Thursday, December 08, 2005

The rising of the sun

westminster
Westminster Abbey
From Economist.com - Cities Guide

This is where I was earlier this evening, singing Christmas carols and listening to choir performances and readings. An historic setting, angelic choristers, those oh-so-familiar words and tunes, most beautifully read and sung, does it matter that I am not what an orthodox Christian would call a believer?

It's funny, the closest I can get to a label for myself is a pagan with buddhist and christian overtones, constantly in flux and changing, unable to sign up to any particular creed, yet recognising the good in all of them. And yet, Christmas carols exert a pull on my memory and imagination that is impossible to break. As someone born into the culture that created them they bring a comfort and a sense of belonging, of sorts. And the theme of light being born in darkness is surely a universal one? At the same time, nowadays they bring a sense of being an outsider because I don't believe in that same way. It's been an uplifting evening though, shared with friends, and I'm feeling happy and rather emotional.

My favourite carols? No doubt about it: O come o come Emmanuel. Based on plainsong, in a minor key, heart-wrenchingly beautiful. And I am also fond of The Holly and the Ivy, with its mixture of Christian and pagan themes.

"O the rising of the sun
The running of the deer
The playing of the merry organ
Sweet singing in the choir"

14 Comments:

Blogger MB said...

Between the photo and the post, you really conjured the scene, Mary. Beautiful! I sympathize with your feelings of familiarity combined with displacement. Over time, my views have gotten increasingly transcendent ... and the last carol you mentioned is one of my favorites, too!

4:19 pm  
Blogger Sonia said...

Thanks so much Mary, for your kind words on my page!

7:59 pm  
Anonymous Kurt said...

I'm terribly fond of "O come, o come, Emmanuel" myself. Light being born in darkness--exactly.

4:31 am  
Blogger rdl said...

Very nice post. You say that you don't believe in the same way but that it was an uplifting evening. So I would say you don't have to believe in the same way.
And I love X-Mas carols too, don't know why, I guess they are soothing.

12:53 pm  
Blogger zhoen said...

Veni, veni, Emmanuel.
Two of my favorites, along with Coventry Carol.
No, I don't think the old carols are only about Christian faith. I think they are far older, shaped by generations of voices, the hard edges sculpted, the curves emphasized. I sing Sacred Harp- and though the lyrics are blatent christian, the music is older, more basic, and evokes a more primal god, a transcentendal experience, the Voice of the universe.

5:04 pm  
Blogger Mary said...

Ah, people who like the carols that I do!

Sonia: You're welcome!

Moose: what a good way of describing the process - the outlook becoming "increasingly transcendent".

Kurt: The light being born is the essence of the festival for me, and I hold onto that.

Rdl: Welcome and thanks for your comments here and on the thread below. And thanks for giving me a way to stop fretting about not fitting in - You're right of course, I don't have to believe in the same way.

Zhoenw: I almost included the Coventry Carol on the list! But what is Sacred Harp? I've come across this reference elsewhere. It sounds wonderful. I think I might do some googling! You put it so very well in your final sentence: a more primal god - listening to, or singing with, the Voice of the Universe is exactly what it's about.

8:51 am  
Blogger zhoen said...

Sacred Harp is a form of folk singing- participatory, not performance. Also called Shape notes- because the music is written in four shapes instead of the usual notes. Makes it much easier to sight read- especially for people without previous musical training. The harmonies are flat, forceful, even harsh at times, the volume very loud. It has it roots in Britain, and colonial America, but survived the Movement for Better Music by hiding out in the deep, and deeply religious Southern states.

This is the US website, there may be some links to groups in the UK.
http://fasola.org/

9:08 pm  
Blogger Patry Francis said...

I've found myself singing 'o come, o come, Emmanuel" several times in recent days. It seems to encapsulate all the longings of the human heart.

2:58 am  
Blogger Mary said...

Zhoenw: thanks very much for the info - I will definitely follow it up. The way you describe Sacred Harp singing - calls to mind some of the Bulgarian women's folksong choir recordings that I have heard. I have learned something through this and I am grateful to you.

Patry: ah, for me O come O come Emmanuel does exactly that. Thank you.

8:14 pm  
Anonymous Becca said...

Sitting and listening to carols at Westminster must be marvelous... I am glad you go, since the message of the carols are indeed profound, filled with God's presence and power. beautiful photo ...

2:28 am  
Blogger apples4me said...

Agree with moose. I could really see the scene as I read your post.:)
12 days and counting...Wishing You Merry Christmas, Mary!

p.s. When I was little I enjoyed singing the Twelve Days of Christmas song..:)

1:28 pm  
Blogger Mary said...

Becca, welcome! And thank you for your comment.

Nour: I like The Twelve Days of Christas too. I am particularly fond of the bit that goes Five Gold Rings!!

2:35 pm  
Blogger Mary said...

And Nour, thank you for your good wishes!

6:40 pm  
Blogger Jean said...

J'aime beaucoup cette photo de cathedrale !
Elle me fait penser à un tableau de Monet !
Je vous souhaite un joyeux Noel!

1:13 pm  

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