The Top 10 Stories of 2010

2010 will be recorded in history as the year of the Tea Parties. Note the phrase is plural. The movement that began in April 2009 helped lead to a complete flip of the House of Representatives. Whether the Republicans can hold onto their seats depends on whether they’re willing and able to keep their promises, and whether the Tea Parties will hold them to it. That, then, is the Top Story of 2010.

1. The 2010 Midterm Elections – Republicans gained a remarkable 163 new seats in the House of Representatives, giving them the majority. We promised to put Nancy Pelosi out of her job as Speaker of the House, and we did it. The Democrats are now down to 193 seats. The Republicans picked up five more seats in the Senate, but Democrats picked up six. However, they no longer have that bullet-proof majority they enjoyed during 2010. Finally, Republicans p icked up five more governorships and the Democrats lost six, which is a gain of one for the Republicans. We Tea Partiers mustn’t sit back and spin our tea cozies though; this is a constant battle that can really on be fought at the ground level.

2. Gulf Offshore Oil Rig Explosion Causes Massive Oil Spill – Lies. Deceptions. Mishandling. An oil company that contributed massive donations to the President’s campaign. A deal with the notorious George Soros to sell all the now useless oil rig equipment to Brazil, giving Soros even more money to manipulate our country into a downfall. Refusing to allow foreign tankers to come in and clean up the oil (because they might “leak”). Allowing the crisis to go on long enough to turn an accident into a catastrophe. Sinking the oil down to the ocean floor instead letting it float up and disperse. Environmental groups, who helped contribute to the problem by forcing the closing of refineries and banning offshore drilling closer to shore. The list of villains in this story is as long, and as deep, as the spill itself.

3. Arizona Passes Illegal Immigration Law – Three Huzzahs for Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer who acted when the government refused to follow its own laws, and started arresting illegal immigrants. Her constituents were hugely in favor of this law, allowing Arizona law enforcement to follow the laws and arrest those who weren’t following the laws.

4. Obama Signs Healthcare Legislation into Effect – We’ll find out what’s in the law once the law is passed? Quoth Nancy Pelosi, wielding a sledgehammer-sized gavel to pass the law in the House of Representatives. We’ll know what’s in the law next month – er, tomorrow – when we start seeing our taxes rise, our companies shudder at the increases in the cost. Nurses being placed on the same level as doctors? Death panels? Insuring 26 year-old adults? A word to the new Republican House of Representatives – repeal or defund. Just do it!

5. WikiLeaks Reveals U.S. Military, Diplomatic Secrets – “Everyone has a right to know everything about everybody.” That was not Australian publisher Julian Assange; that was the character/newscaster Richard Thornberg to Bonnie Bedelia’s character, Holly McClane in the 1990 movie, Die Hard 2. But it might as well have been. Thanks to the prescient screenwriters for that 20 year-old tip about the future of the barely-born Internet.  Can anyone say, “Treason?”

6. Volcanic Ash Disrupts European Air Travel – Moral of this lesson: Always have a Plan B when traveling. On Apr. 14th, the Icelandic volcano on the Eyjafjallokull glacier sent a large volcanic cloud of ash seven miles into the atmosphere which across northern Europe, halting flights across the northern portion of the continent. The United Kingdom has closed its airspace. No flights will be allowed in British air space, except in emergencies, from 1100 GMT until at least 1700 GMT as the ash spreads across the country. Travel continued to be disrupted well into May, closing airports in France, Germany, and Poland.

7. Earthquake Devastates Haiti – On Jan. 12th, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake devastated Haiti. The epicenter was near the town of Léogâne, approximately 16 miles west of Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital. By Jan. 24, at least 52 aftershocks measuring 4.5 or greater had been recorded. An estimated three million people were affected by the quake, with an estimated 230,000 people dead, 300,000 injured and 1,000,000 made homeless. Approximately 250,000 residences and 30,000 commercial buildings collapsed or were severely damaged, including the Presidential Palace, the National Assembly, the Port-au-Prince Cathedral, and the main jail. Among those killed were Archbishop of Port-au-Prince Joseph Serge Miot and opposition leader Micha Gaillard. The headquarters of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), located in the capital, collapsed, killing many, including the Mission’s Chief, Hédi Annabi. With statistics like that, who needs war?

8. Polish President Killed in Airplane Crash – Polish president Lech Kaczynski, 60, and his wife Maria were killed in a plane crash on April 10 near Smolensk airport. Including the president and his wife, 132 passengers were killed. The Kaczynski’s were travelling with several senior government figures on a trip to mark the 70th anniversary of the Katyn forest massacre, in which thousands of Poles were executed by Soviet secret police. As the plane was preparing for landing, en route from Moscow to Smolensk, the Polish president’s aircraft did not make it to the landing strip, getting caught up in the tops of trees. The plane fell to the ground and broke up into pieces. There were no survivors in that crash. The head of Russia’s top investigative body, Sergei Markin, said there were a total of 132 people on the plane. Kaczynski became president in December 2005 and was planning to run for a second term in the presidential elections this autumn. Parliament speaker Bronislaw Komorowski, who had been expected to be his main opposition in the race, took over presidential duties according to the Polish constitution. Our condolences to Poland on its loss.

9. Americans Protest Building of Mosque at Ground Zero – Thousands of Americans flooded lower Manhattan’s West Broad several times in 2010 to protest the building of a mosque two blocks from the site of the Sept. 11th attacks on the World Trade Center. The proposed building was given the green light by New York City officials at a contentious zoning council meeting. Family members of the victims and Tea Party members came to express their outrage. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg stood firmly behind the decision, defending the First Amendment rights of the builders. The American Center for Law and Justice has filed a lawsuit to prevent the building. Meanwhile, A Manhattan lawyer representing Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah is floating a proposal to officials and community leaders to move the controversial Ground Zero mosque away from its proposed site near the World Trade Center to another Manhattan neighborhood. The plan is to buy shuttered St. Vincent’s Medical Center in the West Village and transfer the mosque to a new Islamic cultural center he would build on a plot at the site, say sources who have heard Gaffin’s pitch. The proposla would ould also save the hospital, reopening most of the units that closed when St. Vincent’s filed for bankruptcy on April 14. The attorney is foating the idea to gauge what the reaction might be — and to ready a bid to rival the Rudin Organization, which is trying to snap up St. Vincent’s in bankruptcy court with an eye on tearing down six hospital buildings for luxury housing.

 10. Car Bombing Foiled in NYC’s Times Square – There are some amazing notes about this story: On Apr. 30th, a Muslim tee shirt vendor notified a mounted police officer about a suspicious car belching smoke. The bomb did not go off. A crude car bomb of propane, gasoline and fireworks was discovered in a smoking Nissan Pathfinder in the heart of Times Square on Saturday evening, prompting the evacuation of thousands of tourists and theatergoers on a warm and busy night. Although the device had apparently started to detonate, there was no explosion, and early on Sunday the authorities were still seeking a suspect and motive. A large swath of Midtown, from 43rd Street to 48th Street, and from Sixth to Eighth Avenues, was closed for much of the evening after the Pathfinder was discovered just off Broadway on 45th Street. Several theaters and stores, as well as the South Tower of the New York Marriott Marquis Hotel, were evacuated. A few days later, (On the May 3rd edition of the CBS Evening News, Mayor Bloomberg said, “If I had to bet twenty-five cents this would be exactly that, somebody who’s homegrown, maybe a mentally deranged person, or somebody with a political agenda, that doesn’t like the health care bill or something [was responsible].) authorities arrested Pakistan-born Faisal Shahzad who intended the SUV to explode into a fireball in the Crossroads of the World.

Published in: on December 31, 2010 at 1:21 pm  Comments (4)  

Tick-Tock, Tick-Tock

Time is ticking away. This time tomorrow, the year 2010 will be taking its last gasps. Time has run out for the Democrats, and time will tell if the Republicans live up to their promises or if they think now that they’re in office, they have nothing to fear from the Tea Parties.

