I’m Dreaming of Beautiful Advent Music…

Yesterday I roused myself to run an errand to a few craft stores. Our household is trying to recover from the swine flu but it’s been slow-going. I thought I had a bit of energy and wanted to use the opportunity of going solo, since dh was home. I emerged from our Quarantined Retreat and trudged out. I was seeking only a few items – a few birthday gifts for ds2 that were on sale and some materials for some Advent projects. I got the first item, but struck out on the rest.

It was my in these stores that I remembered how much I dislike piped-in Christmas carols when I’m shopping. Take note – it was only November 18 and the carols were playing. And I shouldn’t even use “carols” because most are not. Because we’re reduced to just “Happy Holidays” the songs in stores can’t mention the real meaning of “Christ-Mass”. It is just twaddly songs about Santa, Rudolf, being jolly, decking halls, getting everything I want. Yes, that last one is something I heard. Some male rock band was singing some song about making out a list, wanting everything, going to get everything.

If dragging myself out wasn’t going to cause a relapse, that song pushed me over the edge. Ugh.

And most of what I heard could be barely called “music”. I can’t even sing along to these pop artist renditions.

So, while I’m not opposed to Christmas carols in general before Christmas, I am opposed to being onslaught by what is I shall call “P.C. Holiday Listening” (P.C. standing for “Politically Correct”, for my non-American readers).

So, here are some of my thoughts. I want to choose music that is good, true and beautiful. I’ll phrase it this way – to counteract the PC Holiday Listening I am going to be EXTREMELY selective and picky about the music we shall listen to in Advent and Christmas. The places I do have control (which I do in my home and car) on what we hear, I can choose good music for us. I find my choices run pretty traditional, but also most of my choices are calm and peaceful. I think I unconsciously wield a counterattack on the PC Holiday Listening and the Holiday Panic that ensues outside. Plus, I want to continue my strategy of contrasting the liturgical seasons. It is not Christmas until December 25.

Here’s my plan in a nutshell.

  1. Emphasize more Advent chants and hymns to sing and to hear during the Advent season so my domestic church will reflect the Church’s Advent Liturgy.
  2. Hold off on Christmas carols until Christmas, or closer to Christmas. (We generally start the Christmas carols around the 3rd Sunday of Advent.)
  3. The carols and Christmas music will be deliberate, beautiful choices.

I’ve always hoped for a cd totally dedicated to Advent the hymns, and I think this year I finally found some. I’m still working with the old-fashioned stereo, with physical cds and records. One of these days I’ll graduate to an .mp3 player, but I only want one if I can play it through my car speakers and have some decent speakers to play for the whole family to hear – which all costs more. So, I work with what I have. But I will say, with the .mp3 technology it is so easy to come up with an Advent playlist for the family. There is very little excuse to NOT have Advent music playing in the home.

I first want to start with the Sunday introits. I loved Jeffrey Tucker’s 2006 post Ad Te Levavi, making the point of having these so familiar. That is my aim — hearing the different chants will bring them into the spirit of the liturgy with the corresponding liturgical season. We might not be singing it this year, but we will become familiar by hearing them.

The Introits are the Entrance Antiphon of the Mass, part of the propers of the Mass. These are found both in the Ordinary and Extraordinary Form of the Mass. Traditionally the Sunday Mass was called by the first words of the Introit. While there are other propers, I thought just playing at least the Sunday Introits throughout the week would help gain the familiarity of the liturgy, and also keeping Sundays the focal point. I’ve included the text and translation of the four introits below.

  1. First Sunday of Advent: Missa Ad Te LevaviIntroit: To you, my God, I lift my soul, I trust in you; let me never come to shame. Do not let my enemies laugh at me. No one who waits for you is ever put to shame. Psalm 25:1-3 (Roman Missal)

    Ad te levavi animam meam: Deus meus in te confido, non erubescam: necque irrideant me inimici mei: etenim universi qui te exspectant, non confundentur.

    Ps. Vias tuas, Domine, demonstra mihi: et semitas tuas edoce me.(Graduale Romanum).

  2. Second Sunday of Advent: Missa Populus SionIntroit: People of Zion, the Lord will come to save all nations, and your hearts will exult to hear his majestic voice.(Based on Isaiah 30:19,30, Roman Missal)

    Populus Sion, ecce Dominus veniet ad salvandas gentes: et auditam faciet Dominus gloriam vocis suae, in laetitia cordis vestri.

    Ps. Qui regis Israel, intende: qui deducis velut ovem Ioseph.(Graduale Romanum)

  3. Third Sunday of Advent (Gaudete Sunday): Missa GuadeteIntroit: I exult for joy in the Lord, my soul rejoices in my God; for he has clothed me in the garment of salvation and robed me in the cloak of justice, like a bride adorned with her jewels. Isaiah 61:10 (Roman Missal)

    Gaudens gaudebo in Domino et exsultabit anima mea in Deo meo: quia induit me vestimentis salutis, et indumento iustitiæ circumdedit me, quasi sponsam ornatam monilibus suis.

    Ps. Exaltabo te, Domine, quoniam suscepisti me: nec delecasti inimicos meos super me.(Graduale Romanum)

  4. Fourth Sunday of Advent: Missa Rorate CoeliIntroit: Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice! The Lord is near. Philippians 4:4-5 (Roman Missal)

    Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, gaudete: modestia vestra nota sit omnibus hominibus: Dominus prope est. Nihil solliciti sitis: sed in omni oratione petitiones vestrae innotescant apud Deum.

