have Christmas Trees?”

Not all Christian leaders have looked so kindly at the practice. Take Tertullian, for example:

Let them over whom the fires of hell are imminent, affix to their posts, laurels doomed presently to burn: to them the testimonies of darkness and the omens of their penalties are suitable. You are a light of the world, and a tree ever green. If you have renounced temples, make not your own gate a temple.

Nevertheless, the tree has prevailed. The Taits give a good overview of the history of the Christmas tree, how presents came to be associated with it, and how our family celebrations around the tree today owe a lot to Victorian English traditions.

• • •

DECEMBER MUSIC SPECIAL

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In December on Sat. Ramblings, I want to feature some of my favorite “winter” or “December” songs. Last year I did a post on my December playlist (which I update every year), and I look forward to this season so I can listen to it most every day.

Each week I’ll post one of my favorite songs off that list. Today, one of the most sublime songs Alison Krauss has ever sung — and that’s saying something. Along with Natalie MacMaster on fiddle (and make sure you listen to the end for her magnificent solo), this is “Get Me Through December.”

Fridays with Michael Spencer: December 2, 2016

Black and Red Snow. Photo by Karen Eck

Black and Red Snow. Photo by Karen Eck

Today, Michael Spencer’s classic post, “Lo, How a Rose:” Experiencing The Power of Beauty.

• • •

It was Christmas of 1968. I was a seventh grader at Estes Junior High School. School was a huge part of my world. My father was beginning down the road to depression. I was an only child, and my life wasn’t full of the activities of a typical middle school boy today. My dad didn’t want me to play sports, so I came home every day and watched television, or played with my friends up the street. Looking back, there was a simplicity and goodness to my life, and there was also, right in the center, an emptiness.

My parents were uneducated and unsophisticated “country” people. Mom had grown up on farms in rural western Kentucky. Dad was an eastern Kentucky mountain boy who wound up making his way to the oil fields of western Kentucky where, after a painful divorce, he met and married my mother. We had a good family in many ways and a broken one in others, but it was completely devoid of anything you would call beauty; artistic beauty. There was no music. There were only a few cheap wall decorations. There were almost no books. Because I was an only child, I was treated as special, but I wasn’t introduced to the world of beauty. My parents knew the beauty of nature, but they lived in a city. They knew the beauty of family, and shared that with me. But what they knew of the beauty of music was the sound of folk music in the hollers and on the porches of farmhouses, and I was not there.

My parents did not know the world of artistic beauty. They were strangers to it, and would remain so throughout their lives. I went with dad to stock car races and with mom to Gospel quartet shows. At church, I heard the choir and sang hymns, but there was no awareness in my life of the beauty of great music; music that moved the soul and told the mind and heart of a greater beauty beyond. Every week, we would go to a friend’s home and hear a little country band play in the basement while my parents played Rook. I never knew there was anything else or anything more.

School was my only hope of an outlet from this world. It was at school a year before that I had first watched a real play; “Macbeth,” no less. I never forgot that introduction to Shakespeare and that bloody story of evil unfolding before my childish eyes. And it was at school that I first discovered the beauty of music, in “Lo! How a Rose, E’re Blooming.”

Seventh graders were required to take music class. We were not music enthusiasts, to say the least. There was about us all the sense of artistic compulsion, but in the cause of sheer endurance. Nothing more. Our teacher was Mr. Waite, the assistant principal. Mr. Waite was a towering, imposing, intense force to be reckoned with. He managed rooms full of junior high students with a firmness that produced consistent results. Fear of impending doom concentrates the mind wonderfully, and sometimes, in our case, frees the voice to do great things.

I later learned that he was, in fact, a boisterous, happy and spontaneous man who could make anyone smile, but we rarely, if ever, saw that smile. He was turning seventh grade Philistines into singers, and this was war. His entrance into our tiny music room was like the arrival of a holy prophet bound and determined to convert the captive heathen to the true faith. He did not abide any misbehavior, and we would sing whether we liked it or not. We were there to sing, and we would learn to sing and we did sing. Or else…I’m not sure what would have happened, but I didn’t want to find out.

I couldn’t read a note of music, and though Mr. Waite diligently taught us, and I surely nodded at every lesson, I never learned to actually read music. But that didn’t mean I didn’t learn to sing. I was blessed with a good voice and memory. I loved to sing with a group. If we couldn’t read the music, we could still memorize our part, and I did.

Christmas approached that seventh grade year, and we prepared for a Christmas music program for our parents. I am sure I was in the choir and sang several pieces, but I only recall one piece. Mr. Waite used a small, seventh grade boy’s choir, and among other things, we sang a classic arrangement of “Lo, How a Rose E’re Blooming.”

I knew the usual Christmas Carols from church, but I had never heard this song or anything of its kind. I didn’t understand the text. I didn’t understand the scriptural references. I certainly didn’t understand the beautiful arrangement by German composer Michael Praetorius. I did know that this song was an experience of beauty that moved my young soul like no other music I’d ever heard. The mysterious moving of the notes, slipping in behind one another, created an interaction and harmony unlike anything in my hymn-singing tradition. (Think “When We All Get To Heaven” and you have my total experience.) I was captivated. I couldn’t explain what I was feeling, but it was what C.S. Lewis called “longing for joy.” Having once experienced it, we are never the same, and we are pointed toward God with our sails to the wind of joy.

I remember our performance well. There was a small group of us formerly rowdy boys, all standing in white shirts, singing words from the 15th century, in almost complete ignorance, but now under Mr. Waite’s tutelage, becoming instruments of beauty despite our depravity and barbarian natures. My mother was there, and I am sure she was proud of me in my shirt, tie and cowlick, but I could never tell her, or anyone else, what I was really feeling. I didn’t have words for it myself. I couldn’t have told Mr. Waite what happened to me in those rehearsals and in that performance, but I had entered a whole new world.

I wonder how many people in my world have never been moved by music? They listen to the radio or CDs and are excited, or manipulated, but never moved by pure beauty like a visit from a spirit. How many have never been drawn into the beauty and the mystery of wondrous art like this seventh grade boy? Perhaps that day was my biggest step toward believing that God was real, good and loved me. Could the empty universe of the scientists have produced such a sound, and such a feeling to accompany it? Was this all there was, or was there more? And when this world is exhausted, is that all there is, or is there more beside? Is there what Lewis called a heaven of music and silence?

Mr. Waite, I owe you a great debt. You transformed us into the conduits of beauty, and you put the music of the gods on our lips when we were too young to know what it all meant. You rescued me from an artless world and showed me worlds beyond. You did what every educator should long to do- bring the experience of truth, beauty and wonder into young hearts and minds, and so capture us that we can never be happy again without tasting more of that miracle. You gave me a great gift, a gift that life, with all its pain and loss, will never take away. I will always have that song. And now, I have the Rose of whom the poet wrote, and the beauty that made that wonderful song beautiful is mine as well.

• • •

Photo by Karen Eck on Flickr. Creative Commons License.

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