January 7, 2018
We rode all night through fields of darkness,
Our guiding light, the eastern stars;
We came to Bethlehem, we all were weary:
We’d travelled far that night, we’d travelled far.
We heard that here we’d find Messiah
Foretold by seers from days of old;
We looked for palaces, and found a stable;
Could it be here, so bare and cold?
We entered in and there we saw Him;
It seemed we’d known Him from long before.
A Child like any child, yet somehow different:
The face of every child in Him we saw.
We brought Him gifts and now we offer them,
We knelt down low in silent prayer.
With eyes that seem to know both joy and sadness,
The Child looked down as we knelt there.
So long ago, yet I remember,
That Child who lay at Mary’s knee.
How strange that every child seemed so much like Him
His is the face I seem to see.
October 7, 2015
Almost everyone who has done any serious choral singing knows the name of William Billings, who was born in Boston on October 7, 1746. Although he had little formal schooling and was largely self-taught as a musician, he became the most popular choral composer of his day. The primitive state of copyright law at the time prevented him from making enough money as a composer to quit his day job as a tanner, but music was always his first love. He was very active as an itinerant singing master and was influential in furthering the singing-school tradition of American folk culture. He wrote more than three hundred choral works, most of them settings of sacred texts. “O Praise the Lord of Heaven” is one of my favorites; this performance by VocalEssence was recorded at the University Church of St. Mary the Virgin in Oxford, England.