My brother’s ex’s cousin’s parents bought their twin granddaughters a piano for Christmas. These are wealthy people, which means they’re smart; the girls have been taking lessons for six months, and practicing on an electronic keyboard for the time being.

Once the grandparents were certain the lessons were taking, they bought the piano.

They have a problem, as most piano students do, with keeping in tempo. My brother asked me if I would show them my metronome and demonstrate a little piano playing, while I’m at it. I’ll gladly show them my metronome but I’m not going to give it to them, as it’s 40 years old, still in prime condition, and may be worth something. I had a gift card for one of the music-sites-for-real-musicians websites and ordered them a new, electronic metronome. It keeps time in color, can tune wind and string instruments, and even has an outlet for headphones.

I’ll also demonstrate a little piano playing, but I’m afraid it will be a very little piano playing. I’m aces on the bells, but seldom play my piano. Like all adults, I have very little time for extraneous pleasures. What time I have is taken up practicing with two community bands. Although, every once in awhile, I’ll sit down and play a tune or two.

My brothers are the very reason I’m not better than I am. My childhood piano teacher is the other reason. Like these girls, I started taking piano lessons before I actually had a piano. My maternal grandmother did have a piano, and as my grandparents lived nearby, we visited them frequently, and I had opportunities to practice.

When a piano wasn’t available, I would practice on the diagrams in my lesson book. My mother thought taking lessons would be a good idea. I loved music. I loved to sing. I would love to piano. The family, especially my brothers, it turned out, did not love the piano or me playing it.

So my grandmother, seeing that I really enjoyed playing (up until that point, at least) bought me a very good used piano, a Griffith spinet. But things starting going sour, almost as soon as the instrument entered the house.

First, the music school changed my piano teacher. I went from being taught by a very kindly, middle-aged lady to a young, tempermental, impatient young man who had a tendency to yell and scream at me. I wasn’t practicing enough.

No, I wasn’t. When I said, “Sure, I’d love to take piano lessons!” I thought I was going to play songs like my grandmother did, popular songs, songs you could sing to, happy music. Instead, my music teacher handed me a red, Thompson method lesson book, Grade One, filled with horrible, minor key classical tunes. I hated my lessons, my music, and I hated practicing.

If matters weren’t bad enough, unlike the young girls who live in a huge McMansion with about 100 rooms, we lived in small, three-bedroom bi-level. The biggest room was the kitchen. The piano was placed in the living room, where the television was and my brothers and their friends were constantly running in and out, and up and down. I was allotted a half an hour at the piano only, and was forced to listen to the boys’ grumbling and even my father’s complaints about the repetitious music.

The music teacher complained that I wasn’t keeping in tempo. So, my grandmother bought me a mechanical metronome. It’s really quite a beautiful contraption, made by Seth Thomas, the clock-maker. It has an obelisk shape. The front piece lifts off to reveal the metronome itself. A metal strip is in the center, with stoppers on each side, up at the top. You move a weight on the metal strip up and down to set the speed, according to the guide on the inside.

The only trouble was, I was afraid of it. Not in the psychotic sense. But it made a loud, very distracting tick-tocking sound that tended to make me forget all about the notes on the page and the keys on the piano. It sounded rather like the ticking of a bomb to my 9 year old ears. I was already having a hard enough time getting from note to note. I just didn’t need this thing reminding me that I was also off-tempo.  Oh, the pressure.

I think these twins are going to find the same problem. Music teacher friends tell me that the “key” to successful piano playing is scales. Scales, scales, scales. I’ve found myself that I’m much more comfortable playing a song after I’ve warmed on some scales and exercises. That, I believe, is what I’m going to tell these young students.

I certainly shall make a splendid example of what happens when you don’t practice. But I’ll also give the parents and grandparents some tips on what and what not to do. The first tip will be – don’t let my brother anywhere near them while they’re trying to learn their songs or practice their scales. One time, he and my younger brother put our hound dog in the cellar to make him howl while I practiced.

My lessons finally ended when my grandmother happened to accompany my mother to pick me up from the lessons.  I was crying, as usual.  Before I even got in the car, my grandmother told my mother to cancel the lessons, immediately.  My mother got out of the car andtold the piano teacher that was it.  He had the nerve to demand to know why.  “She’s come out of these lessons one too many times cying.”  He said, “Well, that’s because she doesn’t practice!”  “And making her cry is your solution to the problem?”  My grandmother said it was all wrong; music was supposed to be fun, and obviously, if I was crying, I wasn’t enjoying making music.

Since these ex-in-law relatives of my brother’s have such a big house, I’d advise them to place the piano in a room far away from the television and from complaining relatives. I’d also make sure that these girls have some easy music to play that they actually enjoy and know. I don’t know what lesson book they have; they may be okay with it. But I’d still buy some Disney music or Hannah Montana tunes for beginning pianists or something like that.

They need to listen to music as well as play it. Music is all about sound, not sight. If the teacher is too harsh, they need to find another one (although that’s not my impression; they would have quit by now). My advice for the metronome would be to use it only for playing scales for the time being. Scales are easy; it’s just one note after another up and down the scale, so they can concentrate on the tempo without being distracted.

Leave them alone about the tempo while they’re learning songs. Once they’re familiar enough with a tune, then they can start worrying about their tempo. Sometimes I just don’t know what music teachers are thinking.

I’m glad I learned to play piano (though not very well). The music lessons did lead to playing the bells in the band, which I love. I love the piano, too; it’s not that I hate it. Life and stupid people just kind of got in the way. I live alone now, so there’s no one to hassle me about playing. I have a neighbor upstairs who, luckily, doesn’t care.

Family members have urged me to get rid of the piano. But, while it needs tuning, it’s quite a good instrument. Some day, I intend to defeat the world and learn to play well. Probably that time won’t come until I’m retired – or unemployed. I just worry that time is ticking away. Chiefly, I’m concerned about my upcoming “performance.” My metronome is clacking ominously away.

Published in: on December 30, 2010 at 7:44 pm  Comments (2)  

Birth Certificate Blues

Those Birthers – you have to give them credit for tenacity and persistence. They always get their birth certificate. The Hawaii Governor Neil Abercrombie is considering a way to release the information and put a permanent damper on this relentless conspiracy theory.

The governor was a friend of Obama’s parents, according to Fox News, and knew Obama as a kid. He says he was there when Obama was born.  Abercrombie, the report says, will ask the state attorney general’s office about what can be done to put an end to questions about Obama’s birth certificate from Aug. 4, 1961. Hawaii’s privacy laws have long barred the release of a certified birth certificate to anyone who doesn’t have a tangible interest. If not, the state must have permission from Obama himself to release the certificate.

Hawaii’s health director has stated twice that she has seen and verified Obama’s original vital records. Birth notices were published in two Honolulu newspapers within days of Obama’s birth at Kapiolani Maternity and Gynecological Hospital in Honolulu.

The Obama campaign issued a certificate of live birth in 2008, an official document from the state showing the president’s birth date, city and name, along with his parents’ names and races. The certificate doesn’t list the name of the hospital where he was born or the physician who delivered him, information collected by the state as part of its vital records.

In the 1960’s, Hawaii switched to all-microfilm copies of birth certificates, destroying the paper copies, but issuing a short version of the birth certificate, called a “live certificate.”

Abercrombie claims he was present when the child was born but acknowledges that he didn’t see his parents with their newborn son at the hospital. Requests for Obama’s birth information increased this month as the Obama family prepared to vacation in Hawaii.

The Department of Health received 27 requests for the president’s birth information this month as of last Thursday, up from 16 in November. Requests rose despite a new state law allowing officials to ignore persistent and repetitive inquiries, a law that has been used about six times by the department.

I’m perfectly happy to believe Obama was born Aug. 4, 1961; the date, and even the place, Honolulu, happen to make a delightfully dreadful time and place for a public official to be born, from an astrological standpoint. I can’t understand why Obama has taken my advice from previous blogs and produced a Kenyan birth certificate, or a Kansas birth certificate, or one from Kalamazoo. Anywhere but Honolulu and on any date (except Feb. 4-5, 1962 of course) but that.

