I feel very fortunate to live in a city with the opportunity to experience world-class artistry in music. A trip to Music Hall to enjoy the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra or Cincinnati Opera, or to the Aronoff Center for the Arts to see a theater production is never a disappointment. Between the Cincinnati Childrens Theater, many art museums, Shakespeare productions, Playhouse in the Park, and more, the opportunities for the educating family to expose children to the arts are endless in the Queen City. In addition, Cincinnati, Ohio is also home to one of the finest music conservatories in the nation, the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of music. This year marks the 150th anniversary of CCM's founding.
At my daughter's recent Cincinnati Children's Choir concert I found a true source of inspiration in the program book: the story of Clara Baur. This talented young woman was born in Germany, but traveled to the U.S. in 1849 at age 13. After going back to her homeland and other portions of Europe to study voice and piano, she returned to the United States, determined to start a conservatory that would be on par with those in Europe. In 1867, 31-year old Baur, out of devotion and love for the arts, rented one room in a school for young ladies, and thereby established the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, one of the first in the United States. This was three years before the city of Cincinnati established UC.
Clara's standards of complete musical excellence and her community outreach led the school to grow, and she was granted a teaching position by the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. She passed away in 1912, though her legacy pressed on through her niece. Eventually, in 1955 the conservatory expanded and merged with the College of Music of Cincinnati, creating the College-Conservatory of Music. In 1962, CCM became the 14th college added to the University of Cincinnati. Since then it has a history of turning out some of the best musicians in the nation.
Why does Clara's story inspire me? Maybe it is because I am also a woman in my 30's, a homeschool mom, a piano teacher, a voice teacher, and Classical Christian educator with a vision to see the Classical Christian education movement permeate Cincinnati. If she can start CCM in one room, what can others with vision and God's help accomplish? I see a little of myself in Clara Baur, and she makes me proud to be a Cincinnatian.
Isaiah 7:14" Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel."
As a follow-up to last week's post about the general differences between Advent and Christmas music, I wanted to share with you 7 Advent songs that significantly and spiritually touch my heart. I am listing them in no particular order since they are all worth learning and listening to. Some of these songs were originally composed in Latin, though they are mostly sung in English today.
1. "Creator Alme Siderum" (Creator of the Circling Stars)
Deriving from the 7th century, in the chant style of Ambrose, this reflective chant is often sung on the first Sunday of Advent. Today you are most likely to hear it in the English form "Creator of the Stars of Night".
2. Holy is Your Name by David Haas
Based upon the text of Luke 1:46-55, this is perhaps my favorite song relating to Mary, the mother of Jesus. It is a song of pure praise.
3. "Holy is His Name" by John Michael Talbot
Ok, this one is similar to #2 textually, but I could not leave it off the list because it's too pleasing to the ear. The soothing, singable melody, harmony, and Biblical text make this a most treasured song of Advent.
4. "People Look East" by Eleanor Farjeon (1881-1965)
This bright and cheerful Advent carol has a traditional French melody, and was published in the "Oxford Book of Carols" in 1928.
5. "Come Thou Redeemer of the Earth" (original text by St. Ambrose, translated by John Mason Neale)
This enchanting hymn is set to the tune of the 15th century "Puer Nobis Nascitur" (Unto us is born a son), which is found in the German Moosburg Gradual. I discovered the hymn on the Amazon Prime album "Advent at Ephesus" and fell in love with its beauty.
6. "Ev'ry Valley" from G.F. Handel's Messiah
The Messiah, an English language oratorio composed in 1741 by Baroque master Handel, has a libretto structured in 3 parts, which follow the liturgical year. Part 1 deals with Advent and Christmas and includes this piece. "Every Valley" is taken from Isaiah, a book of the Bible prophesying the birth of Christ. The virtuosic melismas make this piece a breath-defying feat for any singer.
7."Veni, Veni Emmanuel" (O Come, O Come Emmanuel)
The earliest derivation of the Latin text is in the Psalteriolum Cantionum Catholicarum from the year 1710 in Cologne. This is perhaps the most iconic Advent hymn of all. The season would not be complete without it.
And here is the English version, just because.
If your household is similar to mine, it's highly possible that you still have buckets of your children's unfinished Halloween candy lying around your kitchen! And here it is now the week following Thanksgiving. In a non-liturgical world, it seems to be the natural progression that we should go ahead and begin our rightful enjoyment of "Blue Christmas" and "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" as we look for those Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals. After all, as of November 1st, the radio stations here in Cincinnati began their yearly proclamation of the Christmas season. The never-ending cycle of the same 30 Christmas songs played endlessly as a way to "celebrate the real reason for the season" fills our ears ad nauseum. Now to be fair, we all enjoy Christmas music to a certain degree, but one must be reminded that it is not yet Christmas. Advent is yet to be upon us, and musically speaking, Advent and Christmas are two very different seasons with contrasting musical tones.
"Advent" is a term that derives from the 4th declension Latin noun "adventus", which means "arrival" or "coming". It is the season beginning this Sunday, December 3, and ending Sunday, December 24th, during which we look forward to the celebration of the Nativity with a sense of expectation and hope. Advent points back to the time when the ancient Israelites were crying out to God for a Messiah. With that in mind, Advent hymns have a tendency to be more introspective, subdued, and minor in key. During the season of Advent, in the Catholic church for example, even the instruments play at a quieter dynamic level. Advent hymns are often harder to find, which is why most churches simply skip to Christmas music. They are also not as "peppy" and "fun" as Christmas hymns. Their subject matter deals with looking forward to a coming Messiah, expecting, and waiting. However, it's not just any waiting: it's waiting for our very salvation. A prime example of such a hymn is "O Come, O Come Emmanuel." Although it is sung in English today, it was traditionally written in Latin in the 12th century.
On the other hand, Christmas is a celebration of God's covenant being fulfilled. And it's this expression of jubilant fulfillment of God's promises that makes us want to listen to those Christmas carols as soon as possible and for as long as possible. A Savior was indeed sent to earth, so there is joyful celebration in songs like "Joy to the World" and "Angels We Have Heard on High". Singing these songs makes us happy and helps us feel fulfilled and unified.
However, this joyful celebration technically doesn't begin until Christmas Day. The time of Advent provides the believer with a time of preparation and a time to focus on the hope that Christ indeed brings. This is essential to the Christian experience. Just as we prepare our hearts to receive Communion, we must prepare our hearts to receive God's gift of Christ. Last night I sat in my office and began planning the music for December for the church where I am employed as music director. Though I needed to plan through December 31st, I had to stop at December 24th because I couldn't make the mental and emotional shift from Advent to Christmas in one sitting. I will have to return to my work with a fresh frame of mind. I do indulge in Christmas music before December 25th to a degree, and I don't think it's wrong, but I am careful not to overlook Advent and the reminders it provides of what God has done for us. Both Advent and Christmas hymns deserve a place in our holiday tradition. And just remember, Christmas doesn't fall on Black Friday.
Please look for a follow-up post on my absolute favorite songs for Advent!