Sunday, December 20, 2015

"Christmas in the Ashram," a gentle spoof on Western, Eastern spiritual traditions, irony and ecumenicism

Heard tonight on WUIS-FM while returning from Galesburg, "Christmas in the Ashram" by singer-songwriter Chris Rosser of Ashville, N.C., covered here by Tom Prasada-Rao and Cary Cooper, two other accomplished singer-songwriters, at a gig in Dallas. The one I heard on the radio had a couple of Ravi Shankar-like riffs on a sitar -- or a Western instrument tuned and played to sound a little bit like a sitar. This one is awfully nice, too.

"Christmas in the Ashram" performed in 2012 at Center for Spiritual Living Dallas

The indispensible Mudcat Cafe forum has lyrics, etc., at It's clearly a satire on Western seekers after Eastern spirituality -- who travel from "California to Bombay," in Rosser's words, "in search of peace" and get homesick at Christmas time. But the satire is gentle -- to my ears, at least -- and I think there's a lovely sense of the nostalgia so many of us are prone to at this time of year.

It seems well informed on Eastern religions, too, at least to my inexpert years. The chorus mixes and matches them with ecumenical abandon:

Singing Om Alleluia - Hare Hare Krishna
In Excelsis Deo - Rama Bolo Rama Bolo
Gloria Gloria - Govinda Gopala
Om Noel - Jay Siya Ram

And the verses are full of images of Eastern spiritual practice and California-style holiday cheer, of "tinsel in Vishnu's crown," of Christmas "egg nog in the black spice tea" and "red / Santa hats on shaven heads."

The last verse:

They sang Gospels and Upanishads
Psalms and Vedas praising God
Maybe Christ and Krishna are amused
When humans get a little bit confused

The song was first recorded to Rosser's 2000 album "Holy Fool." I don't know who recorded the arrangement I heard of the radio -- I think it was Rosser.

Prasada-Rao has also made the song his own, recording it as the title cut on a CD called Christmas in the Ashram in 1998. He's of Indian heritage himself, born in Ethiopia of Indian parents and raised in Washington D.C. According to his website, he now spends much of his time on the road.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Worship set, 3rd Sunday in Advent, Dec. 19, Atonement-Faith-Luther Memorial Church, Springfield


Here is the worship plan for this weekend. I tried not to incorporate anything new this weekend since we have a good chunk of music to work on for Christmas Eve. We are doing a jazzed up version of "Joyful Joyful We Adore Thee" -- please listen to the YouTube version by Michael W. Smith that I've attached. I'd like to try to replicate the feel of that one (I'm trying to find the actual sheet music for the band so we'll have the actual version, but I've not found it yet -- I'll not give up!!).

Gathering Music - piano

Worship Set:

Prayer - led by praise team member


Special Music: Mary Did You Know - Rob (with piano only - no band)

sung creed - Because We Believe

sung Lord's Prayer

Sending Song: Light of the Stable

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Vom himmel hoch -- Martin Luther's Christmas song, with some family lore on Johann Walther and Luther's chorales in general


Music kind of runs in my father's family, and my grandmother used to say we were descended from a 16th-century German musician named Johann Walther, or Walter in modern German, who was a cantor (choir director) in Wittenberg and arranged the music for Martin Luther's first hymnal. So when I was asked to play during the offertory at the contemporary worship service in our new "blended" ELCA parish in Springfield, I thought a moment and decided on "From Heaven Above," a Christmas carol that Luther wrote for his family.

When I mentioned it to my cousin, who is also kind of a church music geek, he emailed back, "I noted with pleasure your inclusion of Vom Himmel Hoch (the German tune name) into the Service. Good show! ... That hymn was written by Luther for his children to sing as they acted out the Christmas story. My understanding is that Walter convinced him to modify the hymn for congregational usage."

Which means my great-great- (I counted it up once and there must be nine or 10 "greats") grandfather could have collaborated with Luther when he first set the carol to the tune of a popular love ballad of the day. That arrangement, first published in 1535, didn't last long. The text is a first-person account of the Nativity story, and apparently Luther's congregations thought it was a little too risque for the Christ child to be singing a love ballad. So in 1539 they switched over to the melody we now use in 1539.

I guess contemporary worship music has always had its ups and downs!

