“A Christmas Carol” At 168

I have endeavoured in this Ghostly little book, to raise the Ghost of an Idea, which shall not put my readers out of humour with themselves, with each other, with the season, or with me. May it haunt their houses pleasantly, and no one wish to lay it.

Their faithful Friend and Servant,
C. D.
December, 1843.

In the Fall of 1843, English writer Charles Dickens found himself short of cash. With his wife expecting their fourth child, he decided to write a novel – rather than the stories which he had been supplying magazines and periodicals – which he could publish himself, thereby earning all the profits.

Dickens immediately hit upon the idea of writing a Christmas story, since he felt he could write such a tale rapidly enough to see it published before the holiday. Today, we can readily see the sense of his notion; we all know Christmas as a hugely commercial bonanza, but in 1843, Christmas was not quite the retail boom that it later became. Dickens’ wife is supposed to have asked him to write an uplifting, moral tale, because she felt it would be most apt for the season, and perhaps would help offset the fairly crass commercialism of Dickens’ motive. It is also true that Dickens had a frankly political motive in mind as well: he wanted to call attention to the plight of England’s poor and uneducated, and he felt a Christmas tale would provide just the right setting. [1]

Dickens right away set about to write his book, but he experienced an uncharacteristic “writer’s block.” He started several drafts of different stories, but none seemed sustainable. With Christmas less than eight weeks away, Dickens had yet to produce any usable material. Working late one night, the story goes, Dickens drifted to sleep over his writing desk. He awoke with a start at 1:00 in the morning, his candle nearly guttering and his fire gone cold.

Ever after, Dickens claimed that the story’s key features came to him – complete – in a sudden flash of vivid inspiration. He lit a new candle and started feverishly working on his story, writing rapidly. As far as can be determined from the surviving manuscript, Dickens worked with no outline and needed very little editing. The story apparently flowed from his pen nearly in its final form. [2]

With less than a month before Christmas remaining, Dickens took the book to the publisher. There was quite a bit of wrangling over the exact nature of the final product. Dickens insisted that no expense be spared, and he finally triumphed. The first edition of A Christmas Carol – among the most valuable first editions in English literature; a good condition copy was recently offered for auction by Sotheby’s, fetching £181,250.00 ($288,555.44) [3] – was a work of art: decorated with engravings, six color plates, and a handsomely adorned fine fabric binding.

The book was published Tuesday, 19 December 1843.

The rest as they say is history: that first edition of A Christmas Carol sold out rapidly; it has not been out of print a single day in the past 167 years. There have been dozens of plays, musicals, movies, radio dramatizations, and television specials, more or less based upon the timeless tale of hope and redemption. So closely did Dickens become associated with Christmas in his own day, that when he died in 1870, children in England were said to have feared that Father Christmas would have to die as well.

In our own time, Ted Geisel, Dr. Seuss, distilled the key points of Dickens’ masterwork into the modern classic How The Grinch Stole Christmas, which has developed a life of its own.

Dickens’ prose is rather convoluted and florid by today’s tastes, and his story is filled with digressions, so that abridged versions are most popular these days, but the basic plot of A Christmas Carol, its archetypical characters, and its message of the true meaning of Christmas are as valid today as they were in London in late 1843.

As we approach this Christmas in our frenetic and anxious modern world, I can do no better than to quote from the last paragraph of A Christmas Carol: … and it was always said of [Scrooge], that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Every One!

Jamie Rawson
Flower Mound, Texas

I haven’t missed it. The Spirits have done it all in one night. They can do anything they like. Of course they can. Of course they can.

— Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol, 1843

FOOTNOTES:

[1]Dickens and the Popular Radical Imagination, Sally Ledger; Cambridge University Press, 2007; ISBN 9780521845779

[2] http://www.sothebys.com/app/live/lot/LotDetail.jsp?lot_id=159615696

[3] http://www.themorgan.org/exhibitions/dickens.asp

FURTHER READING:

When first I wrote this brief piece more than 15 years ago, there was no Wikipedia to give easy access to this story. The current Wikipedia article is much more detailled and extensive than my piece, and it is well worth reading:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Christmas_Carol

ALSO RECOMMENDED:

The Man Who Invented Christmas: How Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol Rescued His Career and Revived Our Holiday Spirits, Les Standiford; Crown Publishers, 2008; ISBN: 9780307405784

In this wide-ranging book, Standiford explores the circumstances of Dickens’ unhappy childhood which profoundly influenced both his inclination to randical politics and his views of contemporary British society, the development of international copyright law, aspects of 19th Century British publishing, and manages to fit in the actual story of A Christmas Carol as well. All the while, he keeps the subject fresh and compelling.

The Annotated Christmas Carol: A Christmas Carol in Prose, Charles Dickens, Michael Patrick Hearn, Ed.; W. W. Norton & Company, 2004; ISBN: 9780393051582

Both an invaluable reference work and a lovely presentation of the work, copiously illustrated with samples from every famous edition’s illustrations.

Thirty-Two Years Ago In New Jersey

It is hard to believe it, but it is now thirty-two years since the Cal Band made its appearance in the short-lived Garden State Bowl! It was on Saturday, 15 December 1979 that the game was played and that the Cal Band justified the effort and expense of sending us to the East Coast to carry California’s name and her mighty fame to the jaded audiences in and around metropolitan New York.

What an exciting, even historic event it was! (There are many wonderful, memorable events in the long history of the Cal Band, but I have made it a sort of project to be sure that the Garden State Bowl is recorded and documented and such; in addition to posting this account, I always look for your additional memories, notes, tidbits, and corrections!) In December of 2007, after many years of meaning to/needing to, I dug into a stack of boxes that I have moved with me since I packed them up at Tellefsen Hall in June of 1982; I knew I must have some materials about the Garden State Bowl among these invaluable treasures, and so I did! I have my boarding passes from the outbound flight on Thursday, 13 December 1979, and the flight home after the Game in the evening of 15 December. Such are the paper-trails we pack-rat types can construct! I also have the travel poopsheets and such, a copy of the I Love New York travel guide from the Fall of 1979, and an “I ♥ NY” button! Ah, the memories!

The road to the Garden State Bowl was a rather circuitous one; the Bears’ up-and-down 1979 season under coach Roger Theder was interesting, to say the least. Though marred by a painful late-in-the-game loss to UCLA, (27 – 28!) and an expected loss to U$C, (14 – 24) the Bears managed a winning season, (barely: 6W – 5L) capping it off with a Big Game victory (21 – 14.) Then came the news that Cal had been invited to the Garden State Bowl! (The Garden State Bowl???) Playing Temple (Temple???) But it was a BOWL GAME!!!

This would be Cal’s first post-season appearance in 20 years!!! (In point of fact, slightly less than 21 years, being that the previous bowl appearance had been The Rose Bowl, 1 January 1959!) What excitement! What questions! Would the Band be able to go? Would there be any monies available? How many would go? How long would we be there? Was there a parade? When would we rehearse? Where would we rehearse? It was a heady time of questions, frantic if uncertain planning, and rumors.

Fortunately, things began to come together for The Cal Band. Though the Bowl provided little money for the Band (and the Athletic Department was unwilling to part with more than the allotted funds) Chancellor Albert Bowker saved the day with a last minute infusion of cash, stating that it would be ridiculous to present Cal Football to the nation without including the Cal Band. (It seems to me that the vast sum contributed was something like $10,000.00; any memories?)

There was an unbelievable jolt of joy down in 57 Student Center when the news was confirmed. Our Senior Manager, Steve Spafford, (Trumpet `76) broke the news to the gathered crowd and the cheers and whoops were excited and energetic, and seemed to go on and on. Because ExComm and AdComm had already begun working on logistics even without confirmed funding, there was a large map of New York city on the wall above the PRD’s desk. I recall looking at it and thinking, “Wow! We’re really going there!” It wasn’t the Rose Bowl, but in one way it was even more exciting: we were heading to “The Big Apple!”