Haven’t his astrologers told him that that birth date, in that place, makes him first cousin to the greatest monster of all time? But perhaps it’s important to the followers of the monster that that date be absolutely confirmed, without actually confirming it. The unfaithful must have faith in their Chosen One. All will be revealed in time, including the mysterious birth certificate.

Much to the dismay of The Birthers, the certificate will be confirmed as authentic. They will be discredited, the laughingstock of conspiracy theorists everywhere. We who know exactly who and what Obama is, will have the grim satisfaction of being proven, unfortunately, right.

I give the whole thing about one more year. 2012 is coming. As count down the last days of 2010, we’ll look back on these times as amusing and innocent, even as we know an iron prison is being built up around us, impenetrable, inescapable, and impervious to the light of freedom.

When the Socialists have absolutely ascertained that there’s nothing we can do about it, when we discover there’s someone even worse to fear than Obama, that’s when Obama will release his birth certificate.

Until then, wait for it. It’s not the end of the world – yet.

Published in: on December 29, 2010 at 4:31 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Path to 2012

In Cornelius Ryan’s classic book, “The Longest Day,” detailing the massive D-Day Invasion of June 6, 1944, the author begins by describing the tiny French village of La Roche-Guyon. A sleepy village on the Seine between Normandy and Paris, it is dominated by an imposing castle on a hill, Chateau de La Rochefoucauld.

Historians believe the present castle, built in the 12th Century, was the site of a former castle built in the 9th Century to fight off marauding Vikings who used the river as a pathway to Paris (Le Ménestrel du Vexin).  On D-Day, La Roche-Guyon had already been occupied by a different marauder for some 1,453 days. Almost four years. According to Ryan, there were at least three soldiers for every one of the 543 villagers. The bells of St. Samson Church (Samson was one of the founding saints of Brittany) that once tolled the hour for private prayer, now rang at dawn to announce the end of the night’s curfew.

The Germans, awaiting the inevitable Anglo-American invasion, built an 800-mile long fortress of mine-fields and barriers along the French coast from the border of Holland to the Brittany peninsula. 500,000 troops built the Atlantic Wall and awaited the Allies, some ready to fight, others hoping time and the weather would discourage their enemy.

We Americans are prisoners of political war. We can see the regulatory minefields and barriers being constructed around us, barriers of iron for which there is no democratic redress. What is being built is the fortress of an impenetrable tyranny, the product of decades of foundation-laying.

Obama, finding his environmental legislation defeated, has turned to a bureaucratic agency to see that the regulations are passed. It’s an agency that answers to no one but the president himself. The people have nothing to say about it. That is the mark of tyranny.

The people have been rendered sufficiently docile either through bribery, intimidation, education, or drugs. Only a small handful of rebels – the Tea Parties – are willing to resist this invasion of our liberty. Caesar “seized” power in such a manner. “The Stars Wars” trilogies illustrated such machinations for a young generation unacquainted with actual war.

Adam Smith (“Wealth of Nations”) deplored war as an extravagant waste of men and money. What would he say of this economic war being waged upon Americans, who used, at least, to venerate freedom?  As June 6th was titled “The Longest Day,” 2011 will be the longest year, the lead-up to the fabled 2012, when some say the world will come to end, and others say freedom will come to an end. We have one last chance to turn the tide in favor of liberty. Let us not waste it.

Published in: on December 28, 2010 at 11:49 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Blizzard of December 2010

I don’t know who our acting governor is in New Jersey, with both the governor and lieutenant governor out of the state. But he deserves a medal for declaring a state of emergency.

Most businesses don’t care how much snow is on the ground – I measured 26 inches where I live and just finished de-snowing my car, which resembled the Matterhorn – they expect business to go on as usual. They don’t care how treacherous the roads are, how much snow their employees have to shovel before they can move their cars, or whether the plows have been able to remove two feet or better of snows from New Jersey’s miles and miles of highway; the show must go on.

When I called our office snow number at 5:30 and 6 a.m., it was business as usual. My start time is 7:15 a.m. No way was this going to happen. They hadn’t plowed my section of the apartment parking lot yet. As of this moment, I’m still blocked in, due to logistics and a busy day for our snow plow contractor.

If this office is open, we’re expected to call our supervisor to let her know. Only she lives far away in another part of the Northeast, in another state. I tried e-mailing her and calling her cell number, with no success. Finally, I called her home phone number (in desperation only). She said she thought eventually they would either delay the office opening or maybe even close it altogether.

Fortunately, I’d had the foresight to bring my laptop home with me last week, before the Christmas holiday. They delayed the opening, but had I not gotten her permission to work from home, I would have already been there, once I got myself shoveled out. I’d risen early, knowing how long it would take. The snow was even deeper than I expected.

Finally, they came to their senses. Due to the state of emergency declared by the acting governor, the office was officially closed. Our office never closes. We’ve always wondered what it would take to get them to close it.

Not quite an act of God, but close – an act of the acting governor. God bless him, whoever he is and whatever party he represents!

Published in: on December 27, 2010 at 1:04 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Day After Christmas

It’s the day after Christmas

And all through my blog

I’ve no intention of stirring

Except for my eggnog

Christmas 2010 has come and gone. This was an eventful Christmas season, with two concerts, one Santa Claus photo session, two Christmas parties, and [mostly] online shopping, the greatest gift ever bestowed upon harried shoppers.

A friend tells me they were all out at the after-Christmas holiday sales this morning. Everyone in our area went out early, as a blizzard is on its way. I don’t know whether our office will be closed tomorrow. But just in case, I brought my laptop computer home with me last Wednesday, telling the editor (who’s in the Philadelphia area that they were predicting snow showers, but to expect a blizzard).

My younger brother’s big present was his all-purpose, playing everything blu-ray DVD player. My older brother’s big present was two gift cards to Red Lobster – one to take his lady friend to dinner, the other to take our mother out to dinner, whom he routinely mooches dinner from. Mom is still undecided about her laptop. The family all loved my bells, which they hadn’t yet seen. I gave them a little concert and they agreed they have a beautiful sound.

But the really big present was the Obama Bobblehead Doll, which stands, maybe, 12 inches high. He made a big hit and had everyone in hysterics. My brother was impatient for my nephew to open it, but I told he just had to wait. My nephew, of course, seizing the opportunity to tantalize his parental unit, left it until last, as I suggested.

This Obama is dressed in a green money suit (the suit and pants have dollar signs), and he’s holding a sack of taxpayer money. His head bobbles up and down with that cheesy smile of his, as he gives everyone the ol’ shellacking. My brother was so excited that he inveigled my nephew to let him take it home (they came in separate cars because my nephew’s other grandfather is extremely ill with emphysema and The Nephew wanted – rightly – to spend Christmas with him) so he could show it to his lady friend on the way home.

My brother wants me to see if I can order Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, to make a trio. I told him I would see what I could do. As I recall, I missed getting Older Brother a birthday present in November, so if I can, I may just order these two characters for him.

Just after the election, the real bobblehead was quite downcast. The House of Representatives had completely flipped over. The Tea Parties were jubilant; for them it would be a Happy New Year. But Bobblehead of the House and her followers still managed to sneak a few treats into Obama’s stocking: The Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repeal; The Start Treaty; A Tax Deal; and the 9/11 Health Bill. Nobody would mind benefits for the 9/11 responders; it’s just that such a bill, as written by the Democrats and RINOs, is bound to be rife with corruption. Nor will it prevent fraud. Not if the Dems and RINOs have anything to do with it.

As I look out my window, I see Mother Nature is giving the Northeast the White Christmas it wished for – albeit, a day late. That’s okay; I wouldn’t have been happy cooking a big meal for guests who wouldn’t be able to come. They were supposed to come over tonight again for dinner, but as we’re in the midst of blizzard, that’s not going to happen. 

