Before the marvel of this night
Adoring, fold your wings and bow,
Then tear the sky apart with light
And with your news the world endow.
Proclaim the birth of Christ and peace,
That fear and death and sorrow cease:
Sing peace, sing peace, sing gift of peace,
Sing peace, sing gift of peace!
—Jaroslav J. Vajda
I'm a bit of a news junkie—I admit it. I watch more than my weekly minimum daily requirement. What that may mean for my being an informed citizen is probably compensated for (in a not so good way) by viewing too much that is troubling. From the political wrangling that seems to dominate our national conversation, to acts of violence that can only be described as evil, the world sometimes seems to be spinning out of control.
It's against that backdrop that Jaroslav Vayda's poem becomes all the more poignant. Look at those last two lines: Sing peace, sing peace, sing gift of peace, Sing peace, sing gift of peace! He isn't content to simply ask us to "Sing peace." He insistently repeats the line five times! And along the way, listen to how those words unfold, with their softly sibilant ess sounds. The very sounds themselves seem to be a whisper of peace.
I sometimes tell the Chorale that we ought to look at the texts we sing as poetry first, before we think of it as a text set to music. Somehow when we do that, the words regain the shimmering glow that the poet meant them to have. So, in Vajda's poem, pause and feel the wonder in these words:
tear the sky apart (wow!)
I dare say that in everyday speech, you rarely use any of these words! And that's the point, isn't it? These words are reserved for this moment, to help us ponder the amazing things we are witnessing: the things that make up the marvel of this night! All of this wonder in the text is matched by the beautiful musical setting of composer Carl Schalk. Always calm (delaying anything louder than mezzo forte until the very end), Schalk's melody rises and falls with a contour that wonderfully complements the text. The music joins the text as we're invited in to this wide-eyed wonder at what God has done on this marvelous night in Bethlehem.
Perhaps my favorite phrase in this text comes in the second stanza. Still speaking to the angelic host, the poet says:
Awake the sleeping world with song,
This is the day the Lord has made.
Assemble here, celestial throng,
In royal splendor come arrayed.
Give earth a glimpse of heavenly bliss,
A teasing taste of what they miss:
Sing bliss, sing bliss, sing endless bliss,
Sing bliss, sing endless bliss!
There it is (see the bolded text)! Don't we weary people need a glimpse of heavenly bliss? Even the smallest "teasing taste" of this glory of God would be enough to make us want nothing but that!
Here is a performance of Before the Marvel of This Night by the GEWC from our 2012 Christmas concert. For more information on WINTERSONG 2017: Christmas with the Glen Ellyn-Wheaton Chorale, and to order tickets, click on the link on this page.