The afternoon we learned of the Chancellor’s support, we immediately put together a Straw Hat Band to play at University House as a “thank you.” We knocked on the door and entered, apparently unexpected, as some sort of rather formal reception was going on. The brass and flash of an enthusiastic SHB contrasted mightily with the staid decorum of the Chancellor’s reception, to say the least. But we were well-received all the same, and Chancellor Bowker told us, “I can always count on the Cal band.” The reception guests also had various positive things to say, being very pleased at the surprise entertainment. (I have always suspected that whoever coordinated the thing had some inside information about the whole situation, because dropping in on the Chancellor unannounced seems rather bad form, but I really don’t know for certain.)

Since the Band would have to fly to New York/New Jersey for the game, a novel way to reduce the cost of airfare was adopted. In mid-year of 1979, there had been a lengthy and difficult strike at American Airlines. In order to attract business, American offered half-fare coupons to all travelers (these eventually morphed into the well-loved Frequent Flyer Miles we so enjoy today!) Cal Bandsmen combed hill and dale, implored family and friends for anyone who was willing to donate these coupons to help defray the cost of air transit. And it worked!

Members of ExComm and AdComm that year worked overtime-plus to arrange the logistics of the trip: busses, hotels, meals, and all the adminstrivia that is part and parcel of any large organization traveling, with some of those uniquely Cal Band concerns added on, such as where to play in New York. The DM and TA’s coordinated a “WTP,” as it was informally dubbed (“Winter Training Program.”) This consisted of two days of intense rehearsal, Tuesday and Wednesday in Memorial Stadium, and a three-hour music rehearsal in BRH Tuesday night.

Immediately before the start of WTP, many folks who lived too far away from Berkeley to venture home for the weekend simply remained at Tellefsen Hall. The TH Board had generously decided to support the Bowl trip by providing meals Tuesday and Wednesday during “WTP” at no extra charge to house members, and Tellefsen Hall’s popular cook, Myrtle Davis (Ladle, `77) agreed to do duty, but for the weekend and that Monday we were on our own.

It happened that 1979 was shaping up to be a bumper year for the Dungeness Crab fisheries, and Spenger’s offered fully cooked, whole crab at the irresistible price of $1.09 a pound! Accordingly, I proposed a crab feast. The interested parties all pitched in something like five bucks each, and armed with about $60.00, my brother Rob, (Trombone `78) and Lou Khazoyan, (Trumpet `78) and I drove to the Berkeley waterfront and stocked up on about 25 pounds of crab. En route back to TH we spent the remaining funds on sourdough loaves, tart green apples, sharp Tillamook cheddar, and a couple of huge jugs of Gallo Chablis. Thus was born what for the next couple of years was something of a minor tradition – and one I sorely miss these days, living in Texas!

WTP ran smoothly and productively. Many of the components of the halftime show were quite familiar, being built upon several successful drills from the 1979 season, with contributions from other seasons, so it was more a matter of fine-tuning and polishing than of actual learning. The show was ready in record time, and it showcased a wide range of Cal Band talents. The result was a show which not only displayed the breadth and depth of the Cal Band’s ability, but a show with which we felt confident of wowing the crowd

Despite the rather long days, WTP seemed over in a flash, and almost before we knew it, it was time to head east. After rehearsal on Wednesday, we loaded the rented truck with uniform boxes (remember those?) and the large instruments, plus all manner of other necessary equipment. Whew! After two days of concentration and work, we felt well prepared for the bowl game performances.

Through the miracle of modern technology, you can view the halftime performance on the web:

On Thursday the 13th, we had to show up at BRH at 6:00am, no exceptions. Sticking to the schedule, our busses departed at 7:00am sharp. The famous “Yellowstone Policy” was in full force. Steve Spafford had distributed an information sheet which stated: “We have alternates for those who aren’t on the busses at 7:00am.” And for once, no one was late! We looked about as respectable and presentable as possible, because we were to travel in coat and tie — it was a different world back then. So we bussed to SFO and flew non-stop to JFK.

Steve Spafford’s informational sheet was not all gruff and tough. It was entitled: “GARDENSTATEBOWLGOBEARSBEATTHEWHO?INFOSHEET” and it concluded with the statement, “This is going to be a greater experience than you can imagine, so be ready to have a great time and put on a great performance!” One detail I had forgotten after all these years was that every band member participating was asked to contribute $30.00 to the meal fund. “If we do get the money you will be reimbursed – if you are nice.” I believe we did get the funding, but I just do not recall that detail precisely. Of course we were advised to pack warm clothing, but I have to smile that on the “what to bring list,” in subtle Cal Band fashion, someone had slipped in, “… long underwear, gloves, mufflers, swimsuit …” And under “Optional equipment,” the travel poopsheet advised: “Parachute, Black notebook and camera to record your favorite CBR.”

We loaded busses at JFK and headed to our hotel in Clifton, New Jersey. I’ll never forget the hotel’s marquee on the highway reading: “Welcome Calf State” (who the hell was “Calf State????”) They quickly corrected the error. My former roommate Eric Abrahamson (Clarinet `76) who was in graduate school at Northwestern at the time flew to New Jersey for the game, and met us in the lobby of our hotel. A gathering of other alumni had arrived as well. It was really great to see these folks. To this day, I still feel that the most compelling of reasons to go to a bowl game is the chance to meet up with friends.

Friday morning we rehearsed at the Meadowlands in Giants Stadium where the bowl was to be held. It had been quite wet the day before, and the temperatures overnight were well below freezing. The result was a field surface that was both slick and slippery and hard as a rock! What’s more, the first-generation Astroturf carpet was decidedly “long in the tooth,” looking rather threadbare in places, and coming up at the seams in others. If you weren’t careful, a curled edge could easily trip you!

Though it was several degrees above freezing, it was nevertheless bitterly cold. The damp, chilly wind seemed to draw the heat out of everyone. I can still recall the image of bandmembers bundled up in down jackets and scarves as we ran through the halftime. Pregame, though, was another story all together. Off came the jackets and winter gear for the final run through (and right back on after!)

We then bussed into Manhattan to perform at Lincoln Center, the CitiCorp Tower, Rockefeller Center and sundry other venues. Sleigh Ride, March of Carols, (lovingly dubbed Marathon of Carols!) and other holiday fare along with several tunes from the 1979 season, and of course the core of Cal songs; we played for hours to appreciative crowds of harried Manhattanites. That evening we had time in Manhattan, and Bob Briggs (Cornet `48, Baton `71 – `95) had arranged for several of us to see A Chorus Line at the Schubert. (I think that the vast bulk of the audience was mystified, wondering what joke they had missed when the balcony erupted in laughter at the line: “That’s step – pivot – step – step – pivot – step.” We all cracked up because the line was nearly identical to an exhortation from the DM’s tower during the day’s rehearsal.) In another sign of just how long ago this really was, the balcony tickets for the show were $13.00! Yes, it was a different world.

Saturday dawned cold and clear. It was 26 degrees at 7:00am, according to a bank sign nearby the hotel. During the game, things warmed up to a balmy 36 or 38 degrees or so, quite a cold day for folks used to the Bay Area’s more moderate highs and lows. Saturday morning rehearsal was again conducted with patches of ice on the field’s Astroturf, and brass players had to keep their mouthpieces under their jackets to avoid “freezing” their lips. But the warmth of the day’s excitement made the cold seem trivial.