Anyway, my cousin wrote:

Don't know what's in the ELCA hymnal, but LCMS uses all of the original 15 verses in their hymnal (even the new one). That hymn was written by Luther for his children to sing as they acted out the Christmas story. My understanding is that Walter convinced him to modify the hymn for congregational usage.

I got the Pastor at Messiah to incorporate verse 13 into every Advent and Christmas Service - in most cases the choir sang it - as the last prayer within the structure of the Prayers for the Church. As children, we were taught it for our evening prayers.

Traditional translation
Ah, dearest Jesus, Holy Child
Make Thee a bed, soft, undefiled
Within my heart, that it may be
A quiet chamber, kept for Thee.

Particularly at home, but even in a small church, Luther used the lute to lead the singing, so strum away. at has a public domain PDF file with five verses, as harmonized by Bach, set to the 1539 melody.

CPDL ChoralWiki has a three-part motet by Walther at,_da_komm_ich_her_(Johann_Walter). It was first published in Geistliches Gesangbüchlein, Part I (1551), and I don't know if it is the 1535 melody.

BACKGROUND at -- The following notes in Hymns and Carols are from John Julian, Dictionary of Hymnology (1892, 1907), pp. 1227-1228.

Of the origin of the German hymn, Lauxmann, in Koch, viii. 21, thus speaks:—

"Luther was accustomed every year to prepare for his family a happy Christmas Eve's entertainment.. . and for this festival of his children he wrote this Christmas hymn. Its opening lines are modelled on a song, 'Aus fremden Landen komm ich her;" and throughout he successfully catches the ring of the popular sacred song. It is said that Luther celebrated the festival in his own house in this original fashion. By his orders the first seven verses of this hymn were sung by a man dressed as an angel, whom the children greeted with the eighth and following verses."

We may add that Luther took the first stanza almost entirely from the song, which begins:--

“Ich komm aus fremden Landen her,
Und bring euch viel der neuen Mahr,
Der neuen Mahr bring ich so viel,
Mahr dann ich euchy hier sagen will.”

From the rest of the song Luther did not borrow anything.

In Klug's G.B., 1535, it is set to the melody of “Aus fremden Landen,” or rather, as F.M. Bohme, in his Aldeutsches Liederbuch, 1871, No. 271, gives it “Ich komm aus fremden Landen her.” In the Geistliche Lieder, Leipzig, V. Schumann, 1539, this was superseded by the beautiful melody still in use, which is sometimes ascribed to Luther, and is set to this hymn in the Chorale Book for England, 1863 (set also to No. 57 in Hymns Ancient & Modern, 1875).

A very nice comment on the song in Clement A. Miles, Christmas in Ritual and Tradition, Christian and Pagan. 1912, at -- in the second paragraph quoted below:

* * *

Before I close this study with a survey of Christmas poetry in England after the Reformation, it may be interesting to follow the developments in Protestant Germany. The Reformation gave a great impetus to German religious song, and we owe to it some of the finest of Christmas hymns. It is no doubt largely due to Luther, that passionate lover of music and folk-poetry, that hymns have practically become the liturgy of German Protestantism; yet he did but give typical expression to the natural instincts of his countrymen for song. Luther, though a rebel, was no Puritan; we can hardly call him an iconoclast; he had a conservative mind, which only gradually became loosened from its old attachments. His was an essentially artistic nature: “I would fain,” he said, “see all arts, especially music, in the service of Him who has given and created them,” and in the matter of hymnody he continued, in many respects, the mediaeval German tradition. Homely, kindly, a lover of children, he had a deep feeling for the festival of Christmas; and not only did he translate into German “A solis ortus cardine” and “Veni, redemptor gentium,” but he wrote for his little son Hans one of the most delightful and touching of all Christmas hymns—“Vom Himmel hoch, da komm ich her.”

[extended quotation in German omitted]

“Vom Himmel hoch” has qualities of simplicity, directness, and warm human feeling which link it to the less ornate forms of carol literature. Its first verse is adapted from a secular song; its melody may, perhaps, have been composed by Luther himself. There is another Christmas hymn of Luther's, too—“Vom Himmel kam der Engel Schar”—written for use when “Vom Himmel hoch” was thought too long, and he also composed additional verses for the mediaeval “Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ.” ...