That means I get all the candied sweet potatoes to myself.

Published in: on December 26, 2010 at 2:58 pm  Leave a Comment  

For Unto Us A Child is Born – A Christmas Music Countdown

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:6, King James Bible

Every family has its Christmas traditions. Our family opens one present at Christmas. This year, it was Mom’s new laptop computer, complete with wireless mouse and golden retriever puppies mousepad. Usually, Mom decorates her tree early on in the season. But as she’s gotten older (she’ll be 87 next month), even though it’s a very small tree, she’s found the task more tiring.

She came by my place hoping I had small string of lights. Alas, mine were burnt out. She didn’t know where to go for a small string. So I replied, “Mom, CVS has them – right down the road here.” To her surprise, she found the lights. My brothers and I were due at her house for dinner and the laptop premier. When I got there, she still hadn’t put the tree up. So after I ate, I had her sit down in the living room with her tea and I decorated it for her. It will probably be my task from now on, and a enjoyable task it. She has the cutest little ceramic, light-up train set.

Then we got her set up with her laptop. As you all know, it takes awhile. I got it running for her, uploaded the wireless mouse and all that. Then my younger brother got the laptop linked up to his router. In the meantime, my older brother arrived, and showed her some financial sites on the web that he knew would interest her, so she’d be more willing to try to learn how to use the mouse.

Finally, we got through the mouse lessons. They went better than I expected – my older brother was right – seeing financial internet sites motivated her. By 11 p.m., we had Mom plugged into the 21st century.

When we were all still living under Mom’s roof, the Christmas morning ritual was to listen to “Joy to the World” and “The Hallelujah Chorus” while we drank our eggnog and waited for everyone to gather around the nativity before opening our presents. My mother reminded us of who He was and that was He whom we had to thank for whatever blessings we received that Christmas. Some Christmases were scanty because we were poor, though never as poor as my mother’s family during the Depression.

So I lit up my angel nativity scene and then the Christmas tree this morning, put on the Mormon Tabernacle singing “Joy to the World” and “The Hallelujah Chorus” and thanked Him for the blessings I received this Christmas, particularly that of having enough werewithal to be generous to other people and see the joy on their faces. And of course, I have my new orchestra bells, sitting under the tree with a big silver ribbon on the case. My very own bells, at last!!

We play “The Hallelujah Chorus” for Christmas everywhere in churches and school concerts (or at least, we did when I was in high school). The entire libretto is taken from the Bible; it’s all bible verses, set to music. Handel was a word-painting composer – when he wanted to musically he describe a mountain for instance, he would have singers and/or instrumentalists literally climb up the musical scale, and then come back down the steep grade.

“The Hallelujah Chorus” was written for the middle section of “Messiah,” not the first, and is taken from the Book of Revelations, when The Messiah shall return to Earth in triumph to claim his crown. “For Unto Us a Child is Born” is part of the first section, celebrating Jesus’ birth.

According to Wikipedia: “Messiah” is an English-language oratorio composed by George Frederic Handel, and is one of the most popular works in the Western choral literature. T he libretto by Charles Jennens is drawn entirely from the King James and Great Bibles, and interprets the Christian doctrine of the Messiah. “Messiah” (often but incorrectly called The Messiah) is one of Handel’s most famous works. The Messiah sing-alongs now common at Christmas usually consist of only the first of the oratorio’s three parts, with Hallelujah (originally concluding the second part) replacing His Yoke is Easy in the first part.

Composed in London during the summer of 1741 and premiered in Dublin, Ireland on April 13, 1742, it was repeatedly revised by Handel, reaching its most familiar version in the performance to benefit the Foundling Hospital in 1754. In 1789, Mozart orchestrated a German version of the work; his added woodwind parts, and the edition by Ebenezer Prout, were commonly heard until the mid-20th century and the rise of historically informed performance.

Messiah presents an interpretation of the Christian view of the Messiah, or “the anointed one” as Jesus the Christ. Divided into three parts, the libretto covers the prophecies concerning the coming of Christ, the birth, miracles, crucifixion, resurrection and ascension of Jesus, and finally the End Times with the Christ’s final victory over death and sin.

Although the work was conceived for secular theatre and first performed during Lent, it has become common practice since Handel’s death to perform Messiah during Advent, the preparatory period of the Christmas season, rather than in Lent or at Easter. Messiah is often performed in churches as well as in concert halls. Christmas concerts often feature only the first section of Messiah plus the “Hallelujah Chorus,” although some ensembles feature the entire work as a Christmas concert. The work is also heard at Eastertide, and selections containing resurrection themes are often included in Easter services.

The world record for an unbroken sequence of annual performances of the work by the same organization is held by the Royal Melbourne Philharmonic, in Melbourne, Australia, which has performed Messiah at least once annually for 157 years, starting in its foundation year of 1853.

The work is divided into three parts which address specific events in the life of Christ. Part One is primarily concerned with the Advent and Christmas stories. Part Two chronicles Christ’s passion, resurrection, ascension, and the proclamation to the world of the Christian message. Part Three is based primarily upon the events chronicled in the Book of Revelation. Although Messiah deals with the New Testament story of Christ’s life, a majority of the texts used to tell the story were selected from the Old Testament prophetic books of Isaiah, Haggai, Malachi, and others.

In the summer of 1741 Handel, depressed and in debt, began setting Charles Jennens’ Biblical libretto to music at a breakneck speed. In just 24 days, Messiah was complete (August 22 – September 14). Like many of Handel’s compositions, it borrows liberally from earlier works, both his own and those of others. Tradition has it that Handel wrote the piece while staying as a guest at Jennens’ country house (Gopsall Hall) in Leicestershire, England, although no evidence exists to confirm this. It is thought that the work was completed inside a garden temple, the ruins of which have been preserved and can be visited.

It was premiered during the following season, in the spring of 1742, as part of a series of charity concerts in Neal’s Music Hall on Fishamble Street near Dublin’s Temple Bar district. Right up to the day of the premiere, Messiah was troubled by production difficulties and last-minute rearrangements of the score, and the Dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Jonathan Swift, placed some pressure on the premiere and had it canceled entirely for a period. He demanded that it be retitled “A Sacred Oratorio” and that revenue from the concert be promised to local hospitals for the mentally ill. The work premiered April 13 at the Music Hall in Dublin, and Handel led the performance from the harpsichord, with Matthew Dubourg, an Irish violinist, conductor and composer, conducting the orchestra. He had worked with Handel as early as 1719 in London.

Handel conducted Messiah many times and often altered the music to suit the needs of the singers and orchestra he had available to him for each performance. In consequence, no single version can be regarded as the “authentic” one. Many more variations and rearrangements were added in subsequent centuries—a notable arrangement was one by Mozart, K. 572, translated into German. In the Mozart version, a French horn replaces the trumpet on “The Trumpet shall sound,” even though Luther’s Bible translation uses the word “Posaune,” German for trombone.

The libretto was compiled by Charles Jennens and consists of verses mostly from the King James Bible, the selections from the book of Psalms being from the Great Bible, the version contained in the Book of Common Prayer. Jennens conceived of the work as an oratorio in three parts, which he described as “Part One: The prophesy and realization of God’s plan to redeem mankind by the coming of the Messiah.” “Part Two: The accomplishment of redemption by the sacrifice of Jesus, mankind’s rejection of God’s offer, and mankind’s utter defeat when trying to oppose the power of the Almighty.” “Part Three: A Hymn of Thanksgiving for the final overthrow of Death.”

