Sunday, December 5, 2021

Lo, How a Rose E’re Blooming— The Murfin Winter Holidays Music Festival

                                                        Lo, How a Rose E're Blooming performed by the Robert Shaw Chorale.

It is already the Second Sunday of Advent, and the Winter Holiday Music Festival has not yet featured a hymn appropriate for that period of anticipatory waiting.  We aim to fix that today with one of the oldest Advent carols, Lo, How a Rose E’re Blooming.

Although Americans tend to believe that the Christmas Season begins as soon as the Thanksgiving dishes are washed, Catholics and most Protestants are clear that Christmastide does not begin until December 25 and continues for 12 days until the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6.  Before that a distinct season of waiting and anticipation—Advent—is observed over the four Sundays before Christmas Day.  The songs and hymns used in worship services were commonly distinct for each season.

Lo, How a Rose E’re Blooming originated as the 17th Century German hymn Es ist ein Ros entsprungen—literally “It is a rose sprung up.”  The text is a symbolic reference to the Virgin Mary and makes reference to the Old Testament prophecies of Isaiah, which in Christian interpretation foretold the Incarnation of Christ, and to the Tree of Jesse—the lineage of Jesus.

Written by an unknown author, it first saw print in 1599 and has since been published with a varying number of verses and in several translations. It is most commonly sung to a melody harmonized by the German composer Michael Praetorius in 1609.  The most commonly sung English version was translated and adapted by Thomas Baker in 1894 and is included in the Psalter Hymnal of the Christian Reformed Church and the United Methodist Hymnal in the United States.

It is a popular choral piece but has also been recorded by popular artists including Mannheim Steamroller, Linda Ronstadt, and Sting

Conductor Robert Shaw at the peak of his career.  Not only did he lead important symphony orchestras but popularized choral music.

Today we feature a version by the Robert Shaw Chorale from the album Christmas Hymns & Carols, Vol 1 (Expanded) in 1957 on RCA Victor Records.  Shaw was one of the best known conductors of the mid-20th Century leading symphony orchestras in Cincinnati, Ohio and Atlanta, Georgia but he is best known as a great innovator and popularizer of choral music in many recordings by his Robert Shaw Chorale. While he was in Cincinnati and Atlanta he also served as music director at local Unitarian Universalist churches and some of his church singers joined recordings by the Choral.  

Shaw was showered with honors in his lifetime including 14 Grammy Awards, the George Peabody Medal for service to American music, the U.S. National Medal for the Arts, the French Officier des Arts et des Lettres, and British Gramophone Award.  In 1981 he received the most prestigious American recognition in the Arts being selected for the Kennedy Center Honors.  He died in 1999, in New Haven, Connecticut following a stroke, aged 82.


Saturday, December 4, 2021

Hanukkah Oh Hanukkah— The Murfin Winter Holidays Music Festival

                                                        Hanukkah Oh Hanukkah performed by early childhood musicians the Kiboomers.

It will be night 7 of Hanukkah this evening.  It seems the vast majority of newer songs for the Festival of Light are written for children.  Most come in two broad categories.  First are instructional songs meant to explain the celebrations meaning, origins, and customs.  The second are novelty songs meant to be catchy alternatives to the one holiday song that is used over and over in public holiday observances, school programs, and gets regular air play on holiday radio channelsDreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel.  The songs also come with colorful videos and are often targeted to specific age groups.

The Kiboomers  have been creating:

…songs to help teachers achieve success in the Preschool, Kindergarten and ESL classroom!  We create kids songs to help teachers with transitions, holding children's attention, as a change of pace, helping children remember, reducing stress, and having fun.

For over 20 years they have created hundreds of bouncy, cheerful, colorful songs, and videos which they have posted on their own YouTube channel and which can be ordered as downloadable albums from their web site.  Their holiday music is equal opportunity.  They have a Christmas Album and songs that celebrate Halloween, Thanksgiving, and other holidays.