The pregame show gave us a taste of how receptive the crowd would be; though there was a rather small contingent of loyal blues who had made their way to East Rutherford, New Jersey to root on the Bears, there was a hearty roar from the crowd when pregame was over. The only jarring note from pregame was “the bomb.” It was apparently identical to every other Cal Band Pregame Bomb that we had ever used, but perhaps the cold weather had affected its chemistry, for it exploded in a huge shower of sparks with an unusually small amount of smoke. It looked impressive enough, but it was definitely not the usual effect.

The first half of the game saw a desultory performance by the gridiron Bears, but the game was by no means decided. The halftime show was a triumph! Opening with Fat Bottomed Girls (and the ethereal effect of vocals provided by percussion, basses, and anyone else who wasn’t playing!) moving on to Le Regiment de Sambre et Meuse for a display of classic Cal Band countermarches, then to the lyrical melody of Eres Tu, concluding with the rhythm and drive of The Letter; it was a well balanced and well performed show. Not flawless, of course, but a triumph. And the crowd went wild! Folks sitting on the row after the bass section were congratulating and complimenting the Band: “Go Bay-ahs! You guys are great!”

Alas, the football Bears could not muster the points to defeat Temple: Temple 28 – California 17. Perhaps the Bears had been jinxed; on the schedule in the poopsheet, someone had included for Saturday’s agenda: “4:30 p.m. Postgame — Band plays Palms of Victory.” (Surely we ought to have known better) The scoreboard at the stadium, featuring animated graphics of the most primitive sort, added insult to the injury by displaying a scene of an Owl – the mascot of Temple – flying over and pooping upon the head of a Bear! (Only in New Jersey!) But after the game Chancellor Bowker was reported to have observed that it was a good thing for California’s pride and reputation that the Band had performed at the game.

The post-game logistics were a challenge, as we had to get back to the hotel, change, pack up, and return to JFK for the flight home. During one leg of the bus trip, one of the bus drivers took extreme exception to the Band’s traditional bus driver greeting, and slammed on the brakes as we hurtled down the highway, sending Don Brownson (Trombone, `76; StuD, `79) flying into the stepwell of the bus. We thought he was seriously injured, but Don gamely continued from his prone position, “Let’s all say hello to the …”

We arrived back in California about 12:30am and back in Berkeley even later, exhausted, yet despite the loss, glowing with satisfaction. The Cal Band had fully upheld its end of the day.

There are so many memories from that trip: “Ten Columbus Circle! (Boom!) TEN Columbus Circle! (Boom!!!) TEN COLUMBUS CIRCLE!!! (BOOM!!!)” Masked “terrorists” on the plane flight (not even conceivable in this day and age!) Beefsteak Charlie’s. Mamma Leone’s. Broadway in its late 1970’s depths of tacky, tawdry, and seedy. “I ♥ NY” buttons. An errant and much-disputed subway token. Legal drinking at 18. New Jersey governor Brendan Byrne being booed loud and long during the pregame ceremonies. I can barely begin to recount all the tales told from that adventure. But what stands at the forefront are memories of a lot of hard work, a really fine trip, and a truly outstanding performance.

JAMIE RAWSON
(Bass, `77)

15 December 2011
Flower Mound, Texas

After I posted these recollections in 2004, on the occasion of the Twenty-Fifth anniversary, Scott Dreisbach (Trumpet `77) wrote to share:

My three favorite memories from the bowl….

1) The ridiculous amount of time Hutch (Jim Hutcherson, trumpet `75) and I spent at domestic customs trying to get the ‘bomb’ while you all were snuggy-wuggy in Clifton. Can you imagine the trouble we’d have THESE days!!?? Then, on the parkway. Dear Lord . . . Hutch was driving the rental truck and the last sign I saw before entering the on-ramp was ‘No Trucks’. Sh*t! Of course they don’t have off-ramps every mile or so. We were on that bad boy for at least 10 miles before we finally got caught and pulled over. ‘Whatcha got in the truck, boys’, says the cop. I repeat, Dear Lord! The last thing we put on the truck was the effing ‘bomb’! We were going to jail for sure, right? Fortunately, we happened to put the ‘bomb’ in with the ‘explosive’ DOT tag towards the uniform boxes. He let us go. Again, Dear Lord!!!

2) I didn’t get the memo that we were to bring ‘civies’ for our New York City free time jaunt. I ended up walking the streets of the Large Apple in band pants, suspenders, a white shirt, black shoes and spats. I do miss the spats, by the way. Anyhow, I got a ration of sh*t here and there, but basically I wasn’t badgered too much…..I mean, you must really be a bad-ass to walk the dark streets of NYC dressed like that, right? The cool thing was that I was walking around with about 4 other bandsmen, including MadDog (Tony McElligot, trumpet `78) I think, and they were amused at my dress as well. Anyhow, after leaving one of the pubs, and having had a few we came upon a remarkable sight. A 4 foot wide, 10 foot tall white board tacked to a wall that had been spray painted with the simple missive, ‘Welcome to New York, Scott’! Pretty cool, huh. Don’t remember who took the photo with me by the sign, but my right arm in trade if you know who has it….

3) On the flight home, I was granted the honor of NOT wearing ‘school clothes’ since I was in charge of field set-up, and had certainly put in my due on that trip. They had those little, itty-bitty bottles of red wine for sale, and I really enjoyed a sip. The sips turned into at least a half dozen bottles, which translated into sleep. Somewhere over Omaha, I slipped away (cause nobody wants to fall asleep in the general populace of a band trip….THAT’S from experience) to one of the planes ‘heads’. I didn’t awaken until the deployed landing gear signaled our reentry into the ‘safe’ confines of the Bay. I felt quite ill for the next day or two…..ugh.

Barbara Goodson (Mellophonium `77) also recalled:

I have vivid memories of the whole thing. First, that Karl Bizjak (Bass Drum, `74) was invited to perform as an alumnus. Then spending my birthday there and going out for drinks with some folks.

“S-C-O-A-H, Score, Score (with the accent).” “Ten Columbus Circle, Eleven PM (bump, bump, bump)” “IIIII, Heart NY (sung to the ad jingle)” Our bus driver BACKING UP on the turnpike. Having a “George of the Jungle” contest on the bus. Bob Briggs getting “merry” on the plane and singing, “if you knew Susie like I knew Susie” “Where you kids from? We’re from Berkeley! Ah, yeah, Brooklyn!” The only time I was warm on the whole trip was right after pre-game!

My brother Rob (Trombone `78) added his memory:

Add the story about the Manhattan matron, fur bedecked, at Lincoln center who (apparently miffed by a recent concert-going experience) told Bob Briggs, “You play better than the New York Philharmonic.”

Too, I would add about the teasing we got on the way out of the stands at halftime, “Yo, you guys gonna do drugs?”, “Got any marijuana?” This, because it contrasts so nicely with the warm post-show reception from the same people.

And digging through my email archives, I also accumulated replies and memories elicited by earlier Garden State Bowl postings:

A drinking age of 18 in New York… How about “Brown-man’s bus! Brown-man’s bus!”, we won’t mention the “New Jersey Four”, marching up and down the aisles on the flight home with airline pillow covers on their head chanting “Down with de Shah!” (this WAS 1979), Scotty walking the streets of New York with his spats still on (who and where was our uniform manager?)

Oh! And: “We want Sleigh Ride!”