These “acts” may, in turn. be thought of as comprising several scenes:

Part I: The Annunciation

Scene 1: The prophecy of Salvation

Scene 2: The prophecy of the coming of the Messiah

Scene 3: Portents to the world at large

Scene 4: Prophecy of the Virgin Birth

Scene 5: The appearance of the Angel to the shepherds

Scene 6: Christ’s miracles

Part II: The Passion

Scene 1: The sacrifice, the scourging and agony on the cross

Scene 2: His death, His passing through Hell, and His Resurrection

Scene 3: His Ascension

Scene 4: God discloses His identity in Heaven

Scene 5: The beginning of evangelism

Scene 6: The world and its rulers reject the Gospel

Scene 7: God’s triumph

Part III: The Aftermath

Scene 1: The promise of redemption from Adam’s fall

Scene 2: Judgment Day

Scene 3: The victory over death and sin

Scene 4: The glorification of Christ

Much of the libretto comes from the Old Testament. The first section draws heavily from the book of Isaiah, commonly believed by Christians to prophesy of the coming of the Messiah. There are few quotations from the Gospels; these are at the end of the first and the beginning of the second sections. They comprise the Angel going to the shepherds in Luke, “Come unto Him” and “His Yoke is Easy” from Matthew, and “Behold the Lamb of God” from John. The rest of part two is composed of psalms and prophecies from Isaiah and quotations from Hebrews and Romans. The third section includes one quotation from Job (“I know that my Redeemer liveth”), the rest primarily from Corinthians I.

Choruses from the New Testament’s Revelation are interpolated. The well-known “Hallelujah” chorus at the end of Part II and the finale chorus “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain” (“Amen”) are both taken from Revelations.

While modern performances of Messiah are most common during the Christmas season, the uncut text of the work devotes more time to the Passion and Resurrection than to the Christmas narrative. Nevertheless, it is common for Advent performances to include only the first 17 numbers of Part One and then substitute “Hallelujah,” the conclusion of Part Two, for “His Yoke is Easy,” the final chorus of Part One.

The most famous movement is the “Hallelujah” chorus, which concludes the second of the three parts. The text is drawn from three passages in the New Testament book of Revelations:

“And I heard as it were the voice of a great multitude, and as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of mighty thunderings, saying, ‘Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth.’” (Revelation 19:6)

“And the seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, ‘The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever.’” (Revelation 11:15)

“And he hath on his vesture and on his thigh a name written, ‘KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.’” (Revelation 19:16)

In many parts of the world, it is the accepted practice for the audience to stand for this section of the performance. The tradition is said to have originated with the first London performance of “Messiah,” which was attended by King George II. As the first notes of the triumphant “Hallelujah Chorus” rang out, the king rose to his feet and remained standing until the end of the chorus. As royal protocol has always dictated that when the monarch stands, everyone in the monarch’s presence is also required to stand, the entire audience and orchestra stood when the king stood during the performance, initiating a tradition that has lasted more than two centuries. It is lost to history the exact reason why the King stood at that point, but the most popular explanations include:

• He was so moved by the performance that he rose to his feet.

• He stood out of tribute to the composer.

• As was and is the custom, one stands in the presence of royalty as a sign of respect. The Hallelujah Chorus clearly places Christ as the King of Kings. In standing, King George II accepts that he too is subject to the Lord of Lords.

There is another story told about this chorus that Handel’s assistant walked into his room after shouting to him for several minutes, with no response. The assistant reportedly found Handel in tears, and when asked what was wrong, Handel held up the score to this movement and said, “I thought I saw the face of God.”

Since leaving the Christian church band we had played with for about 15 years, my friends and I have been playing with a community band whose members are primarily Jewish. The conductor is Jewish. Yet to my surprise, we’ve played Christmas concerts. This year, we played at a senior citizens home.

I never wanted to leave the church band. I had the perfect instruments. A gorgeous set of orchestra bells, electronic chimes, a beautiful, brand new xylophone that they bought specifically for me, and I even had a vibraphone. This conductor is a nice man, but a demanding, tough guy when it comes to music. He’s a professional conductor who volunteered to direct this community group. I’m by no means a professional musician. I have a stomach ulcer that just would tolerate that kind of stress. I wanted to play music for fun.

Every week, I would complain bitterly to my friends about the instruments I left behind. Luckily, this band always played its concerts in schools that were flush with bells, chimes, vibes, and xylophones galore. Up until this year.

With the tough economic times, it became too expensive to play in the schools: insurance, overtime for the maintenance and all sorts of other problems made those concerts were prohibitive. We would be lucky if we found a church that the band would agree to play at or a nursing home that would welcome us (that shouldn’t have been a problem – and wasn’t – because the musicians on this band are quite proficient; some are professionals or music teachers or both).

I couldn’t keep on asking the other band to loan me their bells. They aren’t very good bells anyway. Students tend to get nervous if the sound is too loud, so the manufacturers lock down the bars of student bells so they don’t ring. It’s great for kids; frustrating for an adult musician. (It turned out the new bells rang so well, our conductor had to come back and ask me to play with softer mallets.)

Thanks to my mother’s generous Christmas gift, I was able to buy the bells and all the toys that go along with them: sleigh bells, whistles, triangles, slapsticks, and so forth. That also meant having to get tables to place both the toys and a set of tubular bells a friend loaned to me on. Not only is it a lot of work carrying all this stuff around, but it was costly. Most of that $1,000 Mom gave me went to my new career as a real musician.

No more playing around.

Still, I asked myself, “Why?” Why do I have to go through all this trouble when I had every instrument a percussionist could ask for back at The Big Church? I asked myself at hear rehearsals, after concerts when I was dead tired, even when I was formatting the Kiddie Christmas photos and found myself looking 150 times at the professional Santa Claus who looked an awful lot like our professional conductor (although his cheeks are rounder than this Santa’s were.).

Part of the answer came during a rehearsal for the Christmas concert. I don’t remember what we were playing, but it was one of the religious Christmas songs; I think it might have been “Joy to the World.” The band was stopped while they worked out some difficulty.

“I don’t get it!” he laughed, shaking his head. “I don’t know what it’s all about. I really don’t; I don’t know what it’s all about. But it’s okay. ‘Tis the season to be jolly. I can go with the flow. Let’s be merry!”  I could have answered him, but he was already such a daunting figure, that I knew didn’t dare interrupt his rehearsal to explain it to him.

Some years ago, a Jewish co-worker said the same thing. We’d been talking about Santa Claus – Saint Nicholas, I corrected her. “Do you want to know?” I asked her. I told her it wasn’t my task to force the Good News on anyone. If someone asks, I’ll tell them. In fact, I’m duty-bound to do so. But I have to know if you really want to know?

She said she did and so I told her about Jesus Christ. To my surprise, within a few weeks she and her boyfriend converted. She said that her family was very upset that they were breaking with tradition and that it would cause a rift in the family.

I even told the girl, “Look, maybe you ought to just let it go. I’m sure God will understand.”

But she said she couldn’t turn her back on the truth and her boyfriend agreed (they had done more research on Christianity in the meantime, after my initial talk with her). One of the things she asked me was how the early Christians could be so sure at the birth of this child that he was destined to be The Messiah. The Jewish people thought The Messiah would be a mighty soldier sent by God to deliver them from evil here on Earth.

The reason The Messiah was revealed as an infant, born to lead us into salvation, was to satisfy all that He would retain His innocence throughout his life. Witnesses followed His life from His birth in a manger (a cave that served as a barn for sheep and cattle) to His death on the cross and His resurrection from mortal death.

Anyone could pop up in mid-life and claim, “I’m the Messiah!” But how would we know how this person had lived his life, what was in his heart, and what he really meant to do? Don’t we have that very problem with politicians? That we don’t really know their history, and often only learn of their misdeeds after they’ve been elected to office?

Christ’s birth was God’s assurance that Jesus, indeed, was the one whose coming was prophesied. We could trust Him with all our hearts and souls, and though unbelievable even to his most devout disciples at the time (until it happened), He would give His life for us so that we would be reconciled with God. The cycle of endless life and death would be broken, our sins forgiven, our place in Heaven restored, and peace forevermore.

Of course, that means we have to follow God’s Ten Commandments. We mere mortals tend to do two things: break them out of weakness or refuse to follow them, out of defiance. Where other religions don’t believe there can be any forgiveneness for sins (particularly for the second variety), Christianity teaches that there is forgiveness for the first, and hope and prayer for the second kind (after that, you’re on your own).