Sunday, December 13, 2015

En stjärna gick på himlen fram - A star is moving through the sky


Swedish psalm for epiphany to the tune of the medieval German carol A child is born in Bethlehem/Ein Kind geborn zu Bethlehem/Puer natus in Bethlehem -- melody is perhaps best known to Americans through Praetorius' setting ... old, old medieval German and Latin macronic hymn. Details at on the Bach Cantatas website. It was one of the first hymns, beginning as early as the 1200s, in which the congregation played a role.

In Sweden, it was moved from Christmas to Epiphany. Words attributed to Johan Olof Wallin, who compiled the hymnal and translated many of the hymns from the German.

Barebones melody on keyboard by Jens Fredborg at

En stjärna gick på himlen fram - Maria Magdalena Gospel

MMG Maria Magdalena Gospelkör, Stockholm -- ?? on YouTube, other information lacking

En stjärna gick på himlen fram. Wikipedia [Swedish]

En stjärna gick på himlen fram är en trettondagspsalm, ursprungligen latinsk julsång från 1300-talet. De två sista verserna (nr 6 och 7) är "ståverser". Psalmen bearbetad av Laurentius Jonae Gestritius och trycktes efter hans död första gången 1619. Psalmen översattes troligen eller bearbetades av Jesper Svedberg 1694, till en psalm med tolv verser och titelraden "Ett barn är födt af jungfru reen, af jungfru reen" för 1695 års psalmbok. Bearbetning inför tryckningen av 1819 års psalmbok har ingen angiven upphovsman, men i 1937 års psalmbok uppges att Johan Olof Wallin bearbetat texten 1816 till en psalm med sju verser och ny titelrad. Inför 1987 års psalmbok bearbetades den av Anders Frostenson 1977 och medverkan av tidigare upphovsmän anges inte längre.

[Google translation:] A star was in the sky until a Epiphany hymn, originally Latin Christmas songs from the 1300s. The two last verses (No. 6 and 7) is "ståverser". Psalm processed by Laurentius Jonae Gestritius and printed after his death the first time in 1619. The hymn was translated likely or processed by Jesper Svedberg, 1694, into a hymn of twelve verses and the title line "A child is born of the virgin reen, of virgin reen" the 1695 Act hymnbook . Processing of printing of the 1819 Act hymnbook has no specified originator, but in the 1937 hymnal stated that Johan Olof Wallin processed text 1816 to a hymn with seven verses and a new title bar. Prior to the 1987 hymnal was processed by the Anders Frostenson in 1977 and the participation of previous authors no longer sets.

Puer natus in Bethlehem. CPDL ChoralWiki.

This Christmas hymn was especially popular during the ancient period. Its author is unknown. The oldest Latin text found so far is contained in a Benedictine book dating from the beginning of the fourteenth century. The Latin text, which is found in many different redactions ranging from six to twelve stanzas, has, very likely, been composed by several authors. Consequently, it has undergone many changes due to omissions, revisions, and additions. “Puer natus” was translated into German in 1439 by Heinrich von Laufenberg. Later on a number of German versions appeared. In the old German, Danish, and Swedish hymnals a translation in the vernacular was inserted immediately after each Latin stanza. It has been surmised that the choir sang the Latin and the congregation sang translations of the same. The German rendering most extensively used was that found in Val. Babst’s Gesangbuch, 1545: “Ein Kind geboren zu Bethlehem.” This contains ten stanzas with the German translation inserted after each stanza except the second. The English version included in The Lutheran Hymnary was made by Philip Schaff and was printed in his Christ in Song, 1869. There are at least eleven other English translations.

In regard to the third stanza, Skaar quotes from the hymnological works of Daniel: “On many early medieval paintings representing the nativity of Christ, as well as in Christmas hymns, are found an ox and an ass. This practice has been ascribed to a faulty rendering of the passage, Hab. 3:2: ‘In the midst of beasts make known’; for ‘In the midst of the years make it known.’ They concluded from Is. 1:3 that the two ‘beasts’ referred to were the ox and the ass: ‘The ox knoweth his owner and the ass his master’s crib.’ These passages are taken to be the Biblical basis for the old Christmas stanza: ‘Cognovit bos et asinus, quod puer erat Dominus, Halleluja’ (The ox and the ass knew that the Child was the Lord).” Nutzhorn claims that the expression is rather. an “innocent desire for free poetic representation of the circumstances surrounding the nativity of Christ.” [Dahle, Library of Christians Hymns]

Praetorius (Montiverdi Choir and Monteverdi Ensemble, dir. Matthias Beckert, Neubaukirche Würzburg, 2010) ...