Bob Colburn
Tenor ’77
(1994)

Speaking as a brass player who actually was at the Garden State Bowl in 1979, I was not aware of any Cal Bandsmen who had their lips freeze to their mouthpieces. We were all warned in advance to coat our lips with petroleum jelly before playing. Thus, the problem was one of the mouthpiece sliding of the lips while trying to blow at 100db+++ while marching high-step down the field on hard-packed, poorly-maintained, artificial turf. The other problem was that despite switching from slide cream and water to oil for lubricating the old slush pump, my slide still froze up when ever my horn was not blown for a period of 2 minutes or more. Therefore, advance warning was necessary when playing from the stands. We needed to blow through our bones for about 30 seconds before starting a song, or the first 30 seconds of notes would be B-flat, F, and D.

Douglas Fouts
Trombone `75
(1994)

Q: How about the pain of the freezing cold? I heard it got pretty chilly out there; lots of stories about lips freezing to mouthpieces!

A: A popular myth! The temperature at game time was 46 degrees. It got down to about 38 by the end of the game; not too bad for New Jersey in December.

We had a great halftime: Fat Bottom Girls, Eres Tu (with the patented Tony Martinez arm raises), a march .. I think it was Le Regiment, the one Ohio State uses, and the finale was The Letter with the stick dance (no sticks). Very fun and well-received by the 50,000 or so who were there in The Meadowlands. As we walked back to our seats, one fan yelled, “Your football team is crap, but you got da best band I ever saw.”

The REHEARSAL the day before was quite cold and windy. It rained the night before, and the water on the Astroturf froze by morning. The turf was hard as a rock. The temperature was about 35, but with the wind chill, it was probably down around 15 or so. That is really cold for Californians, but not cold enough to freeze lips to the mouthpieces.

Randall Rhea
Sax `79
(1994
)

I also recall a few thousand high school bandsfolk in the crowd, many of whom were very complimentary as we returned to our seats after half-time. I don’t think any of them showed up at Cal in the two or three years following the game, though… Maybe the California heat was as fearsome to those natives of NJ, NY and PA as the NJ cold was to some of us.

Alan Barton
Bass `78
(1994)

Wow, I’m the subject of a trivia question! What an honor. At any rate, Jamie, your memory serves correct. I marched pre-game and stood on the ladder for half-time. Why? Because I loved to march but felt my place at half-time was on the sideline. John Fleming (mellophonium, `74) created the precedent for this practice in 1977, I believe. Before John, the StuDs did not march.

There were plenty of interesting memories from that trip. I certainly remember playing banjo at the Lincoln Center – even if it was out in front. I thought my fingers would break off from the cold. The game itself wasn’t that cold; it was the rehearsal before it where the Astroturf was frozen. As for the antics on the plane trip home, I don’t remember too much because I was wondering if my back had been broken by a certain incident on the bus ride from the stadium. That was when the bus driver slammed on the the brakes after I led the traditional greeting, sending me flying into the handrail at the front of the bus. Ah, the memories….

Don Brownson
Trombone `76
StuD, `79
(1996)

Stanfurd was originally slotted to attend the Garden State Bowl, but thanks to a 21-14 loss in Big Game, they finished 5-6 and were knocked out of the bowl picture. Cal won on a Rich Campbell to Joe Rose TD pass, which has the distinction of being the only play in Cal history that was reviewed from the press box and reversed by the officials. (The Stanfurdites were so stupid they forgot to paint the entire end zone white, leaving a few inches of green next to the end line. The official thought Rose was out of bounds.)

Several other teams were rumored to have received the invitation to travel to New Jersey in December. Cal was a longshot with only a 6-5 record, although the losses were all very narrow to highly ranked teams like U$C and Michigan. On Tuesday, November 20, we heard that Cal received and accepted the bid, just after the year-end Band meeting. (Remarkably, the Fiesta Bowl- yes, the Fiesta Bowl- had also invited Cal, but the Bears had already accepted the Garden State bid.) Nobody thought the Band would attend such a minor bowl game. Legendary columnist Herb Caen reported in the San Francisco Chronicle that “the money to send the Cal Band just isn’t there, so All Hail will be sung a capella at the Meadowlands.”

Well, not so fast, Herb. After some amazing scrounging of half-fare coupons and political maneuvering by Band officers, outgoing chancellor Albert Bowker kicked in the needed funds to put the entire Band onto an American Airlines 747 to JFK airport. I remember the moment Ex-Comm announced that we were going; I’ve never seen a happier or more excited scene at 57 Student Center. I was particularly excited, never having experienced New York City or even a long plane trip.

The rehearsal on Friday, December 14th was truly Arctic. You may remember comments from the Monday Night Football crew this year about the winds in Giants Stadium. Well, combine 30 MPH winds with 25-degree temperatures, and you get a bunch of frigid, shocked Californians. I won’t even talk about the frozen, icy Astroturf (it rained the night before, then froze), which felt like marching on concrete. Everyone then remembered that a bowl in the Northeast in December is not a very good idea. (The Gotham Bowl went defunct after the 1962 Nebraska-Miami clash at Yankee Stadium … the Garden State Bowl gave up the ghost in 1981.)

The game was a disappointing Cal loss to the mighty Temple Owls. The halftime show was nothing less than a spectacular hit, sending 50,000 fans to their feet. The songs were Fat Bottom Girls, Le Regiment, Eres Tu, and The Letter (with stick dance sans sticks), basically a “late 1970’s Cal Band greatest hits” collection, showing remarkable versatility. The standing ovation from the New Jersey crowd was my favorite moment as a Cal Bandsman.

Thus ended the Cal Band’s only bowl appearance in the three decades between 1960 and 1989.

Randall Rhea
Sax `79
(1996)

I was a freshman this fateful year. We didn’t have enough current band members available to go, so a few alumni ringers were allowed to go. This provided the only time my brother Bill (alto, 74?) and I would be in Cal Band uniform together. I still have the cherished photo of the two of us. For that I will always be grateful to all who made the trip happen, and who allowed Bill to go.

The halftime completely rocked, and I thought we did use the sticks for the dance during The Letter. The Letter was great — I wish the current band would replace Misoverplayed for it.

Brent DeHart
FA `75-`78, Trumpet `79-`82 (the “Play”), EZD `83 -`85 or `86. (I can’t remember.)
(2007)

I was also a freshman that year, and had horrible tonsillitis which I contracted right before WTP. The show must go on, of course, so back East for me! After all the practice, my mello mouthpiece (playing a long horn back then) came out into my right armpit on jog-on at halftime, only to drop to the ground at the close-rest-up! Got to join in with the percussion and basses during FBG’s and sang every stinkin’ off-beat of Le Regiment! After flying back home to LA Saturday night, I went in to the doc Monday morning, and had my tonsils removed Tuesday. No regrets, whatsoever!

Cal Band Great!
Briana Connell
Mello ’79-84
DM ’84
(2007)

Correcting A False Interpretation Of “XMAS”

Recently I received a touching and sentimental tale of how a mega-hype retail magnate had corrupted his town into accepting the lowly and disrespectful “Xmas” to replace “Christmas,” because Christ no longer mattered. The story expounds at length upon how wicked it is to use “X” instead of Christ (because “X is the lowliest of letters and can mean anything!”) and that the use of “Xmas” is just an attempt to secularize the celebration.

Well, let me make a rather important point, as this misconception seems to be growing. I suspect that part of the reason for the present-day concern is that Christmas has been very secularized (and for a very long time) and there is a trend toward identifying this time of year as “The Holidays” in a generic attempt to encompass the many traditions that have celebrations at this time of year. (I have no dispute with “Happy Holidays,” yet I do find “holiday tree” rather affected … but I digress.)

As for the abbreviation “Xmas,” it is perfectly legitimate and a fully respectful, proper abbreviation of the word Christmas; “Xmas” means “Christmas,” and should be read as such. I know of no one who reads the familiar “Mrs.” as “mrizz” yet many folks do say “Eks-muss” when looking at “Xmas.” But it really is “Christmas.” And Xmas is no less respectful than writing “St. Nicholas” instead of “Saint Nicholas.”