    Ps. Benedixisti, Domine, terram tuam: avertisti captivitatem Iacob.(Graduale Romanum)

With some recommendations from members at Musica Sacra, I tracked down a few recordings that contain only Advent chants. There are multiple recordings, but these cover most of the introits and the few Advent chants I’d like to play. I’m offering a variety of choices, and I’m sure there are more out there:

Following the example from this post on Ad Te Levavi, there are many different YouTube recordings of the various introits, including the 2nd Sunday’s Populus Sion. Plus, there are loads of various recordings to find online of the chant.

For Advent hymns, here is my short list of favorites.

  • Veni, Veni, Emmanuel (O Come, O Come, Emmanuel)
  • Rorate Coeli
  • Creator alme siderum (Creator of the Stars at Night)
  • Alma Redemptoris Mater
  • People Look East
  • On Jordan’s Bank
  • Lo, How a Rose ‘Er Blooming
  • Saviour of the Nations, Come
  • O Come Divine Messiah

Last year we sang O Come, O Come Emmanuel at the lighting of the Advent Wreath. I’d like the boys to learn “People Look East” and “Creator alme Siderum” this year. I’m not aiming for perfection with words, but familiarity with the tunes.

Two free downloadable books that can help children learn the Advent tunes are available from Musica Sacra

I have talked about these resources before. I also reviewed a beautiful old picture book that gives a message of why we choose Gregorian chant.

Since the Christmas season extends until January 10, we’re not at a loss for time to hear our favorite records and cds. We do compromise and play some Christmas carols before Christmas, but I try to wait until Gaudete Sunday, when liturgically we are given a glimpse that Christmas is near. Everyone’s taste is individual in music. I know mine runs a little more old-fashioned and traditional. Some of our favorite cds are by the Cambridge Singers, Deller Consort, the Chieftains, the Trapp Family Singers, Notre Dame Glee Club, and a bit of Bing Crosby. I also play versions of the Nutcracker Suite and The Messiah and lots of Christmas chant, too.

If you were to ask me my ultimate favorite cd it would be by the Deller Consort, “Hark Ye Shepherds”. Unfortunately the individual cd is not available, but the fabulous collection Complete Vanguard Classics: Music For The Christmas Season Alfred Deller has been reissued. Ask any of my 6 siblings – we LOVE the version of People Look East. None surpasses this.

Some other of our favorite recordings that we listen to over and over:

So that’s my music plan.

  1. Emphasize more Advent chants and hymns to sing and to hear during the Advent season, to more closely unite our domestic church with the Church’s Advent Liturgy.
  2. Hold off on Christmas carols until Christmas, or closer to Christmas.
  3. The carols and Christmas music will be deliberate, beautiful choices.

May your Advent and Christmas season be filled with beautiful music to help prepare your hearts for Christ’s coming..

Christmas In September

St Wenceslas Charles BridgeNo, I’m not planning my Christmas presents and sending out cards yet. I’m not that organized. I’m referring to the Optional Memorial of St. Wenceslas on September 28. I’m reminding readers about my original post, Christmas Preview: Good King Wenceslaus – September 28

infant of pragueWhat makes this feast day especially exciting this year is that Pope Benedict XVI will be making an Apostolic Journey to the Czech Republic, September 26-28. He will visiting Prague on September 26, seeing the Infant of Prague in Our Lady of Victory Church, and then going to Cathedral of Saints Vitus, Wenceslaus and Adalbert which contains the St. Wenceslas Chapel (this has his relics).

On September 28, the actual feast day of St. Wenceslas, Pope Benedict will be at St. Wenceslas Cathedral in Olomouc. The duke of Bohemia was murdered in a house nearby.

I had written a Long post on reading material for St. Wenceslas. I’ve referred to the reason why I love this saint is that I actually was in Prague — and it’s so wonderful to bring back those memories, make connections, and then try to bring them to my sons. I can’t wait to watch EWTN and see the lovely places and show them to my sons!

And believe it or not, I actually am adding another book recommendation to that previous post! I keep finding other books on this saint or the Christmas carol, and love to add to our collection. I know my previous post is long, so to recap in list-style, here are the books and links I highlighted:

Christmas Carol Picture Books: These are the picture books that use the lyrics of the Christmas carol “Good King Wenceslas” (or Wenceslaus) by John Mason Neale as the text of the book.

Picture Books: Weaves a story about St. Wenceslas.

Short Biographies

  • Good King Wenceslas by Pauline Baynes (wonderful color illustrations — a cross between picture book and chapter book)
  • *New Recommendation* Recently reprinted is Story of St. Wenceslaus by Brother Ernest. This is one of the Dujarie Press Reprints, “In The Footsteps Of The Saints” series. This is Level 1, easier reading. I received my copy very quickly, and I can’t wait to read it together.
  • A King Without a Crown by Brother Roberto, C.S.C. This is the next level biography, but very hard to find.

Links that contain short biographies to read aloud

Further Reading:

And I hope that Pope Benedict will have some prayers to St. Wenceslas that I can add to our list.

Another feather in our cap is that we can repeat some of these same books and stories (and the carol) around Christmas, particularly on December 26, the Feast of St. Stephen, first martyr. Pat yourself on the back for doing some Christmas planning in September!

Prayers for a safe journey for our Holy Father!