Bach (Cantata BVW 65 -- Camerata Vocal "Bella Desconocida" & Orquesta de Cámara, dir. Jorge L. Colino Sigüenza, Iglesia Conventual de San Pablo, Palencia, Spain, 2004)

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Praise team sets, Dec. 12 contemporary service, Atonement-Faith-Luther Memorial Church

Call to Worship:

Worship Set:

Special Music: God With Us (Adam)

Because We Believe

Lord's Prayer

Sending Song:

Dandy Dulcimer -- passages about an itinerent dulcimer player in The Black Baronet by William Carleton

Excerpts from The Black Baronet; or, The Chronicles of Ballytrain (1881), in Project Gutenberg's Stories And Tales Of The Irish, by William Carleton --

[Two passages in Chapter XIII give detailed accounts of a strolling hammered dulcimer player in early 19th-century Ireland, at a time and place where the instrument was uncommon. The novel’s plot is convoluted, but we don’t have to pay attention to it; only these two scenes, and a couple of scattered references elsewhere, have anything to do with dulcimers. The first scene is set in Ballytrain, a fictional village in Ulster, where a mysterious stranger hires the musician, named “Dandy Dulcimer,” to accompany him on a mail coach to Dublin on a confidential mission. In this scene, when Dandy meets the stranger at the inn in Ballytrain, he tells how he was inspired by another itinerant musician, also named Dandy Dulcimer, after his family lost their farm and their livelihood.]

On the evening of the same day the stranger desired Paudeen Gair [a servant of the innkeeper in Ballytrain] to take a place for him in the "Fly," which was to return to Dublin on that night. He had been furnished with a letter from [the village priest] Father M'Mahon, to whom he had, in Mr. Birney's [a local attorney’s office], fully disclosed his name and objects. He felt anxious, however, to engage some trustworthy servant or attendant, on whose integrity he could fully rely, knowing, or at least apprehending, that he might be placed in circumstances where he could not himself act openly and freely without incurring suspicion or observation. Paudeen, however, or, as we shall call him in future, Pat Sharpe, had promised to procure a person of the strictest honesty, in whom every confidence could be placed. This man's name, or rather his nickname, was Dandy Dulcimer, an epithet bestowed upon him in consequence of the easy and strolling life he led, supporting himself, as he passed from place to place, by his performances upon that simple but pleasing instrument.

"Pat," said the stranger in the course of the evening, "have you succeeded in procuring me this cousin of yours?" for in that relation he stood to Pat.

"I expect him here every minute, sir," replied Pat; "and there's one thing I'll lay down my life on—you may trust him as you would any one of the twelve apostles—barring that blackguard Judas. Take St. Pettier, or St. Paul, or any of the dacent apostles, and the divil a one of them honester than Dandy. Not that he's a saint like them either, or much overburdened with religion, poor fellow; as for honesty and truth—divil a greater liar ever walked in the mane time; but, by truth, I mane truth to you, and to any one that employs him—augh, by my soul, he's the flower of a boy."

"He won't bring his dulcimer with him, I hope."

"Won't he, indeed? Be me sowl, sir, you might as well separate sowl and body, as take Dandy from his dulcimer. Like the two sides of a scissors, the one's of no use widout the other. They must go together, or Dandy could never cut his way through the world by any chance. Hello! here he is. I hear his voice in the hall below."

"Bring him up, Pat," said the stranger; "I must see and speak to him; because if I feel that he won't suit me, I will have nothing to do with him."

Dandy immediately entered, with his dulcimer slung like a peddler's box at his side, and with a comic movement of respect, which no presence or position could check, he made a bow to the stranger, that forced him to smile in spite of himself.

"You seem a droll fellow," said the stranger. "Are you fond of truth?"

"Hem! Why, yes, sir. I spare it as much as I can. I don't treat it as an everyday concern. We had a neighbor once, a widow M'Cormick, who was rather penurious, and whenever she saw her servants buttering their bread too thickly, she used to whisper to them in a confidential way, 'Ahagur [a personal term of endearment – see Note 1 below], the thinner you spread it the further it will go.' Hem! However, I must confess that once or twice a year I draw on it by way of novelty, that is, on set days or bonfire nights; and I hope, sir, you'll admit that that's treating it with respect."