Far from being a modern introduction, Xmas goes back very far into the history of the English language, and the use of “X” in as an abbreviation for “Christ” dates back at least to the 4th Century AD. The oldest such usage in the British Isles can be found in the Book of Durrow, The Book of Kells, and the Lindesfarne Gospels, all glorious manuscripts of the Gospels. The abbreviation has its origins even earlier times, very likely as far back as the days of the early Christian church.

In the Greek language used at the time of St. Paul and in the early Church, the Hebrew title “Messiah,” “anointed one,” was translated into Greek as “Christos,” with the identical meaning. The way “Christos” would be written in 1st century Greek can be rendered in our own Latin alphabet:

XPICTOC

The initial letter is the Greek chi, familiar to many fraternity and sorority folks; it is pronounced as a hard ch, translitterated as ch, and written exactly as our own letter X. As the initial of “XPICTOC,” X, was used to mean “Christos” very early on. And this usage was formerly extremely widespread with absolutely no sense of any short-changing or lessened respect in such usage. Today we use many abbreviations commonly, but abbreviations were far more common when everything was written by hand.

Elizabethan court records most often render the name “Christopher” as “Xopher.” The transcript of the Coroner’s inquest into the death of Christopher Marlowe spells out Christopher just once in the text. And the abbreviations “Xian” for “Christian” and “Xianity” for “Christianity” are commonly used in handwritten texts until the end of the 19th Century. In no sense is “X” a disrespectful or crass abbreviation in these usages: it simply makes sense in a world where many, many other abbreviations were commonly used.

Xmas shows up in America well before the Revolutionary war, but I cannot locate any reference to its first appearance in a commercial context. Undoubtedly, some sign-painter was conserving space or saving time, just as handwriters had been doing for hundreds of years. In today’s highly commercial, highly secularized, and highly diverse society, it may seem that “Xmas” is an attempt to take Christ out of Christmas, but it is no such thing. It is an abbreviation, pure and simple. It was acceptable to the holy brethren on Iona in the 6th century, and they were as observant and respectful as could be. One might just as well bemoan the fact that the “-mas” in Christmas is an abbreviation of “mass” (itself a shortening of the Latin missa, meaning – roughly – “complete:” Ite. Missa est.)

So, friends, enjoy this holiday season. Celebrate Christmas or Xmas, or Hanukkah or any holiday which you prefer. Have a restful, relaxing, contemplative time, and share it with family and friends. Love those who are here and recall those who have gone. I am deeply grateful to my mother who taught me about Xmas almost as soon as I learned to read (“Why Xmas? …”) and I think of her especially at this time of the year. Cherish what we have, and share with those who need. Above all, be at peace, be happy.

A multitude of blessings upon you and yours, my friends!

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
Jamie Rawson
Flower Mound, Texas

The Charge Of The Light Brigade

It was on this day in 1854 that Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s classic poem The Charge Of The Light Brigade was published in London’s Examiner. The Charge itself had occurred on October 25th that year – the renowned “Saint Crispin’s Day” of national pride in England, famous for the victory of Henry V over the French 439 years earlier. For most of the century which followed the poem’s publication, it was a classroom standard throughout the English-speaking world. The poem’s rapid, rhythmic cadence, suggestive of the thunder of charging horsemen, its use of plain, mostly familiar vocabulary, and its story of unquestioning valor and unthinkable tragedy made it a popular exemplar of literary artistry and patriotic virtue. Many a shoolchild had to memorize all or part of the poem for public recitation.

By the 1960’s, though, the poem was falling out of favor. It’s praise for mindless obedience to utterly brainless orders was seen as epitomizing all that was wrong with conformity and “the system.” It is ironic that at the time it was published, Tennyson’s poem was criticized as being anti-war and unduly fanning the flames of public opinion against its conduct.

The Crimean War was the first war in which public opinion played a crucial part because it was the first war in which correspondents could file dispatches almost immediately back to home via the telegraph. As the war dragged on and on without seeming purpose, the public demanded to know why its sons and brothers were in a far-off foreign land, ill-supplied and ill-led, dying of disease and in battle. All for a cause which few people really understood.

The report of the pointless charge of the Light Brigade roused public indignation against the apparently incompetent conduct of the war. Tennyson’s poem was written in an atmosphere of disapproval of the war and the military. His aim was not to glorify the war, but to be sure that people did not villify the soldiers who did their duty, even as they condemned the commanders who blundered.

Much less well-known is Tennyson’s other poem about the battle of 25 October 1854, The Charge Of The Heavy Brigade. This poem also commemorates a charge on the same day as that of the Light Brigade, but it is almost never recited, almost never included in poetic anthologies. For one thing, it is quite simply nowhere near as good a poem as Light Brigade. But, too, it is even more openly anti-war than its famous companion piece, and perhaps 19th century anthologizers felt somewhat uncomfortable with it. The Charge Of The Heavy Brigade concludes with an epilogue that is unambiguous as to its aim:

EPILOGUE

IRENE:

Not this way will you set your name
A star among the stars.

POET:

What way?

IRENE:

You praise when you should blame
The barbarism of wars.
A juster epoch has begun.

Note: “Irene” is Greek for peace.

And if it has been a while since you have looked at it, here is Light Brigade:

THE CHARGE OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE
Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
“Forward, the Light Brigade!
“Charge for the guns!” he said:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

“Forward, the Light Brigade!”
Was there a man dismay’d?
Not tho’ the soldier knew
Someone had blunder’d:
Their’s not to make reply,
Their’s not to reason why,
Their’s but to do and die:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon in front of them
Volley’d and thunder’d;
Storm’d at with shot and shell,
Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of Hell
Rode the six hundred.

Flash’d all their sabres bare,
Flash’d as they turn’d in air,
Sabring the gunners there,
Charging an army, while
All the world wonder’d:
Plunged in the battery-smoke
Right thro’ the line they broke;
Cossack and Russian
Reel’d from the sabre stroke
Shatter’d and sunder’d.
Then they rode back, but not
Not the six hundred.

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon behind them
Volley’d and thunder’d;
Storm’d at with shot and shell,
While horse and hero fell,
They that had fought so well
Came thro’ the jaws of Death
Back from the mouth of Hell,
All that was left of them,
Left of six hundred.

When can their glory fade?
O the wild charge they made!
All the world wondered.
Honor the charge they made,
Honor the Light Brigade,
Noble six hundred.

——————————–
Jamie Rawson
Flower Mound, Texas

A Personal Recollection of Pearl Harbor

My friend Dan Cheatham was born in 1936 on the island of Kauai in what was then the Territory of Hawaii. Although he was a small child on 7 December 1941, he has distinct memories of the attack on Pearl Harbor on neighboring Oahu. Dan was kind enough to share some recollections of this day seventy years ago.

It is hard to believe that 70 years ago today I was sitting down to our usual Sunday morning waffle breakfast, at the end of the row of plantation houses on the road leading from Lihue to Nawiliwili harbor. (Hacha, our three-lagged dog, always got the first waffle.)

On sundays, radio station KGMB, Honolulu, would act as the net control station and link together the mini 500 watt local radio stations – you know, the ones with the tall transmission towers – on the outer islands into something called the All-Islands Radio Network. We would then get local, outer-island, small town news: “The round-the-island county road was extended another 50 yards this week … Plantation Manager Jones hosted his cousins from Connecticut … Hawaiian Airlines open its new airfield at Port Allen … ” or whatever, island by island.

But on this this day, commentator Webly Edwards was saying, “Attention. This is no exercise. The Japanese are attacking Pearl Harbor!….All Army, Navy and Marine personnel to report to duty”.