There are many good Jews (and other sorts) who are better, more devout than many Christians, and could get into Heaven well ahead of the rest of us – if only they believed it. In the era of Christ, the Jews had a little problem with someone going around telling people that their sins were forgiven them. They had a problem believing many things, such as poor people or people not of the Jewish race could worship God.

Christ (“the anointed, or chosen, one”) was God come to Earth and to life to have a little face-to-face, one-on-one chat with His people. Evidently, He got the idea they were straying from the faith, or keeping others from worshipping, not to mention the Romans, who didn’t care what deity you worshipped as long as you believed Caesar was Divine.

Christ, though He observed all the righteous rituals, had a little problem with all the rituals that were required to be worthy of God. He had another problem with the learned priests taking advantage of the illiterate shepherds and peasants. He was concerned about the extreme poverty and sickness He saw. So He came to do something about it. He healed the sick, taught the peasants to pray, and the priests their place in God’s kingdom.

“The last shall be first and the first shall be last.”

The people of the times still weren’t quite sure about this Jesus guy, though. He did a lot of neat stuff. He healed many sick people, kicked the priests’ butts, and gave to the poor. But how could they tell He was really the Son of God? Says who?

When put to the test, when He was put on trial, no one believed Him. He knew it was going to happen and that He would be put to death for heresy, by the Romans at the behest of the Jews. It was the moment He was waiting for, though He wasn’t crazy about it. In the Garden of Gethsemane, He prayed to God to stop this thing from happening. But He knew it had to happen. It was what He was born to do.

On the third day after He was crucified, the stone to his tomb was rolled back and what do you think – no Jesus. No body. Supposedly, only the burial garments lay in the empty tomb. His followers ran around looking for him, thinking his body had been stolen, just as the Jews and Romans had.

But then a stranger spoke to Mary Magdalene. When she looked closer, she saw it was Him. He showed her the marks of crucifixion on His hands and even let her touch Him. She spread the word, but who would believe a woman, in those days. Finally, He revealed Himself to his disciples.

Today, people still don’t believe. They perform excavations looking for Jesus’ sarcophagus. Only there isn’t any. None of us are off the hook because He died for our sins, to save us. He said that the only way to God was through Him. God’s not a teddy bear, to be taken advantage of. Jesus said many people would shout “hallelujah!” and then go right back to their old ways, figuring that saying they were sorry would be enough.

That’s the reason the Christian Bible is made of the Old (Jewish) and New Testament, so they remember not to take anything for granted. So what it is, is that Christians shouldn’t count their halos before they’re cast, and Jews need to believe that everyone has the potential for redemption, to be forgiven and saved (if they want to be).

And that, CKY, is the best explanation this poor Christian can give you.  For me, that is my Christian duty.  Whether or not a skeptic is converted is not my responsibility.  But I believe it has been given to me (strange as that may seem) to spread the word to those who ask.  I have been tasked to leave the other band to answer someone’s question in the other band.

Merry Christmas.

Published in: on December 25, 2010 at 3:44 pm  Comments (1)  

Silent Night, O Holy Night – A Christmas Music Countdown

“Silent night,

Holy night,

All is calm

All is bright”

There are two songs worthy of Christmas Eve – “Silent Night” and “O Holy Night.” One is quiet and gentle, the other, lofty and stirring. There are also some notable performances of each: “Silent Night,” by the Trapp Family Singers (of “Sound of Music” fame), and “O Holy Night,” by Jim Nabors

Let’s go to Wikipedia first for the history of “Silent Night.”

The original lyrics of the song “Stille Nacht” were written by Austrian priest Father Joseph Mohr and the melody was composed by the Austrian headmaster, Franz Xaver Gruber. In 1859, John Freeman Young (second Bishop, Episcopal Diocese of Florida) published the English translation that is most frequently sung today. The version of the melody that is generally sung today differs slightly (particularly in the final strain) from Gruber’s original, which was a sprightly, dance-like tune in 6/8, as opposed to the slow, meditative lullaby version generally sung today. Today, the lyrics and melody are in the public domain.

The carol was first performed in the Nikolaus-Kirche (Church of St. Nicholas) in Oberndorf, Austria on December 24, 1818. Mohr had composed the words two years earlier, in 1816, but on Christmas Eve brought them to Gruber and asked him to compose a melody and guitar accompaniment for the church service.

In his written account, Gruber gives no mention of the specific inspiration for creating the song. According to the song’s history provided by Austria’s Silent Night Society, one supposition is that the church organ was no longer working so Mohr and Gruber created a song for accompaniment by guitar. Silent Night historian, Renate Ebeling-Winkler Berenguer says that the first mention of a broken organ was in a book published in the United States.

Some believe that Mohr simply wanted a new Christmas carol that he could play on his guitar. The Silent Night Society says that there are “many romantic stories and legends” that add their own anecdotal details to the known facts.

The original manuscript has been lost. However a manuscript was discovered in 1995 in Mohr’s handwriting and dated by researchers at ca. 1820. It shows that Mohr wrote the words in 1816 when he was assigned to a pilgrim church in Mariapfarr, Austria, and shows that the music was composed by Gruber in 1818. This is the earliest manuscript that exists and the only one in Mohr’s handwriting. Gruber’s composition was influenced by the musical tradition of his rural domicile. The melody of “Silent Night” bears resemblance to aspects of Austrian folk music and yodelling.

Another popular story claims that the carol, once performed, was promptly forgotten until an organ repairman found the manuscript in 1825 and revived it. However, Gruber published various arrangements of it throughout his lifetime and the Mohr arrangement (ca. 1820) is kept at the Museum Carolino Augusteum in Salzburg. The carol has been translated into over 44 language and recorded by over 300 artists. It is sometimes sung without musical accompaniment.

The song was sung simultaneously in French, English and German by troops during the Christmas truce of 1914, as it was one of the few carols that soldiers on both sides of the front line knew.

Many artists have recorded the song, and beautifully, but there is probably no more poignant version than that by The Trapp Family Singers, available on their CD, “The Sound of Christms.” This is the real Maria Von Trapp, her natural and adopted children, and unless I mistake, her husband, Georg, singing under the directorship of their priest, Dr. F. Wasner. How fitting that an Austrian family would be singing – in German and a capella, without accompaniment, a song written in their native country.

Their voices are sweet, clear and pure as the Alpine air which they breathed during childhood before eventually moving to America. In addition to the seven children from Von Trapp’s first marriage, he and Maria had three more children, and likely would have had more, but unfortunately, the other pregnancies miscarried.

Friends from Holland told us that such choral groups were very common. In spite of what the film says about the Von Trapps, Von Trapp and his first wife, Agathe, were very musical. Both were accomplished violinists, and the children were musically inclined as well. The child Maria was hired to tutor, also named Maria, was about 11 but suffering from the effects of scarlet fever (a disease that claimed her mother’s life). The girl’s violin was sitting in a corner until she was well enough to play again.

This “amateur” group is simply a sheer joy to listen to. They put many modern, “professional” singers to shame. They sing their way through their CD unaccompanied and faultlessly on key. Recently, Oprah hosted the great-grandchildren of Von Trapp and Agathe on her “Sound of Music” special. Like their grandparents, the quartet sang without accompaniment, sweetly and perfectly. Julie Andrews noted that during the filming of the Sound of Music, the producers add more child singers to fill out the sound of the music. These amazing kids needed no help.

Another singer who puts everyone to shame, particularly with his version of “O Holy Night” is actor – and singer – Jim Nabors. But first, the Wikipedia history of the song.

“O Holy Night” (“Cantique de Noël”) was composed by Adolphe Adam in 1847 to the French poem “Minuit, chrétiens” (Midnight, Christians) by Placide Cappeau (1808–1877), a wine merchant and poet, who had been asked by a parish priest to write a Christmas poem. Unitarian minister John Sullivan Dwight, editor of Dwight’s Journal of Music, created a singing edition based on Cappeau’s French text in 1855. In both the French original and in the two familiar English versions of the carol, the text reflects on the birth of Jesus and of mankind’s redemption.