"How did you happen to turn musician?" asked the other.

"Why, sir, I was always fond of a jingle; but, to tell you the truth, I would rather have the same jingle in my purse than in my instrument. Divil such an unmusical purse ever a man was cursed with than I have been doomed to carry during my whole life." "Then it was a natural love of music that sent you abroad as a performer?"

"Partly only, sir; for there were three causes went to it. There is a certain man named Dandy Dulcimer, that I had a very loving regard for, and I thought it against his aise and comfort to ask him to strain his poor bones by hard work. I accordingly substituted pure idleness for it, which is a delightful thing in its way. There, sir, is two of the causes—love of melody and a strong but virtuous disinclination to work. The third—" but here he paused and his face darkened.

"Well," inquired the stranger, "the third? What about the third?"

Dandy significantly pointed back with his thumb over his shoulder, in the direction of [the baronet’s mansion at] Red Hall. "It was him," he said; "the Black Baronet—or rather the incarnate divil."

"That's truth, at all events," observed Pat corroborating the incomplete assertion.

"It was he, sir," continued Dandy, "that thrust us out of our comfortable farm—he best knows why and wherefore—and like a true friend of liberty, he set us at large from our comfortable place, to enjoy it."

* * *

[Soon after he goes to work for the mysterious stranger whom he met in Ballytrain, Dandy accompanies him on a night coach to Dublin. Sharing the coach are a spirited kitchen girl named Alice (Alley) Mahon whom Dandy will marry when all the loose ends are tied up in the novel’s last chapter; the runaway daughter of the Black Baronet of Ballytrain, who has hired Alley as a servant and companion; and an affable but increasingly drunken grazier, or livestock farmer, named Jemmy Doran. The farmer is never mentioned again after they arrive in Dublin.]

The farmer […], in truth, as we have said, he was naturally one of those men who wish to hear themselves talk. In this instance, however, he found, after having made three or four colloquial attacks upon the stranger, but without success, that he must only have recourse either to soliloquy or silence. He accordingly commenced to hum over several old Irish airs, to which he ventured to join the words—at first in a very subdued undertone. Whenever the coach stopped, however, to change horses, which it generally did at some public house or inn, the stranger could observe that the grazier always went out, and on his return appeared to be affected with a still stronger relish for melody. By degrees he proceeded from a tolerably distinct undertone to raise his voice into a bolder key, when, at last, throwing aside all reserve, he commenced the song of Cruiskeen Lawn, which he gave in admirable style and spirit, and with a rich mellow voice, that was calculated to render every justice to that fine old air. In this manner, he literally sang his way until within a few miles of the metropolis. He was not, however, without assistance, during, at least, a portion of the journey. Our friend Dandy, who was on the outside, finding that the coach came to a level space on the road, placed the dulcimer on his knees, and commenced an accompaniment on that instrument, which produced an effect equally comic and agreeable.

And what added to the humor of this extraordinary duet—if we can call it so—was the delight with which each intimated his satisfaction at the performance of the other, as well as with the terms in which it was expressed.

"Well done, Dandy! dang my buttons, but you shine upon the wires. Ah, thin, it's you that is and ever was the wiry lad—and sure that was what made you take to the dulcimer of course. Dandy, achora [my friend], will you give us, 'Merrily kissed the Quaker?' and I ask it, Dandy, bekaise we are in a religious way, and have a [silent] quakers' meetn' in the coach."

"No," replied Dandy; "but I'll give you the 'Bonny brown Girl,' that's worth a thousand of it, you thief."

"Bravo, Dandy, and so it is; and, as far as I can see in the dark, dang my buttons, but I think we have one here, too."

"I thank you for the compliment, sir," said Alley, appropriating it without ceremony to herself. "I feel much obliged to you, sir; but I'm not worthy of it."

"My darling," replied the jolly farmer, "you had betther not take me up till I fall. How do you know it was for you it was intended? You're not the only lady in the coach, avourneen [sweetheart]."

"And you're not the only gintleman in the coach, Jemmy Doran," replied Alley, indignantly. "I know you well, man alive—and you picked up your politeness from your cattle, I suppose."

