Daily Archives: December 8, 2016

A Christmas Invitation: new Christmas Music and Poetry

PLU Choir and Orchestra performing 'A Christmas Invitation'

PLU Choir and Orchestra performing ‘A Christmas Invitation’

I am pleased to say that a three-movement suite of Christmas Music composed by Jac Redford, for which he commissioned me to write new poetry, is being broadcast this month on a series of television stations across the United States. Broadcasts start on the 8th December in Texas and continue across the United States up to and including Christmas day itself. The full list and timings of these broadcasts can be found On This Page. You can also download the full concert program Here. And there is a DVD of the performance available Here.

The whole piece is a return to, and commentary upon, Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’, starting on fairly traditional ground with Fezziwig’s Ball, but then moving, with Christmas Present, and Future, into some contemporary concerns. The music is being performed by the choir and orchestra of the Pacific Lutheran University and here is how they introduce it in the programme:

A Christmas Invitation

Composed for Richard Nance and the Choirs & Orchestra of Pacific Lutheran University


A Christmas Invitation is a three-movement work for mixed chorus, soloists and orchestra. I have chosen Dickens’ A Christmas Carol
as inspiration, although the texts are original poems by Cambridge poet Malcolm Guite. The setting is not intended as a literal tableaux. Rather, because of the metaphoric value of the story’s spirits, Christmas Past, Present, and Future, I hope a variety of responses from convivial joy to thoughtful re ection will be invoked.

The first movement (Fezziwig’s Ball) revels in the nostalgia and merriment of our Victorian Christmas traditions, with music full of rhythm and vitality. As the movement closes, both text and music cast a shadow of loneliness over this beautiful scene, leading into a sober second movement (Look! Look! O man, look at the world you make) which re ects on Dickens’ surprising revelation of Ignorance and Want under the robe of the spirit of Christmas Present. The third movement (Christmas is the Lord’s own day, Rejoice!) proclaims hope for the future in the sort of redemption that was offered to Ebenezer Scrooge, while at the same time acknowledging that

there are significant choices still before us. I hope this new holiday composition will be memorable and enjoyable for all!

Here are the poems as they are sung in each of the three movements, I hope you enjoy them both as poems in themselves and in the musical setting for which they were written:

I – Fezziwig’s Ball


“Trim the lamps,” says Fezziwig,

“Tonight it’s Christmas Eve!”

And every lad is clearing space

And rolling up his sleeve,


And now we’ll have the shutters up,

And clear the desks aside

And make the warehouse snug and bright

To dance at Christmastide


Here’s porter for the fiddler,

And brandy for the guests,

And sweets and cakes and comfits

In richly laden chests.


And children rush around the feast

And gaze with shining eyes

On roast meat and cold meat

And minced meat and pies


(The holly berries glisten,

The ivy holds the light,

A blaze leaps up the chimney

To warm the winter’s night)


Here’s music for the couples

And dancing to the tune

As we all weave around and back

Beneath a Christmas moon


And here the young and and hearty

Cut capers at the ball

With their old host and hostess

As nimble as them all


But silent in the corner

Invisible to all,

An old man and a spirit

Who cannot join the ball.


His long life on the outside

Is looking in at last

And longing for the chance he missed

In every Christmas past.


The power to make men happy

Had once been in his hands

If he could just release it now

That he might make amends!


And will he bloom or wither,

That long-excluded shade,

Who leaves a ghostly Christmas Past

And hears the music fade?



II – Look! Look! O man, look at the world you make!


We close the shutters up to make our feast

To share our plenty only with our own

But who is this? A stranger, not a guest,

Who calls us now to take the shutters down?


Look! Look! O man, look at the world you make!

These are your children, Ignorance and Want!

Look at the ones who suffer for your sake;

Pinched in their poverty, withered and gaunt,

Sewing the clothes and shoes you throw away,

Assembling every shiny new device.

You wrap the goods they make for Christmas Day,

Your children get the gifts –these pay the price.


But you can change, for change is in the air,

Want is a child who might yet find relief.

Loosen your love, release your heart and share,

O dare to be a patron, not a thief!

Let all your love for family and friends

Be widened by His Love, and make amends.


Rise from your table, throw the window wide

Take down the shutters and unbar the door

Welcome the stranger, call him to your side,

That he might teach you what this feast is for!



III – Christmas is the Lord’s own day, Rejoice


Christmas is the Lord’s own day, Rejoice!

Rise and recover while you have the choice!

This is the day to loosen and release

The day to hear again His living voice.



“On Christmas day I come to be with you,

Today I take your nature for my own,

Today I offer you a heart of flesh,

Or will you choose again a heart of stone?



This Christmas choose between true life and death,

This Christmas choose between the good and ill,

This day I breathe in you my living breath,

This day you may do any good you will!



Oh come with me and I will come with you

And show you how to love my world with me

To bring your best to Ignorance and Want,

To be and bear the gift that makes them free.”



Christmas is the Lord’s new day, Rejoice!

Rise and recover, you still have the choice!

This is the day to loosen and release

The day to hear again His living voice.



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Filed under christianity, Music, Poems

Kenosis by Luci Shaw

Kenosis image by Linda Richardson

Kenosis image by Linda Richardson

Here is the next poem in my series of posts for Advent,  in which I read each day’s poem to accompany my Advent Anthology from Canterbury Press Waiting on the Word, alongside a series of reflective images kindly provided by Linda Richardson

Today’s poem is Kenosis by Luci Shaw. You can click on the title or the ‘play’ button to hear me read it and you can find the words, and a short reflective essay on this poem in Waiting on the Word, which is now also available on Kindle.

Linda shares the following reflection on today’s art work:

The temptation as an artist is to illustrate a theme, but here is the problem: figurative painting grounds us in the human experience but the poem we read today, whilst rooted in the imagery of human experience, is transcendent because it points us to the divine nature of the new born child.

There are monks who celebrate the Christmas child as The Little Word, a title made even more tender, coming as it does from men who live such unsentimental and austere life. Malcolm tells us that the word infans means, literally, ‘without speech’, and so my approach to this work had to go beyond pictorial sentimentality. I wanted it to transcend speech and form as far as I could because receiving God in the form of a helpless baby is untranslatable in terms of human experience.

I painted the surface with thin washes of paint, rubbing it down between each coat, like sanding or planing wood. I wanted the surface to have quietness and transparency. On the top of this surface, in the finest pen, I drew delicate white tracery lines suggesting the softest threads of wool (from a sheepfold) that might swaddle an infant. In the top left corner I painted a lighter area, again rubbing it down to help us see through it. It hints at a doorway, alluding perhaps to Christ who is the door, who knocks at our door and who himself, ‘hung..a door’.

As we come to this most beautiful of poems, all we can do is receive the vision and be stilled by its inner peace. ‘Surely I have composed and quieted my soul; Like a weaned child rests against his mother, My soul is like a weaned child within me.’ (Psalm 131.)


In sleep his infant mouth works in and out.

He is so new, his silk skin has not yet

been roughed by plane and wooden beam

nor, so far, has he had to deal with human doubt.


He is in a dream of nipple found,

of blue-white milk, of curving skin

and, pulsing in his ear, the inner throb

of a warm heart’s repeated sound.


His only memories float from fluid space.

So new he has not pounded nails, hung a door

broken bread, felt rebuff, bent to the lash,

wept for the sad heart of the human race.


Filed under christianity, literature, Poems