On Dec. 24, 1906, Reginald Fessenden, a Canadian inventor, broadcast the first AM radio program, which started with a phonograph record of Ombra mai fu,” followed by him playing “O Holy Night” on the violin and singing the final verse. The carol therefore was the second piece of music to be broadcast on radio.

Operatic tenor Enrico Caruso recorded a version of the song with its original French lyrics in 1916. Originally released on a 78-RPM acoustical disc, it has turned up on several compilation discs on CD, notably Prima Voce: The Spirit of Christmas Past.

I have to look at my record collection, but I believe we have that original record in our record collection, passed on to us by our maternal grandparents. But for all the operatic singers who’ve recorded this song – and all wonderfully (I’m sure) – none is more amazing than the version by actor Jim Nabors.

James Thurston Nabors was born and raised in Sylacauga, Ala., on June 12, 1930, where he sang for his high school and church. He attended the University of Alabama, where he began acting in skits. After graduating, he moved to New York, where he worked as a typist for the United Nations. After a year, he moved to Chattanooga, Tenn., where he got his first job in the television industry as a film cutter. Due to asthma, Nabors moved to Southern California. While working at a Santa Monica nightclub, The Horn, he was discovered by Andy Griffith and consequently joined “The Andy Griffith Show,” playing Gomer Pyle, a dim-witted gas station attendant. The character proved popular, and Nabors was given his own spin-off show,  “Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.”

His act featured him as a character similar to the Gomer Pyle character he would later portray: he would sing in a baritone and sometimes his higher-pitched voices and speak in a higher-pitched voice. At the club, comedian Bill Dana saw Nabors’ act and invited him to appear on “The Steve Allen Show.” Nabors signed on to the show, but it was soon canceled.

Nabors was then hired to play a one-shot role of Gomer Pyle, an “addlebrained” gas station attendant, on “The Andy Griffith Show.” Nabors’s character (based on his act at The Horn) became so popular that he was made a regular on the show and was later given his own show, the spin-off, “Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.,” in which his character joined the United States Marine Corps. The show, which placed Nabors’ “bumbling” and “naïve” character opposite Sergeant Vince Carter (Frank Sutton), also proved popular.

Despite its airing during the Vietnam War, “Gomer Pyle” remained popular because it avoided war-related themes and instead focused on the show’s rural roots and the relationship between Pyle and Sgt. Carter. Nabors quit Gomer Pyle after five seasons because he desired to move to something else, “reach for another rung on the ladder, either up or down.”

Though best known for his portrayal of Gomer Pyle, Nabors became a popular guest on variety shows in the 1960s and 1970s (including two specials of his own in 1969 and 1974) after revealing a rich baritone voice on a 1964 episode of “The Danny Kaye Show.” He subsequently recorded numerous albums and singles, most of them containing romantic ballads.

It’s said that Nabors knew exactly what he was doing portraying an addle-brained simpleton with the voice of angel. His act served us all right for judging by appearances. That makes him the perfect singer to warble the lines:

 “Fall on your knees! Oh, hear the angel voices!

O night divine, the night when Christ was born;

O night, O Holy Night , O night divine!

O night, O Holy Night , O night divine!”


Published in: on December 24, 2010 at 9:25 am  Leave a Comment  

Away in a Manger – A Christmas Music Countdown

“Away in a manger

No crib for a bed

The little Lord Jesus

Lay down His head”

This popular Christmas carol actually has two musical versions, and numerous lyrics. As a child, I learned the “Cradle Song” version, and later heard the version set to “Flow Gently, Sweet Afton.” Initially, I was very put out, because I generally preferred the first, the one I was used to singing. But with maturity, I learned to appreciate both.

According to Wikipedia, “Away in a Manger” was first published in 1885 in Philadelphia and used widely throughout the English-speaking world. In Britain it is one of the most popular carols, a 1996 Gallup Poll ranking it joint second.

The song was first published with two verses in an Evangelical Lutheran Sunday School collection, Little Children’s Book for Schools and Families (1885), edited by James R. Murray (1841–1905), where it simply bore the title “Away in a Manger” and was set to a tune called “St. Kilda,” credited to J.E. Clark.

For many years the text was credited to the German reformer Martin Luther. Research has shown, however, that this is nothing more than a fable. In the book Dainty Songs for Little Lads and Lasses (1887) it bears the title “Luther’s Cradle Hymn” and the note, “Composed by Martin Luther for his children, and still sung by German mothers to their little ones.” A possible reason for the spurious attribution to Luther is that the 400th anniversary of his birth was in 1883. The words were either based on a poem written for this anniversary or were credited to Luther as a clever marketing gimmick. This song has never been found in Luther’s works. The first half of the melody is identical to the beginning of the second theme of Waltz #4, transposed down a fourth, in G’schichten aus dem Wienerwald, Op. 325, by Johann Strauss Jr., composed 19 years earlier.

The third stanza, “Be near me, Lord Jesus” was first printed in Gabriel’s Vineyard Songs (1892), where it appeared with a tune by Charles H. Gabriel (simply marked “C”), thus these words are probably by Gabriel. Gabriel credited the entire text to Luther and gave it the title “Cradle Song.” This verse is sometimes attributed to Dr. John McFarland, but since the popular story dates his contribution to 1904 (postdating the 1892 printing by 12 years), his contribution is highly questionable.

Tom Jennings, director of worship and arts, Redeemer Presbyterian Church, consider this carol has odd or misleading lyrics, such as ‘no crying he makes’. This lyric misses a key aspect of the Incarnation, Jesus entered into our suffering. [On the other hand, Christ died for our sins, not His own, since He didn’t commit any. He was the perfect baby, delivered directly from Heaven, as He was the perfect man, the model for an erring race, and its Savior. The lyric, “No crying he makes” indicates He was at peace from the very beginning.]

The lyrics and music are very similar to a very old Austrian (Tyrolian) folk song from the Brixon Valley, called “Es Wird Scho Glei Dumpa,” which in German is “Es Wird Schon Gleich Dunkel.” The first verse is roughly translated as:

It will be dark,

It is already night,

Drum I come to thee,

My Saviour to watch.

We sing a little song

The young child, the small one.

You may not sleep so,

I hear you cry only.


Hey, hey, hey, hey

Sleep sweet loving heart’s child.

This was a lullaby and folk song in Austria long before attributed to Martin Luther, but was first published in 1913 in a collection named “Tyrolian Real Tracks,” and attributed to the Austrian dialect poet and Catholic clergyman, Anton Reid.

Murray’s tune, which is the tune most commonly printed in the U.S., is typically given the name “Mueller.” The tune “Cradle Song” was written by William J. Kirkpatrick for the musical Around the World with Christmas (1895). Kirkpatrick, like others before him, attributed the words to Luther. Thus, there are two different melodies for “Away in a Manger.”

Wikipedia’s musicologists tell us the two tunes actually fit together quite well. An arrangement by Christopher Erskine combining both settings (harmony), first heard in 1996 in Canberra at the annual pair of joint Carol Services in Manuka, performed by the choirs of St Paul’s Church (Anglican) and St Christopher’s Cathedral (Roman Catholic). In this version the Kirkpatrick setting is sung by one choir, and the Murray setting by the other choir, alternating through the first two verses. Both settings are sung together for the third verse.

It is also sung to an adaptation of the melody originally composed in 1837 by Jonathan E. Spilman to “Flow Gently, Sweet Afton.”

There are so many recorded versions of this song, Wikipedia doesn’t even list them. Practically every popular singer has sung it. However, while they’re no doubt all beautiful, I would recommend Julie Andrews’ version.