It meant nothing to me, at age five, but it did to my parents.

On New Year’s Eve a Japanese submarine surfaced at the entrance to Nawiliwili and shelled the port. A shell went through a large gasoline storage tank and bounced back from the adjacent cliff and did not explode. On my last visit the tank was still there. I wonder if the shell is still in there.

We were located right next to the water tower at the railroad cut for the trains taking the harvested cane to the mill. Later, when they stationed a fighter squadron at Port Allen, the planes would buzz the water tower on their way back to the landing strip. Conversation stopped and it sounded as if they were taxiing up our shingled roof.

The Japanese community was long ago integrated into the local community – including my classmates. I am aware of no hostilities toward that community. They were one of “us”, compared to the treatment they received from Coast Haoles on the mainland … internment camps, et cetera.

It is a long story but this Aloha attitude was the origin of the 100th Infantry Battalion, 442nd Regimental Combat Team, the nation’s most highly decorated military unit, and the Military Intelligence Service – translators who served in the Pacific Theater.

The phrase, “Go for broke” was well integrated into our Pidgin English and went on to become famous as the motto of the 442nd.

Our house is gone. The railroad cut is filled in, or maybe it is the basement of the big store.

It is now fun for me to say that I was born in the parking lot of an Ace Hardware store.

Norden H. “Dan” Cheatham
Walnut Creek, California

Remember Pearl Harbor! Seventy Years On

It was exactly seventy years ago this day that the United States was attacked by the Naval and Air Forces of Imperial Japan at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The attack caused more American Naval casualties than had been incurred in all of the First World War. The results were devastating: the bulk of the U.S. Pacific Fleet was destroyed or rendered useless. The day occasioned great heroism upon the part of U.S. forces defending Pearl Harbor, yet also raised the question: HOW? How had his enormity come to happen?

In hindsight, it was obvious: a daring, extremely risky exposure of the cream of the Japanese Imperial Navy’s forces far into the sphere of United States Navy control to permit hundreds of aircraft to attack unready and unprotected military targets on Oahu. So obvious, in fact, that for the previous decade such a scenario was taught in classes at the Naval War College in Rhode Island, and at least three major naval war games around the Hawaiian Islands in the 1930’s were based upon that premise.

With diplomatic negotiations between the United States and Japan unravelling in late 1941, and with Japan’s history of unannounced, preemptive attacks followed by a declaration of war (China, 1894; Russia, 1905) the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 certainly seems to have been a foregone conclusion. So why were the U.S. military forces caught off guard?

Over the years there has been a vociferous minority view that the whole thing was a setup by the U.S. government in order to get the United States into the “hot war” of World War II. In retrospect, there are many acts and events that do seem hard to understand, notably the failure to prepare the forces on Hawaii for the real possibility of an attack. But it is never quite explained how the Japanese were gulled into acting as American stooges for their own ultimate defeat. (Unexplained as well is how allowing the vast bulk of the U.S. Pacific fleet to be disabled or destroyed would confer an advantage upon the U.S. in waging a Pacific war.)

However in the past decade, we have a fresh example of how a devastating enormity can happen even in the face of self-evident intelligence data with clearly interpretable information as to an enemy’s intentions. No credible observer has seriously proposed that the terrorist attacks of 9/11 were intentionally permitted to occur. It is not believable that the government of a free and open, democratic republic, would blithely allow such a spectacular horror to happen. Whatever the motives, no government would be likely to accept such losses, if only because such a scale of death and destruction would not be needed to justify whatever aims were allegedly being sought.

The notion that the astronomically vast amounts of intelligence data preceding either 9/11 or Pearl Harbor were “self-evident” or “clearly interpretable” can only come form that most well-focussed of lenses, hindsight. Once the inconceivable has happened, it’s obvious. And while both the attack on Pearl Harbor and the possibility of terrorist attacks using commercial aircraft were literally conceived of, the real debility in predicting either attack was simply this: whatever was imagined that our enemies could do was blunted by our expectation of what they would do. Just as very few analysts imagined that terrorists would be so reckless as to attack the Unites States within its borders, very few analysts in 1941 imagined that Imperial Japan would be so suicidal as to draw the United States into a hot war.

The lesson that should be learned from these two catastrophes is that it is insufficient to think about what one’s enemies are likely to do, it is necessary to examine and expect the worst they can do. Not so very pleasant a message for this season when Christians celebrate the birth of The Prince of Peace. But this is the lesson of history, if only we could learn from history.

——————————
Jamie Rawson
Flower Mound, Texas

The Stories Of Two Christmas Classics

This is a pair of tales best suited to Christmas Eve, but I do hope few of us will be tending to our electronic tethers on that day, though many will be, of course. Whatever one makes of the religious significance of the day, we all need a day off now and then, and these days most of our holidays seem somehow to involve some work. So relax, and enjoy the day if you can. In the spirit of the season, I offer the following tales of the unusual origins of two Christmas Classics. True, it’s fairly long, but many a good tale suffers when abbreviated, so here goes:

Surely it can come as no surprise that many well-known and greatly-loved Christmas carols received their first performance on Christmas Eve. I feel fairly certain that most all of us have, at one time or another, heard the famous and wonderful tale of how Silent Night was composed 194 years ago come this Christmas Eve under stressful circumstances on Christmas Eve of 1818 in the tiny hamlet of Oberndorf, Austria by the parish priest, Josef Mohr, and the church organist, Franz Gruber. But it bears repeating:

Stille Nacht, “Silent Night”, a simple, lullaby-like melody, may be the most beloved Christmas song in all the world. It has been translated into more than 200 languages, and it has been played and sung in almost limitless variety, from soloists on penny-whistles to massed symphony orchestras, sung by small children learning their first song or by famous artists at the top of their careers. And the powerful appeal of Silent Night comes through time and time again, no matter the presentation. (Well, personally, I draw the line at those irritating “musical” Christmas cards with out-of-tune, 7-note range straining to play Silent Night on a tiny, tinny piezo-electric speaker, and which, thankfully, seem to have been eclipsed by superior technology … but I digress …)

In a tale that might have been written by Horatio Alger, the creation of Silent Night features no famous composers, no publishers of widely read musical periodicals, no locally famous poets, and no well-known singers to give the premiere. The story is, in fact, as plain and unadorned as the beautiful melody and simple words of the song itself.

A few facts about Silent Night are now clearly known: the original German words were written by Josef Mohr, curate of the tiny parish church in Oberndorf, Austria. Fittingly, the church was dedicated to Saint Nicholas! The melody was composed by Franz Gruber, an organist and music teacher in a nearby village. The song was first performed for midnight mass at the little church in Oberndorf, accompanied only by guitar, Christmas Eve of 1818. The graceful melody was composed by Gruber in a matter of a few hours after Mohr had approached him early in the day on Christmas Eve. After almost two centuries of digging, these facts consistently bear up to scrutiny.

It was not always so. For decades the authorship of the song was unknown, and there was a great deal of serious speculation that the touching melody must have been created by a widely known musical genius such as Mozart, Haydn, or Beethoven. The lyrics were thought to be a Tyrolean folk song. This misunderstanding arose because sometime about 1820 or 1821, master organ builder Karl Mauracher journeyed to Oberndorf to maintain and expand the organ in the small parish church. During his time in Oberndorf, Mauracher either heard or simply read Stille Nacht. In any case, when he returned to his home in the Ziller Valley, he took with him a copy of the words and music, very likely with the permission of Father Mohr.