Hanukkah Songs for Kids includes 11 short tunes, most of them in the klezmer style of today’s selection, Hanukkah Oh Hanukkah.

Friday, December 3, 2021

Happy Joyous Hanukkah by Woody Guthrie— The Murfin Winter Holidays Music Festival

                                                     Happy Joyous Hanukkah but Woody Guthry sung by Nesfesh Mountain.

Today’s 6th night of Hanukkah song may come to a surprise to many.  It was penned by a non-Jewish OkieWoody Guthrie, the American folk music icon and radical activist.

When Nazi Germany invaded the USSR Guthrie and the other members of the loose collaboration of musicians known as the Almanac Singers had to pivot on a dime and abandon their earlier anti-war pacifism and become anti-fascist/anti-Nazi.  In songs like The Good Ruben James about an American freighter torpedoed and sunk by a U-boat Guthrie and his pals tried to whip up public sentiment to enter the war. 

When the U.S. finally did get in the fight after the attack on Pearl Harbor Guthrie joined the Merchant Marine with Almanac pals Cisco Huston and Jim Longhi.  He shipped out in trans-Atlantic convoys during the Battle of the Atlantic until the government yanked his seaman’s papers for being a “premature anti-fascist” and probable Communist. 

                            Woody Guthrie in his Army fatigues in 1945.  The rebellious Okie was not a very good soldier.

Beached, he was drafted into the Army in 1945.  Entering the service late in the war as an over-age private, Guthrie never got overseas and his deep natural anti-authoritarian streak made him a bad soldier.  He spent most of his time on KP. 

But he did make it back to New York from time to time on leave.  He had divorced his first wife Mary Etta Jennings and soon took up with Marjorie Mazia, the former principal dancer in Martha Graham’s famous troupe and a dance teacher.  They already had their first child together, Cathy, in 1943.  The couple wed on one of those leaves in 1945. 

                                 Woody and Marjorie--a happy couple in Coney Island.

Marjorie was Jewish and the couple settled in Coney Island, a working class neighborhood around the famous amusement park.  Guthrie became entranced with her religion and traditions learning from and collaborating with his mother-in-law, the Yiddish poet Aliza Greenblatt.  He also enjoyed playing on neighborhood stoops for the Jewish, Italian, and other immigrant children.

Woody learned much about Judaism and its traditions from his new mother in law, Yiddish poet Aliza Greenblatt.

During this time, he wrote several poems or song lyrics inspired by Judaism in his voluminous notebooks.  Among them was Happy Joyous Hanukkah.  It is unclear what melody Guthrie intended for the song, or if he ever performed it even for the local children. 

Nesfesh Mountains 2020 Holiday concert from Levon Helms's old barn studio was recorded for an album.

Years after her father’s death Nora Guthrie, Marjorie’s daughter and Arlo’s sister began to curate Woody’s notebooks and launched a project to give the unpublished songs in them new life by asking contemporary musicians to put them to original music in a wide variety of genre.  It was included on the album Live From Levon Helm Studios: A Hanukkah Holiday Concert and recorded by Nefesh Mountain, a bluegrass and old-time band with a Jewish perspective who added traditional fiddle tunes between verses featuring the group’s founders, and husband and wife, Eric Lindberg and Doni Zasloff, with Alan Grubner on violin, Maddie Witler on mandolin, and Max Johnson on bass.

Thursday, December 2, 2021

Light One Candle—The Murfin Winter Holidays Music Festival

                                                        Light One Candle by Peter Yarrow performed by Peter, Paul & Mary.

We are spending more time this year on Hanukkah songs.  Consider it overdue balance.  So far we have heard from a Messianic Jew, and two Orthodox boys choirs.  For the Fifth night, lets switch to a largely secular and leftist Jew like so many of my friends.  Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul & Mary wrote the song in 1982 as a pacifist response to the Lebanon War which was reflected in the lyrics:

Light one candle for the terrible sacrifice justice and freedom demand, Light one candle for the wisdom to know when the peacemaker’s time is at hand.

