STLT#242, In the Lonely Midnight

It’s been all about the tune for me this morning.

I know this lyric as a choral piece by composer and music director Michael Harrison – a beautiful setting of these lyrics that evoke the hope of the lyrics (the cascading voice thing that happens on “peace, good will” is gorgeous and the intricacies of parts on “bright as paradise” is simply glorious. I wish there was a recording of it; I own a copy of the sheet music and if you’re interested, I can see if Michael will let me share with you on an individual basis.

But I digress. My point is that I opened the hymnal, saw the title, started singing Michael’s version, and realized there was a very different tune in front of me – a plainsong chant called Adoro Te Devote. Now it does work from a mood perspective, but the pattern in each phrase is harder to pick up and felt somewhat plodding to me.

As I looked for other tunes in similar meter, my first stop was our hymnal. And guess what tune this fits?

Cranham – the one we know as In the Bleak Midwinter. Go ahead, sing a bit of it now.

In the lonely midnight, on the wintry hill,
shepherds heard the angels singing, “Peace, good will.”
Listen, O ye weary, to the angels’ song,
unto you the tidings of great joy belong.

Though in David’s city angels sing no more,
love makes angel music on earth’s farthest shore.
Though no heavenly glory meet your wondering eyes,
love can make your dwelling bright as paradise.

Though the child of Mary, heralded on high,
in his manger cradle may no longer lie,
love will reign forever, though the proud world scorn;
if you truly seek peace, Christ for you is born.

Works, doesn’t it? Beautifully, I might add. I suspect our lyricist, Unitarian minister Thomas Chickering WIlliams (who served All Souls NYC from 1883-1896), had that tune in mind as well.

Now you can do what you like, but I know that if I want a choir to sing these words, I’ll use Michael Harrison’s arrangement. And if I want a congregation to sing these words, I’ll have them sing it to Cranham.

And you can be I want these lyrics to be sung on Christmas. They honor the story, honor the awe and wonder, honor the expansiveness of our theologies. It’s gorgeous and glorious.

Kinda like the moment they describe.


1 Comment

  1. If you mean the Holst tune (sorry but I am at home and my hymnbook is not) then TC Williams could not have meant that tune.


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