Advent Calendar Day 12 – Carol of the Birds (James and Wheeler)

In addition to being the 10th of December and the 12th day of Advent, today is my sister-in-law Tanya’s birthday!  Happy birthday Tan!  Tanya is extremely fond of Australian birds, and so there was only one possible Christmas Carol to post today, even if it’s a little early in the season for it, and that is the Carol of the Birds.

I have a great fondness for the carols William James wrote to lyrics by John Wheeler. As an Australian, all the winter solstice symbolism embedded in both church and secular Christmas traditions is kind of out of place.  (Our minister last year replaced the advent candles with vases into which he poured water, which makes a much better metaphor in our climate – flames in our summer are decidedly unwanted.  Water in the desert is another matter.)  And I get a bit cranky after the fifth time I hear ‘Frosty the Snowman’ played in the supermarket when it’s 35°C outside.  Don’t get me wrong – I love a good rendition of In the Bleak Midwinter as much as the next woman, but there are many, many snow-based carols that I could gladly live without.  (Sometimes, it’s hard not to feel like the whole Northern hemisphere is mocking us…)

So carols with Australian bush birds, and drovers on dry Australian plains watching black swans fly overhead, or red dust and leaves being blown by hot northerly winds, or even stars shining in dark desert skies with brown moths fluttering in the light, feel very refreshing to me.  Which, since I am an urban girl, is probably as inappropriate as carols about snow, but these carols do feel more like home.  The underlying awareness of heat and dryness feels right.  And, of course, most of us sing these carols at some point in primary school, so there is a definite nostalgia aspect to this (though if you’ve ever heard a bunch of ten year olds reaching for that ‘orana’… well, let’s just say that it’s a pretty good imitation of what a sulfur-crested cockatoo sounds like, and leave it at that.)

I recently found out that William James, who wrote this carol and several other Australian favourites, was also the church organist and Music Director at the church I do most of my singing at.  So that’s a nice connection, too.




Advent Calendar Day 25: In the Bleak Midwinter (Holst), plus a few more

It’s always so difficult to come up with the perfect carol for Christmas Day, because there are so many gorgeous ones.  So today, in the spirit of giving (or perhaps of over-indulgence), I present three.

In the Bleak Midwinter is really one of the more beautiful carols out there, and shows what can happen when you let a poet write your lyrics for you.  (What happens is that every subsequent composer misses out my favourite verse, in fact.  Including this arrangement, but it’s pretty enough that I’ll forgive it.)  I love the word-painting, and the harmonies and the solo in the middle.  Just lovely.

But this is Australia, and it can’t all be about snow and ice, so here’s a carol I learned in Grade 2, I believe. It was written in 1948 by John Wheeler and William G. James, and it’s kind of anachronistic, but we aren’t going to worry about that because any carol that includes black swans ought to be encouraged, in my book.

The third carol today was going to be a crazed mashup of the Carol of the Bells and God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen by the Piano Guys, but then I said three and giving and thought of three gifts and three kings and then of course I had no choice but to present you with Cornelius’s stunning piece ‘The Three Kings’, which really is, I think, the most gorgeous piece of Christmas music ever written, even if it does, strictly speaking, belong at Ephiphany.

I wish you all a Merry Christmas and a relaxing break!