There’s just something so lilting and sweet about her voice, when she was in her prime, it’s no wonder she won awards for playing two nannies. Andrews began singing when she was 12, and had an incredible four-octave range. She made her Broadway debut in 1954’s “The Boyfriend.”

According to Wikipedia, her mother, Barbara Wells, was a singer and joined Ted Andrews in entertaining the troops through the Entertainments National Service Association (ENSA).

Ted, Julie Andrews’ stepfather, sponsored lessons for her, first at the Cone-Ripman School, an independent arts educational school in London, then with the famous concert soprano and voice instructor Madame Lilian Stiles-Allen.

“She had an enormous influence on me,” Andrews said. “She was my third mother – I’ve got more mothers and fathers than anyone in the world.” In her memoir, “Julie Andrews – My Star Pupil,” Stiles-Allen writes, “The range, accuracy and tone of Julie’s voice amazed me … she had possessed the rare gift of absolute pitch.”

According to Andrews: “Madame was sure that I could do Mozart and Rossini, but, to be honest, I never was.”

Of her own voice, she says, “I had a very pure, white, thin voice, a four-octave range – dogs would come from miles around.” [Not only did Andrews have a tremendous voice, but a great sense of humor.]

After Cone-Ripman School, Andrews continued her academic education at the nearby Woodbrook School, a local state school in Beckenham.

Julie Andrews performed spontaneously and unbilled on stage with her parents for about two years beginning in 1945.

“Then came the day when I was told I must go to bed in the afternoon because I was going to be allowed to sing with Mummy and Pop in the evening,” Andrews explained.

She stood on a beer crate to reach the microphone and sang, sometimes a solo or as a duet with her stepfather, while her mother played piano.

“It must have been ghastly, but it seemed to go down all right,” she notes.

Andrews got her big break when her stepfather introduced her to Val Parnell, whose Moss Empires controlled prominent venues in London. Andrews made her professional solo debut at the London Hippodrome singing the difficult aria “Je Suis Titania” from Mignon as part of a musical revue called “Starlight Roof” in 1947. She played the Hippodrome for one year.

Andrews recalled “Starlight Roof” saying, “There was this wonderful American person and comedian, Wally Boag, who made balloon animals. He would say, ‘Is there any little girl or boy in the audience who would like one of these?’ And I would rush up onstage and say, ‘I’d like one, please.’ And then he would chat to me and I’d tell him I sang… I was fortunate in that I absolutely stopped the show cold. I mean, the audience went crazy.”

On Nov. 1, 1948, Julie Andrews became the youngest solo performer ever to be seen in a Royal Command Variety Performance, at the London Palladium, where she performed along with Danny Kaye, the Nicholas Brothers, and the comedy team George and Bert Bernard for members of King George VI’s family.

On the eve of her 19th birthday, on Sept. 30, 1954, Andrews made her Broadway debut portraying ‘Polly Browne’ in the already highly successful London musical, “The Boy Friend.” Critics hailed her as the stand-out performer in the show. Near the end of her Boy Friend contract, Andrews was asked to audition for My Fair Lady on Broadway and got the part.

Andrews auditioned for a part in the Richard Rodgers musical, “Pipe Dream.” Although Rodgers wanted her for “Pipe Dream,” he advised her to take the part in the Frederick Loewe and Alan Jay Lerner musical “My Fair Lady,” if it was offered to her. In 1956, she appeared on stage in “My Fair Lady” as Eliza Doolittle to Rex Harrison’s Henry Higgins. Rodgers was so impressed with Andrews’ talent that concurrent with her run in “My Fair Lady,” she was featured in the Rodgers and Hammerstein television musical, Cinderella. Cinderella was broadcast live on CBS on March 31, 1957, attracting an estimated 107 million viewers.

After that came Camelot, Mary Poppins, and The Sound of Music.

In 1997, she developed vocal problems. She subsequently underwent surgery to remove non-cancerous nodules from her throat and was left unable to sing. In 1999 she filed a malpractice suit against the doctors at New York’s Mount Sinai Hospital who had operated on her throat. Originally, the doctors assured Andrews that she should regain her voice within six weeks. The lawsuit was settled in September 2000.

Despite the loss of her singing voice, she kept busy with many projects. In 1998, she appeared in a stage production of Dr. Dolittle in London. As recounted on the Julie Andrews website, she performed the voice of Polynesia the parrot and “recorded some 700 sentences and sounds, which were placed on a computer chip that sat in the mechanical bird’s mouth. In the song ‘Talk To The Animals,’ Polynesia the parrot even sings.” She has also starred as the royal grandmother in “The Princess Diaries” and the nanny in the films of the “Eloise” series.

In 2004, Andrews performed the voice of Queen Lillian in the animated blockbuster Shrek 2 (2004), reprising the role for its sequels, Shrek the Third (2007) and Shrek Forever After (2010). Later, in 2007, she narrated “Enchanted,” a live-action Disney musical comedy that both poked fun and paid homage to classic Disney films such as “Mary Poppins.”

From 2005 to 2006, Andrews served as the Official Ambassador for Disneyland’s 18-month-long, 50th anniversary celebration, the “Happiest Homecoming on Earth,” traveling to promote the celebration, and recording narration and appearing at several events at the park. In addition, Andrews has been the author of 23 biographies and children’s books

Only a few days ago, her husband, Blake Edwards, passed away from pneumonia at the age of 88. Yesterday, it was announced that Andrews would receive a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award at the 53rd Grammy Awards ceremony in 2011.

The award is well-deserved for this former resident of the London slums. She’s reached great heights with her singing and acting, charming audiences for generations.

And nobody can sing a lullaby quite like Andrews.

Published in: on December 23, 2010 at 10:34 am  Leave a Comment  

The First Noel – A Christmas Music Countdown

“The first Noel,

The angels did say,

Was to certain poor shepherds

In fields as they lay.”

According to Wikipedia, “The First Nowell” (also written The First Noël) is a traditional English Christmas carol, most likely from the 18th century. In its current form, it is of Cornish origin, and it was first published in Christmas Carols Ancient and Modern (1823) and Gilbert and Sandys Christmas Carols (1833), both of which were edited by William B. Sandys and arranged, edited and with extra lyrics written by Davies Gilbert.

The melody is unusual among English folk melodies in that it consists of one musical phrase repeated twice, followed by a variation on that phrase. All three phrases end on the third of the scale. The refrain, also unusual, merely repeats the melody of the verse. It is thought to be a corruption of an earlier melody sung in a church gallery setting; a conjectural reconstruction of the earlier version can be found in the New Oxford Book of Carols.

The word “noel” comes from the French word Noël meaning “Christmas,” from the Latin word natalis (“birth”).

This birth was like nothing that had ever happened before. In ancient times, wise men believed their fates were linked to the movement of the stars. The appearance of stars and comets, the alignment of the planets and the stars in certain formations were portents of great things to come.

What the shepherds and the wise men found was a baby, whose future had been foretold and yet not even the wise men knew for certain what path His life would take. Born in humility and poverty, his birth was like no king anyone had ever heard of.

The shepherds were outcasts in the society, too poor and considered to unpure to worship in the great temples. The Gentiles had their own customs and were considered sinners by the Jews. What could this baby do for them?

The First Noel – The First Christmas – was only the beginning, a blank slate yet to record the deeds of the baby born that night. Yet those who witnessed his birth had faith that this baby would be the salvation of Mankind. The certainty of his footsteps had been long foretold. He would not fail in his mission, though He would inevitably sacrifice His own life to assure that success and gain us God’s mercy.

What seemed so simple to simple shepherds over 2,000 years ago perplexes modern man, with all his scientific knowledge and philosophy. We weren’t there in the beginning; we only have the testament of His witnesses as it has been passed down to us over the millennia.

Yet it appears that simple shepherds knew something on that First Noel that sophisticated, modern human beings, with their education and technology are missing. Politicians apologize for using the word “Christmas.” Average people hesitate to utter the words that illiterate shepherds could say without a stammer.

Published in: on December 22, 2010 at 4:44 pm  Leave a Comment