In the Ziller Valley, as elsewhere in the Tyrol, there were many families who made their living as travelling singers (one thinks of the Trapp Family Singers of The Sound Of Music fame.) Mauracher shared Stille Nacht with some of these clans, and it quickly began to spread across the Tyrol, and then across the German-speaking heart of Europe. The first recorded performance was in Leipzig in 1832, and the song was simply identified as a “Tiroler Lied,” a Tyrolean song. As the song became more and more popular, people began to speculate about its origins. Everyone wanted to know who had written this wonderful song.

By the mid-1830s, French and Italian translations of the work appeared. In 1839, the song was first sung in the United States near Trinity Church by Wall Street in lower Manhattan. In the 1840s, the King of Prussia was so moved by the song that he launched a search for its authors. Several people claimed to have written the work, but for various reasons these claims were obviously unsupportable. Respected academics now entered into the speculation. Josef Mohr died in 1848 without ever learning of the quest to discover the authors of Stille Nacht. When friends informed Franz Gruber that no less a personage than the King of Prussia wanted to find out who had written Silent Night, he penned a letter to the authorities in Berlin describing the origins of the song and asserting his authorship. Sadly, Gruber’s claim was dismissed as so many others had been. The legitimate author’s clam had been obscured by a sea of false claimants.

But soon, the researchers who followed up on the claims were able to verify the details of Gruber’s letter: names, dates, and locations all checked out. Karl Mauracher also revealed that he had copied the song in Oberndorf in 1820 or 1821. In 1854, after much debate, the authorship was finally fixed upon Gruber and Mohr, though some quarters continued to dispute the matter until an original manuscript copy of the music to Stille Nacht was discovered in 1997! The work is in Mohr’s hand, and his notation includes: “Melodie von Fra. Xav. Gruber.” This document has been confirmed to date from 1820 (it is not the first draft from 1818) and so it predates all other possible claimants’ versions, confirming beyond doubt Gruber and Mohr’s authorship.

But with the question of authorship finally settled, various myths grew up about the origins of the song, some more fanciful than others. The most common story concerns the supposed fact that on the morning of Christmas Eve, 1818, Father Mohr discovered that the organ of his church was broken beyond the abilities of local craftsmen to restore. The details in this tale can be amazingly precise; one version has the organ’s bellows being eaten away by mice! According to this tale, Father Mohr rushed to his friend Franz Gruber with a poem he dashed off for the occasion to have Gruber set it to music, and write it for guitar and choir.

Once Hollywood got hold of this basic legend, more details were added, with romances, scheming businessmen, and all sorts of stock characters populating the screen and television versions of the myth. Yet it is all so unnecessary: there is really no reason to add color to the story, for it stands by itself, in no need of adornment.

Josef Mohr said he wrote the words of Stille Nacht in 1816, before he had been posted to Oberndorf. Franz Gruber wrote that Mohr did indeed come to him the morning of Christmas Eve 1818 to ask if he could set his poem to music for guitar and choir. Gruber also wrote that he created the desired song in a matter of hours. There is no reason to doubt this account, and there is no mention of a broken organ or mice or any Hollywood trappings. The organ could have been out of order, of course, but no one now can say for sure. I suspect that part of the story arose from Karl Mauracher’s involvement. The song’s origin is no less moving, nor less inspiring, for the fact that Father Mohr simply loved guitar music.

To me it is rather inspiring that a young priest with no particular literary talent, and a small-town organist who was unknown outside his locality combined to create one of the best-loved and most widely performed, most frequently heard songs in all the world. Whatever inspired Mohr to pen the poem, and whatever inspired Gruber to devise so perfect a melody so quickly are now beyond our ability to know. But as I say, the story need no mythologizing; the truth stands on its own.

STILLE NACHT

Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht,
Alles schläft, einsam wacht
Nur das traute, hochheilige Paar,
Holder Knabe im lockigen Haar
Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh’!
Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh’!

John Freeman Young, second Episcopal Bishop of Florida from 1867 until his death in 1885, created the English translation most widely sung today:

SILENT NIGHT

Silent night, Holy night,
All is calm, all is bright,
‘Round yon Virgin Mother and Child
Holy Infant so tender and mild,
Sleep in heavenly peace,
Sleep in heavenly peace.

Another well-loved Christmas carol has an equally unlikely and interesting history. This is the tale of how O Holy Night, came to be.

On 3 December 1847, the Curé (“cure-EH,” the pastor of the Church) of Roquemaure, a small wine-trading city on the banks of the river Rhone in the South of France, approached one of the town’s most reputable wine-traders, Placide Cappeau; Monsieur Cappeau had been the official inspector of wines as well as mayor of the town and he had a local reputation as a poet. The Curé, Eugene Nicolas, (appropriately, we find “Nicholas” again and again in these tales!) was in charge of the local parish church in Roquemaure. He had an unusual request for Cappeau: he wished for Cappeau to create a poem celebrating the birth of Jesus, a poem which could be incorporated into the upcoming Christmas services.

This request was unusual because Cappeau was a decidedly odd choice to seek a Christmas poem from: he was a “Voltairean” (we might call him a secular humanist today) who rarely attended services, and who entertained great questions about religion in general and Christianity in specific. His reputation as a poet, however, encouraged Père Nicolas to approach him. Cappeau was initially disinclined to honor the Curé’s request. He felt thoroughly unqualified to undertake such a task. But a few days later, as he journeyed from Roquemaure to Paris, on the road between Macon and Dijon, he experienced a sense of inspiration and began writing. By the time his coach had reached Paris, Cappeau was convinced that he had a poem that was worthy of a great musical setting.

Cappeau had made the acquaintance of eminent civil engineer Pierre Laurey when Laurey and his wife Emily resided in Roquemaure during the construction of a suspension bridge across the Rhone. The Laureys lived in Paris where Emily Laurey was a singer of some skill who was well known to the famed comic opera composer Adolphe Adam. Adam had originally aimed to become a composer of serious opera, but his attempts had met with no success, while his humorous operas and ballets such as Le Postillon de Longjumeau, (1836) and Giselle (1841) earned him both fame and fortune. His reputation for devising light-hearted and spirited tunes grew, even as he more strongly desired to create a more profound legacy.

Cappeau arranged to be introduced to Adam. He hoped to pursuade Adam to set his poem, Minuit Chrétiens (“Midnight, Christians”) to suitable music. Adam and Cappeau met, it is said, in a Parisian Cafe about six days before Christmas, 1847. Their conversation was not recorded at the time, and the later accounts of it differ. But a few details remain consistent, and seem believable enough to be convincing: Adam admired Cappeau’s verses, and approved their sentiments, but he insisted that he could not be the one to set such stirring words to music. For one thing, Adam pointed out, he was a composer of light, diverting fare, and not one to create powerful, religious music. Too, Adam insisted that he was too busy to undertake even a small additional commission at the time. It is sometimes alleged, that, finally, Adam felt he had an overwhelming argument that could trump any persuasion that Cappeau attempted: Adam pointed out that he was himself Jewish, and did not celebrate Christmas nor did he acknowledge Christ as the Redeemer and Son of God.

This is a truly fascinating irony, and it makes for such a wonderfully good tale that it is often repeated, and I myself have repeated it in previous postings of this story. Unfortunately, I had propagated an apparent myth. A splendid notion is vaporized by a persistent fact: Adolphe Adam was buried with a Catholic service in the Cemetery of Montmarte in Paris; his obituary in La France Musicale of May 4, 1856, reads:

Les obsèques de M. Adolphe Adam auront lieu lundi 5 mai, à 11 heures, en l’église de Notre-Dame-de-Lorette, sa paroisse.

(The funeral of Monsieur Adolphe Adam will be held Monday, May 5, in the church of Notre-Dame-de-Lorette, his parish.)