It also connected the Maccabean rebellion against the Seleucid Greek Empire from 140 to 63 BCE as a war of national liberation like contemporary struggles in the Third World.

Peter Yarrow today.

The first performance of the song was at a 1982 concert in Carnegie Hall and included in annual Holiday concerts after that.  It made its appearance on an album in 1986 on No Easy Walk to Freedom.  It was a highlight of PP&M’s 25th Anniversary concert the same year.  It was also featured two decades later in reunion concerts broadcast on PBS.  Since the death of Mary Travers, Peter regularly performs it in solo programs.

Light One Candle may be the most broadly popular of all more recent Hanukkah songs.

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Light Up the Nights—The Murfin Winter Holidays Music Festival

                                            Light up the Nights by Yerachmiel Begun & The Miami Boys Choir.

On the Fourth Night of Hanukkah, we have to face the tragedy of a holiday song trying way too hard to be hipYerachmiel Begun & The Miami Boys Choir are considered superstars of Orthodox Jewish choral music with more than 30 albums under its belt since 1980.  Begun began with a boys choir in Toronto in the 1970’s before relocating to Miami.  He is the composer and arranger of the ensemble’s original music.

Yerachmiel Begun & The Miami Boys Choir.

But in 1998 he applied the disco/Latin Funk/Miami Sound Machine vibe to Light up the Nights on the choir’s album Chanukah - Light up the Nights.  Listen and weep. 

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Hanerot Halalu—The Murfin Winter Holidays Music Festival

                                                        Hanerot Halalu sung by the Maccabeats.

For the Third Night of Hanukkah, we will feature another song/prayer sung in the evening home service.  Hanerot Halalu is recited after the lights on the Menorah are kindled. There are several different versions.  The version by the Maccabeats that we are sharing here is used by many Ashkenazi communities.

The Maccabeats were students at the Orthodox Yeshiva University in New York City.  The 14 member a cappella group was organized by Julian (Chaim) Horowitz in 2007.  By 2010 the were in the university’s graduate school when they released their first CD, Voices from the Heights which was underwritten by a grant from the school.  The album initially sold only 5,000 copies but their first Hanukkah video attracted two million hits in its first ten days.  The group was invited to sing at both the Israeli Knesset and twice at Barack Obama’s White House.

The Maccabeats meeting and singing remotely.

Now all graduated, members married, started secular careers, and moved all over the country but they continue to meet virtually weekly to rehearse and record.  A quartet of the members makes personal appearances

In 2015 they released an EP collection of their first five Hanukkah songs, A Maccabeats Hanukkah from which this version was taken. 


Monday, November 29, 2021

Consider Compassion for Campers for Giving Tuesday

I know your are probably inundated with worthy Giving Tuesday begging.  But nowhere can your donation of any size have greater immediate impact than sharing with Compassion for Campers which serves the McHenry County unhoused who will spend all or part of each month this winter camping out or living in a vehicle.  Your dollars almost immediately be used to buy the critical gear—tents, sleeping bags, pads, tarps, stoves, fuel, warm gloves, hats, and socks—as well as personal hygiene items, flashlights and batteries, and non-perishable food.  Give today and a homeless person can pick them up at Community Empower Shower events at Willow Crystal Lake the first and third Fridays of the month.  Not only that, but 100% of your donation will go directly to those in need.  Funds are deposited in a dedicated fund of the Tree of Life Unitarian Universalist Congregation in McHenry, Illinois that cannot be used for any other purpose.  In addition, the church donates all administrative expenses.  Of course, donations are tax deductible.

You can donate on the congregation’s Giving Tuesday app making sure to designate the Compassion for Campers fund in the drop down menu.  You can also simply send a check to Tree of Life, 6603 Bull Valley Road, McHenry, IL 60050.