Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The return of the light

December 21 was always interesting around our house when I was growing up.  It was my parents' wedding anniversary and the family joke was that they had selected that date because it was the longest night of the year.  (That was a pretty racy joke for a parsonage.)  The promise of the light's return always meant a lot to those of us who grew up where winter is a serious matter.  Living in Minnesota, we knew that there was still a LOT of snow and cold ahead of us but at least the days were getting longer.

These days, there isn't a lot of light shining in any meaningful sense.  Our economics have been hijacked by the criminally insane, our politics are in the hands of folks who have zero respect for the concept of representative democracy, and our schools are run by people who do not care that children need useful information to survive.  LOTS of darkness out there.  And while we know the sun's light will start its return today in the Northern Hemisphere, there isn't much realistic hope that the light will return to the human spirit anytime soon.

In the meantime, we can still enjoy the cultural artifacts that have grown up around the light's return.  For me, one of the best is the singing of Handel's Messiah.  By the time I had become a freshman at the University of Minnesota in 1967, both of my parents and my two older sisters had sung it so I was delighted that the U chorus was going to perform it that fall with the Minnesota Orchestra.  I had been admitted into the chorus with the understanding that I would only be allowed to stay if I could pass the mid-quarter exam—which was being able to sing the bass line from For Unto Us a Child is Born.  This was no small hurdle because this is about as difficult as bass parts get.

Here we see Robert Shaw lead the Atlanta Symphony in a performance of that bass-killer.  Since I first heard his Messiah, there have been many performances deemed superior to his, but in those days, he was widely admired and we freshmen had his recording we used to help us learn that insanely difficult part.

Here's to the return of the light!

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