"A better chance of getting it from them than from you," replied the hasty grazier. "But I tell you at once to take it aisy, achora; don't get on fire, or you'll burn the coach—the compliment was not intended for you, at all events. Come, Dandy, give us the 'Bonny brown Girl,' and I'll help you, as well as I'm able."

In a moment the dulcimer was at work on the top of the coach, and the merry farmer, at the top of his lungs, lending his assistance inside.

When the performance had been concluded, Alley, who was brimful of indignation at the slight which had been put upon her, said, "Many thanks to you, Misther Doran, but if you plaise we'll dispense wid your music for the rest of the journey. Remember you're not among your own bullocks and swine—and that this roaring and grunting is and must be very disagreeable to polite company."

"Troth, whoever you are, you have the advantage of me," replied the good-natured farmer, "and besides I believe you're right—I'm afraid I've given offince; and as we have gone so far—but no, dang my buttons, I won't—I was going to try 'Kiss my Lady,' along wid Dandy, it goes beautiful on the dulcimer—but—but—ah, not half so well as on a purty pair of lips. Alley, darlin'," he proceeded now, evidently in a maudlin state, "I never lave you, but I'm in a hurry home to you, for it's your lips that's—"

"It's false, Mr. Doran," exclaimed Alley; "how dare you, sir, bring my name, or my lips either, into comparishment wid yourself?

You want to take away my character, Mr. Doran; but I have friends, and a strong faction at my back, that will make you suffer for this."

The farmer, however, who was elevated into the seventh heaven of domestic affection, paid no earthly attention to her, but turning to the stranger said:

"Sir, I've the best wife that ever faced the sun—"

"I," exclaimed Alley, "am not to be insulted and calumnied, ay, an' backbitten before my own face, Misther Doran, and take my word you'll hear of this to your cost—I've a faction."

"Sir—gintleman—miss, over the way there—for throth, for all so close as you're veiled, you haven't a married look—but as I was sayin', we fell in love wid one another by mistake—for there was an ould matchmaker, by name Biddlety Girtha, a daughter of ould Jemmy Trailcudgel's—God be good to him—father of the present strugglin' poor man of that name—and as I had hard of a celebrated beauty that lived about twelve or fifteen miles down the country that I wished to coort—and she, on the other hand, having hard of a very fine, handsome young fellow in my own neighborhood—what does the ould thief do but brings us together, in the fair of Baltihorum, and palms her off on me as the celebrated beauty, and palms myself on her as the fine, handsome young fellow from the parish of Ballytrain, and, as I said, so we fell in love wid one another by mistake, and didn't discover the imposthure that the ould vagabond had put on us until afther the marriage. However, I'm not sorry for it—she turned out a good wife to me, at all events—for, besides bringin' me a stockin' of guineas, she has brought me twelve of as fine childre' as you'd see in the kingdom of Ireland, ay, or in the kingdom of heaven either. Barrin' that she's a little hasty in the temper—and sometimes—do you persave?—has the use of her—there's five of them on each hand at any rate—do you undherstand—I say, barrin' that, and that she often amuses herself—just when she has nothing else to do—and by way of keepin' her hand in—I say, sir, and you, miss, over the way—she now and then amuses herself by turnin' up the little finger of her right hand—but what matter for all that—there's no one widout their little weeny failin's. My own hair's a little sandy, or so—some people say it's red, but I think myself it's only a little sandy—as I said, sir—so out of love and affection for the best of wives, I'll give you her favorite, the 'Red-haired man's wife.' Dandy, you thief, will you help me to do the 'Red-haired man's wife?'"

"Wid pleasure, Misther Doran," replied Dandy, adjusting his dulcimer. "Come now, start, and I'm wid you."

The performance was scarcely finished, when a sob or two was heard from Alley, who, during this ebullition of the grazier's, had been nursing her wrath to keep it warm, as Burns says.

"I'm not without friends and protectors, Mr. Doran—that won't see me rantinized in a mail-coach, and mocked and made little of—whereof I have a strong back, as you'll soon find, and a faction that will make you sup sorrow yet."

All this virtuous indignation was lost, however, on the honest grazier, who had scarcely concluded the "Red-haired man's wife," ere he fell fast asleep, in which state he remained—having simply changed the style and character of his melody, the execution of the latter being equally masterly—until they reached the hotel at which the coach always stopped in the metropolis.


