by Sid Davis
As I sat at the table on my annual January study trip to New York earlier this year, I learned the woman seated next to me was, among other things, an Irish fiddler. The power of that folk music has always moved me, and when combined with sacred text, it becomes even more of a force. Despite today’s festival being 11 months away, that’s all I needed for wheels to turn. What if the opening was centered around the art of fiddling? (How lucky could we be to find that Denise Tarrant, our concertmaster of many years, actually grew up fiddling for her father?) What if we ran with that and found a Gaelic lullaby including soloists and fiddler? What if the Irish notion continued, and we sang the iconic melody known as Londonderry Air which I’ve always wanted to include at Christmas? That would mean Better Is Peace from Karl Jenkins’, Mass for Peace would work beautifully, as ‘fiddling’ eventually takes over the entire string section. And that is truthfully how today unfolded.
I am so gratified to bring the message of the Jenkins back to your hearts at this particular time, considering the temperature of today’s world. The haunting duet, Don Oiche ud I Mbeithil evokes the mystery of mysteries, describing the first Christmas night and quiet coming of the Christ child. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the glorious, double choir setting of the Sanctus by Dominick Argento could be described as the musical depiction of countless angel’s wings, as those unearthly beings express love of God, while the sweeping, almost film score-like setting of The First Noel washes over not only our ears, but our souls.
As I have said many times, how sad Christmas morning would be if all our gifts were Christmas specific and predictable—a recording of carols, red and green candles, a new creche for the mantle. How much more meaningful for us to be opened up in fresh and sometimes startling ways, with unexpected sounds, and this celebration revealed in a whole new light – illuminated by surprise. It is said that whenever the Sanctus is sung, we leave “chronos,” or earthly time, and enter “chairos,” – heavenly time – and all the saints and angels sing along with us: “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God…” May today’s music bring about a true sacred unison, as we glimpse peace on earth, good will to all.