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Archive for December 17th, 2011

Every Christmas for almost thirty years, Linda and I have sung with the Elkin Community Chorus.  This year marked the 51st annual performance of the Chorus, originally founded by Fran Greene, currently directed by David McCollum, and open to all comers . . . that is anyone who wants to commit every Thursday night to rehearsing Christmas anthems beginning way back in October.  Gets you in the spirit early!

This year’s Chorus has been a special joy for me for many reasons, but one is that David selected a piece by me for us to perform.  In 2010 my friend composer and director Mark Daniel Merritt asked me to write lyrics he could work into a Christmas suite for our semi-pro choral group Voce.  We premiered The Wanderer’s Carols last Christmas at Biltmore House, and this year on December 4th one hundred of my friends and neighbors in the Elkin Community Chorus sang the first movement, The Birds’ Carol.

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The Wanderer’s Carols
Music by Mark Merritt Lyrics by Bill Griffin
[copyright 2010]
Movement 1
The Birds’ Carol

“Morning!  Morning!” trills the lark,
“The Babe brings gold to the sky!
A song of light now showers the earth,
And we shall know God this day.
.    Now is the dawn of our new life,
.    And we shall know God this day.”

“This coat I wear,” caws the rook,
“So black, so heavy, so grim.
Only One knows the way to make it bright –
The Child who reclaims us from sin.
.    He lifts our burden upon himself,
.    The Child who reclaims us from sin.”

“Come rest with me,” coos the dove,
“In this humble stable take ease.
Kings and shepherds together embrace
The Prince who unites us in peace.
.    You make us one in all the earth,
.    O Prince who unites us in peace!”

“I . . . Thou, I . . . Thou,” vow the geese
From dark earth to heaven above –
“May we join with Thee in a world made new;
May we fly forever in love.
.    Give us wings of Your perfect light,
.    And we’ll fly forever in love.”

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I’d like to share some thoughts about the background of these lyrics:

The Lark   –   Joy

In England the Sky Lark is known for its towering display flight, greeting the morning with loops and aerobatics, all the while filling the sky with its exuberant warble.  A fitting welcome for Christmas and the newborn Babe!

Our own North Carolina Meadowlark also sings a welcome to light returning to the earth   –   its melody seems to chant the words, “Spring of the year!”

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The Rook   –   Hope

Every one of us encounters darkness during our lives; there is no one that does not shoulder some burden.  The Rook proclaims hope in the coming of the Child who will take our burden upon Himself.  The One who can bring light into our darkness.

The English Rook is first cousin to our American Crow, both of them highly sociable and intelligent creatures.  If you’re smart, you know you must look beyond yourself for the hope of salvation.

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The Dove   –   Peace

The Dove has symbolized God’s promises since ancient times   –   picture the bird clasping an olive branch as it returns to Noah and the wanderers.  Today there is no more universal image of peace than the Dove.  In this verse, the Dove affirms that the peace of this Prince is promised to all people of whatever station in life, exalted or lowly, king or shepherd.  If we are to be united in all the earth, it will only be through Christ’s peace.

The Rock Dove is native to England’s cliffs and coasts, but after being imported to the new world it has become ubiquitous wherever there is human habitation   –   we call it a “pigeon.”  From the eaves of an abandoned building, doesn’t the sound of that cooing evoke peacefulness and home?

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The Geese   –   Love

Next time you hear a pair of Canada Geese flying overhead honking back and forth (the male perhaps slightly lower pitched than the female), imagine that they are not only calling to each other but also to their Creator   –   “I, Thou . . . I, Thou.”

For me these Geese are a powerful symbol of love.  They mate for life and may live twenty to thirty years in the wild.  They constantly watch out for each other.  They protect their goslings most ferociously.  And when I hear their call through the trees at dusk, it reminds me that the love of our Creator surrounds us and lifts us up.

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If you would like to listen to the choral group Voce performing The Wanderer’s Carols (with harp accompaniment and boy soprano), please follow these links:

THE WANDERER’S CAROLS

1 – The Birds’ Carol

2 – Beside the Manger

3 – The Wanderer’s Prayer

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