the candle

A hodgepodge of beauty, truth, and goodness.

Tag: Video

Five more days of Christmas!

I’m not letting go of the Christmas season yet. Here’s the King’s Singers with their arrangement of the traditional French carol Noël nouvelet.


Music for Mary, Mother of God

Happy Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God! This is a video a few friends and I recorded on this date last year at beautiful Blessed Sacrament Church in Seattle. Please excuse the background noise and the less-than-perfect singing on the bass line. Singing are, from left: Kevin Birnbaum (bass), Alan Stout (baritone), Doug Fullington (tenor 2), and Jesson Mata (tenor 1).

More Christmas listening: ‘Lux Aurumque’

Eric Whitacre is the rock star of the choral world. His innovative “virtual choir” is a phenomenon, watched by millions online. And this lovely piece, “Lux Aurumque,” is perfect for the Christmas season.

The text is a Latin translation (by Charles Anthony Silvestri) of an English poem, “Light and Gold,” by Edward Esch:

calida gravisque
pura velut aurum
et canunt angeli
molliter modo natum.
warm and heavy
as pure gold,
and the angels sing softly
to the newborn babe.

Beauty out of horror

Peter_Paul_Rubens_Massacre_of_the_InnocentsMassacre of the Innocents by Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640)

It’s easy to forget, among all the idyllic imagery of the Babe in the manger, and the shepherds and the angels, and the Wise Men and the star, that the story of the first Christmas gets pretty grisly and gory. But the Church doesn’t let us forget. Today is the feast of the Holy Innocents, those babies slaughtered by Herod the king in his jealous attempt to assassinate the newborn King.

When the Wise Men did not return to Herod to tell him where the baby Jesus was, he flew into “a furious rage, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under” (Mt 2:16). It’s hard to imagine anything worse than the murder of innocent children. And yet, somehow, the Christian tradition has drawn beauty even out of this horror, as in the 16th-century “Coventry Carol”:

P.S. The best recording of this song I know is a suitably stark and terrifying rendition by the King’s Singers.

Oh, to be an ox on the wall in that stable!

Christmas_NightChristmas Night by Paul Gaugin (1848-1903)

One of the great things about the Nativity is that it was the kind of thing that animals could see.

Christmas is not primarily about the more or less abstract ideas we tend to associate with it—like family, and love, and peace, and hope. It’s about a real thing that really happened—a visible event in history. I pray I’ll never get tired of remembering and rejoicing that the Son of God became a little baby boy who was born in a stable in Bethlehem a little more than 2,000 years ago, and that his mother “wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn” (Lk 2:7).

The Son of God was there in the stable, and the Virgin Mary, and Joseph. Some shepherds showed up, and later wise men. Angels were all around. They were all praising God—and they can all seem rather abstract, poetic and remote.

But not the animals, which surely were there too. They were just normal animals, doing normal animal-type things—eating, and drinking, and pooping, and unwittingly witnessing the greatest moment in the history of the world thus far.

So Merry Christmas! Let us rejoice today, and every day, in the reality of the Incarnation, witnessed by man and beast alike. And please enjoy another setting of the O Magnum Mysterium, this one by Tomás Luis de Victoria (1548-1611), performed by New York Polyphony:

O magnum mysterium, et admirabile sacramentum, ut animalia viderent Dominum natum, jacentem in praesepio! Beata Virgo, cujus viscera meruerunt portare Dominum Christum. Alleluia.
O great mystery, and wonderful sacrament, that animals should see the newborn Lord, lying in a manger! Blessed is the Virgin whose womb was worthy to bear Christ the Lord. Alleluia!

O great mystery!

Nativity_at_NightNativity at Night by Geertgen tot Sint Jans (c. 1465-c. 1495)

Merry Christmas Eve! My gift to you below: a recording of Morten Lauridsen’s glorious setting (composed in 1994) of the Christmas text O Magnum Mysterium. A few years ago, Lauridsen wrote in The Wall Street Journal about the genesis of the piece:

For “O Magnum Mysterium,” I wanted to create … a deeply felt religious statement, at once uncomplicated and unadorned yet powerful and transformative in its effect upon the listener. …

The most challenging part of this piece for me was the second line of text having to do with the Virgin Mary. She above all was chosen to bear the Christ child and then she endured the horror and sorrow of his death on the cross. How can her significance and suffering be portrayed musically?

After exploring several paths, I decided to depict this by a single note. On the word “Virgo,” the altos sing a dissonant appoggiatura G-sharp. [Note: In this recording, this occurs at 2:51 and 3:15.] It’s the only tone in the entire work that is foreign to the main key of D. That note stands out against a consonant backdrop as if a sonic light has suddenly been focused upon it, edifying its meaning. It is the most important note in the piece.

In composing music to these inspirational words about Christ’s birth and the veneration of the Virgin Mary, I sought to impart … a transforming spiritual experience within what I call “a quiet song of profound inner joy.” I wanted this piece to resonate immediately and deeply into the core of the listener, to illumine through sound.