It is also noteworthy that neither of Adam’s two memoirs make any mention of Jewish heritage or Jewish faith. His near contemporary biographer, Arthur Pougin, makes no mention of Adam’s religious affiliations in his 1877 book about Adam, nor does Baker’s Biographical Dictionary Of Musicians in the 3rd edition of 1919. Since these sources are both closer in time to Adam, and come from an era when a person’s religious association was generally considered far more “newsworthy” than it usually is today, it seems odd, if Adam were Jewish, that all of these sources would make no mention of it. And the 1995 edition of The Oxford Companion To Music is similarly silent. So I conclude, based on a good deal of follow-up research, that Adam was not, in fact, Jewish.

So how did this fable start? Well, for one thing, it just makes for a darned good, ironic tale. But another, somewhat more chilling possibility exists. According to The Oxford Companion To Music, in the 1930s, one French bishop after another banned Adam’s setting of Cappeau’s poem – known in in France as Un Cantique de Noel – from their sees. These bishops were among the most reactionary churchmen of their day, and at a time when Fascism was firmly established at France’s three major borders, it seems they were capitalizing on a wave of anti-Jewish sentiment to ban a tune which had “vulgar” origins. Claiming that Adam was Jewish simply furthered their aims.

In any case, in 1847, Adam was somewhat reluctant to turn his talents to religious music, for he had no experience in the field. There was no way he could hope to compose an appropriate melody for Cappeau’s words. But Cappeau continued to press him, and he assured Adam that he had the gifts necessary to do justice to the poem. Apparently, this argument won over Adolphe Adam; in any case, he agreed to set Cappeau’s poem to music. Three days later, Adam had the finished drafts of Un Cantique de Noël, (simply: “A Song of Christmas”) ready for performance. Cappeau invited the Laureys to return to Roquemaure with him so that Emily could debut the new song at the Midnight Mass in Roquemaure. They joined him on his journey.

The premiere of Un Cantique de Noël, was an instant success. Word of the new and haunting Christmas song spread quickly through the South of France, and by Christmas of 1848, Un Cantique de Noël was being sung in Paris, and from Cherbourg to Grasse, Strasbourg to Toulon. One popular musical magazine declared that Cappeau and Adam had written “La Marseillaise religieuse,” a religious national anthem. The song was enthusiastically embraced in churches throughout France, and its popularity in France has never faded, though, strangely enough, as early as 1850, senior clerics in France were criticizing the song as being “unmusical” and “without religious spirit.”

One wonders how such a claim could be made:

Minuit, chrétiens, c’est l’heure solennelle,
Où l’Homme-Dieu descendit jusqu’à nous
Pour effacer la tache originelle
Et de Son Père arrêter le courroux.
Le monde entier tressaille d’espérance
En cette nuit qui nous donne un Sauveur.
Peuple à genoux, attends ta délivrance.
Noël, Noël, voici le Rédempteur,
Noël, Noël, voici le Rédempteur!

Midnight, Christians, it is the solemn hour,
Where the God-made-man descends among us
To erase the original sin
And with his Father halts the damage.
The whole world expects in hope
On this night when we are given a savior.
People, on your knees, await your deliverance!
Christmas, Christmas, here comes the Redeemer!
Christmas, Christmas, here comes the Redeemer!

By 1856, a former Unitarian minister from Massachusetts, John Sullivan Dwight, had heard the beautiful song and he determined that it needed to be brought to America. Dwight was the founder and publisher of Dwight’s Journal Of Music, which would become the most influential musical publication in 19th Century America. As a leading music critic in the United States, Dwight continually looked for new music from Europe that would appeal to an American aesthetic. When he came upon Un Cantique de Noël, Dwight was sure he had discovered something that simply had to be published in America. As a Unitarian and ardent abolitionist, Dwight was especially moved by the words of the third verse of the song:

Le Rédempteur a brise toute entrave,
La Terre est libre et le Ciel est ouvert.
Il voit un frère où n’était qu’un esclave,
L’amour unit ceux qu’enchainait le fer.

The Redeemer has broken every shackle,
The Earth is free and Heaven is open.
He sees a brother where was not but a slave,
Love unites those whom iron enchains.

The familiar English words which we today know as O Holy Night are Dwight’s translation. Because he faithfully translated Cappeau’s anti-slavery sentiments, Dwight’s O Holy Night was unpopular in the South, and one large and influential Southern church convention officially forbade its use in their churches. This ban was formally lifted only within surprisingly recent memory, but was no more effective in Dixieland than it had been in France. The beauty of the song naturally endeared it to listeners despite its anti-slavery bent.

O Holy Night!

O holy night, the stars are brightly shining;
It is the night of the dear Savior’s birth!
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Fall on your knees, O hear the angel voices!
O night divine, O night when Christ was born!
O night, O holy night, O night divine!

Truly He taught us to love one another;
His law is love and His Gospel is peace.
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother
And in His Name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us praise His holy Name!
Christ is the Lord! O praise His name forever!
His pow’r and glory evermore proclaim!
His pow’r and glory evermore proclaim!

Thus was written one of the most touching and beautiful of Christmas songs, by a most unlikely trio of an agnostic, a comic opera composer, and a Transcendentalist. That its authors were so diverse in no way detracts from the song and its message. Indeed, it seems to me, such a stunningly beautiful product of such an unlikely grouping makes the song and its sentiments all the more universal.

SOURCES:

I had no idea of just how interesting the tale of O Holy Night was when I started researching it. I wondered, since Silent Night is so well-known, whether there might be something worth telling about O Holy Night. I quickly learned that Dwight was a Unitarian – I am always fascinated to find how much American Christmas music has been written by Unitarians – and I thought that was a possible point of interest. As I read further, I discovered that the tale was even more interesting than I had ever imagined.

Most descriptions of the history of this beloved Christmas carol are too brief to offer the depth that I have tried to provide. To learn the details of this tale, I had to look at many websites. There are really too many to list, but a search for “Cantique de Noel” and/or “O Holy Night” and/or “Adolphe Adam” and/or “Placide Cappeau” should provide ample data. However, to further fill in the details of the story I had to look into several French language websites. A search for “Minuit Chrétien” should provide a great deal of information. Any errors in the above details are most likely due to my own limitations in reading the French of these sites:

About Adam: “http://www.musimem.com/adam.htm”

About Cappeau: “http://www.nemausensis.com/Gard/cappeau.htm”

The translations contained herein are my doing; if there are mistakes or corrections that need to be made, I would gladly receive them. I have done my level best to provide an accurate and documentable account of this fascinating tale, and I would be pleased to ensure even greater accuracy. I had far rather be right than consistent!)

While there are several websites in both English and French which repeat the tale of Adam as Jewish, I cannot find one which offers independent verification (other than links to similarly undocumented sites!)

For more detail about Adam’s non-Jewishness, there are several reputable sources which make the tale implausible by complete absence of the topic; the ones I have referenced above are:

Adolphe Adam, Sa Vie, Ca Carriere: Ses Memoires Artistiques; Arthur Pougin, G. Charpentier – Paris, 1877; (Available on Google Books.)

Baker’s Biographical Dictionary Of Musicians, 3rd edition; Alfred Remy, ed.: G. Schirmer, 1919; (Available on Google Books.)

The Oxford Companion To Music, 10th edition; John Owen Ward, ed.: Oxford University Press, 1995; ISBN: 0193113066

Sources for Silent Night include the D’Aulaire’s 1994 article in the December edition of Reader’s Digest, the above mentioned Oxford Companion, and innumerable Christmas songbooks as well as numerous, well-documented websites, including Oberndorf’s informative official site which offers its presentation many languages:

About Oberndorf “http://stillenacht-oberndorf.at/en/start/index.asp”

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Jamie Rawson
Flower Mound, Texas

For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!