Saturday, December 27, 2014

THYME Magazine: Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht

Citizen Journalism with a Better Flavor

The pipes of the Trinity Lutheran Church organ in Crimora.

Beloved Carol Inspired
by a Broken Organ

Lynn [click to read] brings us the wonderful story of how one of our most beloved carols came to be written:

In 1818, a roving band of actors was performing in towns throughout the Austrian Alps. On December 23 they arrived at Oberndorf, a village near Salzburg where they were to re-enact the story of Christ's birth in the small Church of St. Nicholas.

Unfortunately, the St. Nicholas' church organ wasn't working and would not be repaired before Christmas. Because the church organ was out of commission, the actors presented their Christmas drama in a private home. That Christmas presentation of the events in the first chapters of Matthew and Luke put assistant pastor Josef Mohr in a meditative mood. Instead of walking straight to his house that night, Mohr took a longer way home. The longer path took him up over a hill overlooking the village.

From that hilltop, Mohr looked down on the peaceful snow-covered village. Reveling in majestic silence of the wintry night, Mohr gazed down at the glowing Christmas-card like scene. His thoughts about the Christmas play he had just seen made him remember a poem he had written a couple of years before. That poem was about the night when angels announced the birth of the long-awaited Messiah to shepherds on a hillside.

Mohr decided those words might make a good carol for his congregation the following evening at their Christmas eve service. The one problem was that he didn't have any music to which that poem could be sung. So, the next day Mohr went to see the church organist, Franz Xaver Gruber. Gruber only had a few hours to come up with a melody which could be sung with a guitar. However, by that evening, Gruber had managed to compose a musical setting for the poem. It no longer mattered to Mohr and Gruber that their church organ was inoperable. They now had a Christmas carol that could be sung without that organ.

On Christmas Eve, the little Oberndorf congregation heard Gruber and Mohr sing their new composition to the accompaniment of Gruber's guitar.

Weeks later, well-known organ builder Karl Mauracher arrived in Oberndorf to fix the organ in St. Nicholas church. When Mauracher finished, he stepped back to let Gruber test the instrument. When Gruber sat down, his fingers began playing the simple melody he had written for Mohr's Christmas poem.

Deeply impressed, Mauracher took copies of the music and words of "Stille Nacht" back to his own Alpine village, Kapfing. There, two well-known families of singers — the Rainers and the Strassers — heard it. Captivated by "Silent Night," both groups put the new song into their Christmas season repertoire.

Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht,
Alles schläft; einsam wacht
Nur das traute hochheilige Paar.
Holder Knabe im lockigen Haar,
Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh!

English translation:

Silent night! holy night!
All is calm, all is bright,
'Round yon virgin mother and Child!
Holy Infant, so tender and mild,
Sleep in heavenly peace,
Sleep in heavenly peace.

The Strasser sisters spread the carol across northern Europe. In 1834, they performed "Silent Night" for King Frederick William IV of Prussia, and he then ordered his cathedral choir to sing it every Christmas eve.

Twenty years after "Silent Night" was written, the Rainers brought the song to the United States, singing it (in German) at the Alexander Hamilton Monument located outside New York City's Trinity Church.

In 1863, nearly fifty years after being first sung in German, "Silent Night" was translated into English (by either Jane Campbell or John Young). Eight years later, that English version made its way into print in Charles Hutchins' Sunday School Hymnal. Today the words of "Silent Night" are sung in more than 300 different languages around the world.

The English version we know today was written by the Episcopal priest John Freeman Young, however the standard English version contains just three verses, whereas the German version contains six. (only verses 1, 6 and 2 from the original Joseph Mohr version are sung in English).

After the 1967 riots, Newark, New Jersey struggled for years to restore itself. NASA Photo.

"An Eye for an Eye"

The recent murder of two New York police officers and the incendiary rhetoric of so-called 'leaders' in the wake of the events in Ferguson, Missouri should call for a deeper examination of how we respond to terrible things. First of all, we need to clearly identify those 'leaders' who merely preach a culture of retribution. Theirs is the way of: "an eye for an eye..." and they will ultimately leave their own communities blind and toothless. Their reasoning is flawed on a number of counts. First of all a crime is only worthy of attention if it fits their narrative. Hundreds of young people die each year in inner city neighborhoods, victims of violence within their own communities. Where is the outcry? Where are those leaders when they might lead in mentoring young people to a better way of living?

Police officers come in all persuasions and colors... the ones I know personally have young children. To make their color into a reason to kill them is the ultimate racism. Most officers put their lives on the line to make their communities safe. Most people are glad for their presence as they serve as a defense against the depravity of those who make some places unsafe. They deserve our respect and our prayers. Those who would reduce them to a one-dimensional prop in their narrative would do well to consider the harm their words do to these fine men and women who, for the most part, tirelessly serve their communities. Sure their are 'bad cops,' just as there are misdirected souls who commit crimes. That does not negate the decency and service of the majority.

This new year would be a great time to look to new leadership who might overcome hatred with healing. We need leaders who seek to build and better their communities. THYME has presented a few of them in recent issues:

Star Parker [click to read]
Tim Scott [click to read]
Mia Love [click to read]

Indeed their stories can inspire us toward a place of healing and opportunity instead of an endless cycle of retribution. They are the leaders that media must celebrate.

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