Well, I feel a bit like I did Epiphany in style. Sure, there was Mass in the morning, which had nice Christmas tunes (the church Christmas season ended Sunday with the celebration of the three wise men), but the real cultural part kicked in during the afternoon.
The MMU Bell Choir performed, along with several other church choirs and musical groups, at the annual Epiphany Concert at St. Pius X Church. It’s one of those events that feels like it doesn’t get the attention it might deserve—several parish musical groups come together in a concert of Christmas songs, and since they are mostly adult choirs, two things are true: 1) The music is about as good as it gets and 2) The crowd is about as small as it gets.
I noticed, as my own children went through school, the odd inverse relationship between audience size and musical quality. When your child is in kindergarten, and lucky if he or she stands singing in the correct direction and doesn’t pee herself during the concert, every distant relative on the planet gathers to over-stuff the gym or auditorium or whatever to view the cute. But when little Sarah (let’s call her Sarah for no particular reason) is a senior in high school and an all-state violinist for three years and performs some complex classical work of transcendent beauty, only her parents bear witness, if she is lucky. Eddy, her older brother, is by now too busy playing Grand Theft Auto, and the aunts and uncles promise to attend but rarely do.
So it goes. I am happy to report that the performers were not alone in the audience for this concert. It seemed a bit more popular this year—perhaps everybody wanted to get out of the house one last time before the polar vortex hit (it’s close to 20 degrees below zero as I write this and the world feels hunkered down—the university, along with pretty much the whole state of Iowa, is closed today). There seemed to be a larger crowd for this concert this year, which was nice to see.
From my point of view, I did OK. I got a bit lost during “The First Nowell,” which is not a terribly complicated song to ring, but there were other musicians and a choir and a congregation singing, and when you add more, it’s just harder for me to track. Still, we did three pieces and I think we did well on them.
The St. Joseph Bell Choir kindly lent us their bells, and they did several nice numbers, including a rousing “Go Tell It On the Mountain.”
One of the reasons I enjoy this concert is that it’s a chance to hear songs I like that I don’t often hear, or performed in ways I am not always familiar with. The Amy Grant song “Breath of Heaven,” for example, is very familiar as a solo, but the choir version, which starts with a single voice and then adds the group, was nice to hear, done by the All Saints Adult Choir. I was not familiar with “10,000 Reasons,” but I enjoyed the All Saints Praise Group’s rendition, which I think was a bit more energetic than the video I found. And Il est Ne may be very familiar, but it’s very pretty too, and was performed on violin and piano by Sr. Nina Shepard and Dorothy Goetzinger.
So here are some YouTube versions of my favorites tunes from the concert—you understand that the videos are not from the concert, but are simply random versions I found that reminded me of the concert performances:
Well, that would have been enough to make it a satisfactory cultural Sunday—but wait, there’s more. So much more.
Downton Abbey season 4 began. It was a rather dark start, with the opening credits looking like some Gothic mystery, and then Lady Mary spent much of the first hour hanging around like a dark cloud—but I was thrilled.
No more O’Brien. Well, who misses her? Rose acting like an irresponsible teen. Lady Edith in some complex romance with a married editor. The servants all tied up in all kinds of intrigue, although my favorite servant scenes involved an old cook and a new electric mixer.
My wife and youngest son and I had a bit of a Downton Abbey party. We had cheese and crackers and fancy little cookies and Canadian beer as we let the two hour premiere wash over us.
Lady Sybil, we still miss you. But it was a jolly good time to see the rest back. And the question of the season: Will Lady Edith become German on the eve of World War II? What could be more fun!