May your celebration of the great mystery of Christmas be truly bright and blessed! Enjoy the music!

O magnum mysterium, et admirabile sacramentum, ut animalia viderent Dominum natum, jacentem in praesepio! Beata Virgo, cujus viscera meruerunt portare Dominum Christum. Alleluia.
O great mystery, and wonderful sacrament, that animals should see the newborn Lord, lying in a manger! Blessed is the Virgin whose womb was worthy to bear Christ the Lord. Alleluia!

P.S. For what it’s worth, my go-to recording of this piece can be found here.

A little ecumenical envy

A_Festival_of_Nine_Lessons_and_CarolsChristmas Eve is just one week away, which means it’s almost time for the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols at King’s College, Cambridge, which is broadcast around the world each Christmas Eve. It’s a beautiful service of choral music and readings from Genesis, Isaiah, and the Gospels of Luke, Matthew, and John. It’s almost enough to make me wish I was Anglican. The past few days I’ve been listening to a recording of the service from the 1990s, and it’s just wonderful. The carols are selected to provide commentary on the readings, and the singing is first-rate. I think my favorite piece is Boris Ord’s setting of the 15th-century Middle English text “Adam lay ybounden,” which explores the fascinating concept of felix culpa (happy fault, or fortunate fall), the idea that we’re actually better off for Adam’s fall. It’s the same idea proclaimed in the Exsultet at the Easter Vigil: “O truly necessary sin of Adam, destroyed completely by the Death of Christ! O happy fault that earned so great, so glorious a Redeemer!”

Anyway, here’s a nice video about the service, which you should be sure to listen to:

The wonderful life of George Bailey

It's_A_Wonderful_LifeI’m just not a crier. I didn’t cry at my wedding. I didn’t cry when my son was born. I once went several years without shedding a tear. But every year around this time, when I get to the end of Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life, I break down and bawl like a baby. I can’t help it. It’s a beautiful movie, and the last scene approaches the theoretical maximum of heartwarmingness.

The story is familiar to just about everyone in America, right? Facing financial ruin and criminal charges, George Bailey is about to jump off a bridge when he’s interrupted by an angel, who shows George how his lifetime of self-sacrifice has changed the lives of everyone around him for the better.

In the final scene, the entire community rallies around George, everyone pitching in to raise the cash George needs to stay afloat. His home overflows with grateful friends and good cheer, his brother offers a toast to “the richest man in town,” and I lose it every time. It’s just so … wonderful.

A couple years ago there was an essay on First Things‘ website that got my love for the movie completely wrong. Joe Carter wrote:

Capra’s audience flatters themselves by believing the message of Wonderful Life is that their own lives are just as worthy, just as noble, and just as wonderful as George Bailey’s. … [T]hey truly believe they are just like Capra’s hero.

I don’t know about anyone else, but when I watch It’s a Wonderful Life, I don’t get choked up thinking about how wonderful I am. That final scene gets to me not just because it’s beautiful, but because it reminds me how far I fall short of the wonderful, selfless example of George Bailey.

Throughout his life, George forsakes his own dreams and comfort for the sake of others, never seeking repayment or recognition. I’m not like that. And I wonder: If I were ever in trouble, how many people would rally to support me? Who would even care? And why should they? Whose life have I ever improved?

It’s a Wonderful Life makes me cry because it makes me want to be a better person.

Beauty is within our reach

I know nothing about this woman except that she started playing the harp less than a year ago. Now obviously she has a nice voice and some natural musical talent, but I think this video is a nice illustration of the fact that it doesn’t take an expert to make something beautiful. (If it did, I wouldn’t bother singing in my church choir.) “Beautiful” need not mean perfect or polished or world-class. We can’t all be Mozarts or Michelangelos, but that doesn’t mean we’re excluded from the field of beauty-making. We can all do something beautiful, even if it’s very simple. There’s nothing complicated or fancy or original in this video, and that’s OK. It’s beautiful.

Hail Mary, full of grace

Inmaculada_ZurbaránThe Immaculate Conception by Francisco de Zurbarán (1598-1664)

Today is the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. The doctrine that “the most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instance of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin” was dogmatically defined by Pope Pius IX on Dec. 8, 1854, but it had long been believed and celebrated by the Church.

As with everything about Mary, the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception is ultimately about Jesus, as the Collect prayer at today’s Mass makes clear:

O God, who by the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin
prepared a worthy dwelling for your Son,
grant, we pray,
that, as you preserved her from every stain
by virtue of the Death of your Son, which you foresaw,
so, through her intercession,
we, too, may be cleansed and admitted to your presence.

Now enjoy The Priests’ beautiful rendition of Franz Schubert’s beautiful Ave Maria.

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee;
blessed art thou among women,
and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.

Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners,
now and at the hour of our death. Amen.