Note 1: “Ahagur” appears to be a personal term of endearment, perhaps a dialect synonym for jewel used in Carleton’s youth. I am unable to find it in Irish-English dictionaries, but a Google keyword search turns up several instances of its use – most of them in Carleton’s fiction, and each in a direct quotation in which one of his characters is addressing a friend or relative. In a sketch titled “The Poor Scholar,” he quotes and translates the following bit of dialogue about a country priest’s sermon:

“Ellish, avourneen, gho dhe dirsha?” – Ellish, my dear, what is he saying?”

“Och, musha niel eshighum, ahagur – ta sha er Purgathor, ta barlhum.” – Och, I dunna that, jewel; I believe he’s on Purgatory.”

Perhaps related is the usage in “The Blind Beggar’s Daughter,” a song collected for the Inishowen Song Project in County Donegal. In that ballad, as sung by Mary Ann Canny, one of the girl’s wooers calls her “his jewel his joy his machree” [heart]. The tune, incidentally, is the same as “Sweet Betsy from Pike.”

Sunday, December 06, 2015

"In Spite of Ourselves" -- wedding song leaves big old hearts dancing in aging hippie's eyes

Normally weddings are something I endure -- rather than anything I'd cross the street to watch if I didn't know the people involved. But over Thanksgiving our niece Nichole, her husband Justin and their children, Jonny, Jackie and Jonah, celebrated their marriage in the lodge at Hudson Gardens, a snow-covered park ablaze with Christmas lights just off the main drag in the Denver suburb of Littleton, Colorado.

Highlight of the wedding -- for me, at least -- was when Nichole and Justin chose "In Spite of Ourselves" by Iris Dement and John Prine for their first dance. Here's the official video:

I'd never heard it before, but I want to learn that song.

And there's amateur footage of the first wedding dance here. It may lack some of the crisp professionalism of the official video, but some moments just cry out to be recorded.

After the bridal couple danced, it was the kids' turn. Lots of kids. Too many kids to keep up with. Moving way too fast to shoot. A couple of pix are posted below, tho' ... note the Christmas lights in the background through the windows. Moments like this cry out to be recorded, however inexpertly.

Iris DeMent has been around for at least 25 years, but I know her mostly for her 2004 CD Lifeline, a gospel album that featured old-fashioned Southern gospel songs she knew from growing up in a Pentecostalist family. Her performance of "Leaning on the Everlasting Arms" brought her briefly into the national limelight, when it was picked up in the Coen Brothers' movie O Brother Where Art Thou" in 2000, but mostly she's had a low-key -- but solid -- career in the market niche where, gospel, folk and Americana intersect.

Singer-songwriter John Prine has also been around forever. His 1971 song "Paradise," about the Peabody Energy Corp. strip mines servicing the TVA's Paradise Steam Plant in western Kentucky was kind of an anthem for environmentalists in East Tennessee. (Yes, there were a few of us.)

"Daddy, won't you take me back to Muhlenberg County? ...
Well, I'm sorry my son, but you're too late in asking,
Mr. Peabody's coal train has hauled it away."
But I lost track of him when I moved up north more than 30 years ago. Turned out he's had an equally solid career in the same niche market as Iris DeMent.

And their duet in "In Spite of Ourselves" is pure magic.

Written by Prine and performed with DeMent as the title track in his 1999 CD In Spite of Ourselves, alternative music critic David Cantwell of No Depression said it was the best song in "a solid collection of country duets, and if nothing else, it proves that Prine has great taste in old country songs ... not to mention great taste in what used to be called 'girl singers'."

Lyrics and chords in C available online at Looks like they'd transpose up to D in a heartbeat.

And the lyrics are sheer magic, too. A quick sampler (toned down a little):

She looks down her nose at money / She gets it on like the Easter Bunny ...

* * *

He ain't too sharp but he gets things done / Drinks his beer like it's oxygen ...

And so on. Describing what's got to be an ideal couple, well, ideal in that market niche.

In spite of ourselves
We'll end up a'sittin' on a rainbow
Against all odds
Honey, we're the big door prize

Each verse ending with a chorus, repeated at the end. "There won't be nothin' but big old hearts / Dancin' in our eyes." Yep. It left big old hearts dancing in my eyes.