Tuesday, December 4, 2012

With peace and joy fully alive in our hearts

Christmas tree at the Palace Hotel, San Francisco.

The season of Advent is upon us, and it marks the beginning of the Western Christian liturgical year. Advent is arguably the most easily recognizable season of the year. The signs of the Advent season are familiar: Christmas trees and decorations, both in homes and in public places, are in abundance in cities and townships from coast to coast in the U.S. and throughout much of the world.

It's hard to believe that Christmas Day is but three weeks from today as I write this post.

Advent commences on the fourth Sunday before Christmas. This year it began on December 2, and it's a season which is observed in many Western Christian churches across the world in preparation for the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus at Christmas. The term advent is an anglicized version of the Latin word adventus, which means "arrival" or "coming" -- anticipating the coming of Jesus.

This is a time of spiritual reflection and anticipation. As Advent begins, so, too, does the holiday season of music, found in both sacred hymns and carols and in secular songs.

An early feature of the celebration of the Christmas season, the rise in the importance and popularity of the carols can be attributed to the influence of Francis of Assisi. It should be noted that chants, litanies and hymns were written and sung in Latin and were used during the church liturgy, rather than popular songs. And, yet, today, whether sung in English, French, Latin or Italian -- or any other language for that matter -- these hymns ring out as beautiful sounds to our collective ears.

On the occasion of the arrival of this holiday season, my wife and I recently enjoyed a lovely evening with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra as they welcomed Pink Martini in concert at Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco. The "little orchestra" from Portland, Oregon, draws its inspiration from music from all over the world -- it crosses genres of classical, jazz and classic pop -- and its repertoire includes songs sung in English, Spanish, Italian, French, German, Japanese, Chinese, Turkish, Hebrew and Arabic.

During the band's two-hour, 20-song concert, Pink Martini performed the familiar "The Little Drummer Boy", "We Three Kings" and "Auld Lang Syne" in the spirit of the holiday season as well as a couple of their own original holiday songs, "Congratulations – A Happy New Year Song" and "A Snowglobe Christmas". 

However, one holiday song which made an emotional impact with me was "La Vergine Degli Angeli", written by the Italian Romantic composer Giuseppe Verdi. The song title, which translates to "The Virgin of the Angels", was written for the opera La forza del destino (The Force of Destiny), which had its debut in 1862. On this evening, "La Vergine Degli Angeli" was beautifully interpreted by Pink Martini vocalist China Forbes.

"La Vergine Degli Angeli" appears on Pink Martini's holiday music album 'Joy to the World' and I encourage each of you to listen for both its beautiful lyrics and passionate vocal quality.

La vergine degli angeli

La vergine degli angeli
Mi copra del suo manto
E me protegga vigile
Di dio l'angelo santo
La vergine degli angeli
E me protegga me protegga
L'angiol di dio
E me protegga
L'angiol di dio
Me protegga
E me protegga

The Virgin of the Angels

The Virgin of the Angels
Covers me with her mantle,
And protects me vigilantly
Sacred angel of God.
The Virgin of the Angels
And/She protects me, protects me,
The angel of god
And/She protects me
The angel of god protects me.
And protects me.

There are lessons we can learn during Advent. 

"During this season," says San Francisco's Grace Cathedral on its website, "we wait and hope for the arrival of a state of perfect peace and harmony. We still live in a world where violence and injustice exist and so, throughout Advent, we slow down, and endeavor to live in a way as though these problems have all been washed away. Advent is also an active sort of waiting, in that we strive to do justice and to love our neighbors with renewed vigor.  We try to seek out places where violence and iniquity exist, and step into them with peace and joy fully alive in our hearts." 

May this be a season of peace and joy for all of us -- and, may we all take part in promoting the spirit of sharing peace and joy.

To hear the entire Pink Martini 'Joy to the World' holiday music CD: http://youtu.be/RcIUz9jop5E

1. White Christmas
2. White Christmas (part II) featuring Saori Yuki
3. Shchedryk (Ukrainian Bell Carol)
4. Santa Baby
5. Elohai, N’tzor
6. Little Drummer Boy
7. Congratulations – A Happy New Year Song
8. Do You Hear What I Hear?
9. La Vergine Degli Angeli
10. We Three Kings
11. A Snowglobe Christmas
12. Ocho Kandelikas (Eight Little Candles)
13. Silent Night
14. Auld Lang Syne 

Christmas tree at the Palace Hotel, San Francisco, by Michael Dickens.
Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.

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