Music in the Stillness

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In December we usually host a service that is rich with the music of the season. This Sunday we are bringing you holiday favorites to your home. We look forward to years where we can join together in body, yet also are so grateful for this chance to join together in spirit.  

– Emily McKinney, Music Director

Jingle Bells
Words and Music by James Peirpont
Public Domain Work
Arranged by John Prescott
Performed by Luke and John Prescott and Eva Riebold

While not written specifically for the purpose of minstrel shows, like most popular music written in the early 1800s, Jingle Bells quickly found its way into that shameful performance venue. It was also performed by various school and church choirs the year it was written and was considered a smash hit that swept the country in 1857, but it was never intended to be associated with Christmas. You can read some interesting Jingle Bells facts here:
We hope you enjoy this jazz arrangement from John Prescott and we are so grateful to John, Eva, and Luke, for getting together to safely record this for us!

Our Opening words today are from Paul H. Bicknell

There are some heights to which we have not risen, and never will; there are some depths to which we have not fallen, and never will. Somewhere between there are places where we can reach up and reach out for the strength we need for our journey.

This is such a place.

Thus we pause…to receive strength, balance and sustenance from each other…

Let us begin our sharing.

Sevivon, Sov, Sov, Sov
Traditional Hanukkah Melody
Arranged and performed by Persephone Hamburg

(From Persephone)
My grandparents always liked to tell this silly story about me: when I was only two or three, they bragged that I had already memorized all of the Hanukkah blessings and songs in Hebrew, which is no small accomplishment, so they put me in the children’s chorus at our synagogue that was doing a Hanukkah sing-along event. My grandparents were always so proud of me for anything I did. So at this point in the story, their eyes would sparkle and they would say “and you were the loudest one there!” Never mind that it’s generally a negative quality to be heard individually in a choir. They were just proud of their little girl. At the end of the sing-along, the choir director asked “does anyone want to sing anything else?” At this point, there are two ways this story is told to me: in one, I shouted “Sevivon! Sevivon! Sevivon!” and in the other, I just started singing the song and didn’t wait for anyone else to catch up, although the accompaniment did eventually start and the others started singing along midway through. So, I thought it was an appropriate song to sing for our winter holiday service, seeing how I apparently liked it so much when I was small. As if to repeat the story, I had to put the microphone approximately seven feet away from my face so my voice wasn’t overpowering on the recording!

Rock the Halls
(Deck the Hall)
Trad. Public Domain Carol
Arranged by Kevin Olson
Performed by Carter Meints

Carter is back at it again, folks! We are always so glad to hear from him. This is another great jazzy take on a traditional melody that celebrates the new year originally. Here’s a little history on the piece for those who are interested:

Christmas Morning
Words and Music by Carol Bemmels and Ross Flanagan
Used with Permission
Performed by Paul Phariss and Rebecca Holt

I don’t know how much stock all of us put in Christmas miracles, but being able to have Paul and Rebecca share this piece in this service sure felt like one to me. I know how much the tradition of singing this during our December all-music service means to this congregation, but securing permissions to share copyrighted materials through Zoom has been an unwelcome complication of virtual services this year. I was able to find the email address for one of the composers, Carol Bemmels, and she graciously agreed to let us use the song and shared some new lyrics for it with Paul and Rebecca. She was delighted to hear from our congregation and to learn that this song is well-loved among us and hopes to see this “little carol” spread throughout the world and hopes the world is now more spiritually ready for this kind of carol than it was when she and Ross Flanagan wrote it. Sometimes we still get to have nice, comforting things in a year like this one. Our thanks to Paul and Rebecca for sharing their video.

Still, Still, Still
Trad. Austrian Carol
Arranged by Ashley Hall
Used with Permission
Performed by the Virtual First UU Choir
Persephone Hamburg, Soloist

The first music I remember being aware of and truly loving as a small child were the Manheim Steamroller Christmas albums that came out when I was 3-5 years old. This beautiful old Austrian carol was on one of those albums, and I was so excited to find a permission-granted full choir arrangement that would work well for virtual choir. This final product isn’t perfect, but as you sit in the stillness of this music, please take a moment to appreciate all the heart and work that came from each musician on this track, all practicing, recording and re-recording in their separate locations so that we can hear a full, beautiful composition at the end. There are many hours of unseen work represented in this five minutes of gorgeous musical stillness. May your heart find itself so still that you can indeed hear the falling snow.

History on this carol available here:

Deurmete, Nino Lindo
Hispanic Folk Song, translated and arranged by John Donald Robb
Used with Permission
Performed by Ruth Jenkins and Eva Riebold

Do you know who we haven’t heard from nearly enough in this crummy year? Ruth! That’s who! I’m so excited to share their lovely voice with you and grateful they decided to jump in on a recording project. This beautiful lullaby is perfect for Ruth’s voice and such a nice change from the “standard” carols we hear all the time.
Here’s a nice reflection from Rev. Kimberly Debus about the elements of joy and sorrow reflected in this Christmas lullaby:

Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming
Trad. German Carol (Public Domain)
Harmony by Michael Praetorius
English Text by Theodore Baker
Performed by Mary Alexander and Marideth Sisco

I was delighted when Mary Alexander reached out to me recently to tell me that she and Marideth Sisco had been doing some recording for another virtual church service and that we had permission to use any of those tracks. We are so grateful to both of them for sharing this beautiful recording with us. This is a “lesser-heard” carol which is always a nice thing, in my opinion. The harmonies and rhythms are surprisingly complex for such still, gentle carol. I highly recommend clicking through to read more, if for no other reason than to click the choir recording available on the Wikipedia page and soak that in. Enjoy!

Mary and Marideth’s song begins at 34:51.

God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen
Trad. English Carol
Arranged by John Prescott
Performed by Eva Riebold and John and Luke Prescott

I can’t think of a better way to wrap up this strange all-music Sunday than to see familiar faces (or parts of them!) in our own sanctuary. Seeing these three perform together makes me wonder when Luke got so tall, and makes me ache for the time we can bring our musicians all under one roof all the time again. It also gives me hope to know that day IS coming. A fun fact, this song is not about overly cheerful chaps to whom God needs to give some rest, but the phrase “God rest ye merry,” in fact comes to us from old English and had specific, archaic meanings. Check the placement of the comma in the title. You can read more about the history of this carol here:,_Gentlemen

Our closing words are Sharing What We’ve Found by the Soul Matters team.
Having found stillness, may we share peace.
Having received connection, may we reach out to others.
Having heard the call of our deepest self, may we live in greater alignment.
Having returned to our center, may we expand the circle of love.

Categories: Sermon