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Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Music to End All Christmas Music, Part I: AVE MARIA

I cannot stress enough the Power music holds as an emotional and psychological indoctrination tool. To me, music is a drug. I've used it and abused it. Part of my use and abuse took me to St. Olaf College which each year presents the Christmas Concert to end all Christmas Concerts.

If academics don't kick your butt at Olaf, then the preparation for the St. Olaf Christmas Concert during Fall Finals will.  Once I sang in this Christmas Concert as a freshman I had already sung with Anton Armstrong as my director for two choir camps - All-State and Summer Camp. The St. Olaf Choir is world-renown - as is the PBS and NPR broadcast of the Christmas Concert every Christmas season which includes six choirs, orchestra and handbells.

Every four years they film the concert. Every fourth year happened to be my freshman year.

What does this have to do with Jesus?

If you're not already saved (as so many Lutherans aren't ;) surround yourself with some of the most beautiful singing in the world, hold hands with the singers, feel the Vibration of Sound pass through the entire body of singers, listen to the overtones ring long after a song is finished.  If Jesus can't save you, Ave Maria will.

The tenor I sat in front of was passionate and operatic. O lord, the chills that went through my body. And the tenors from the St. Olaf choir (purple robes)?! O Jesus.  Too bad the director blocks your view of me - for the most part. I'm surprised I wasn't foaming at the mouth.

I have posted three arrangements of Franz Biebl's Ave Maria; The St. Olaf one was sung in a converted gymnasium with likely over 100 men singing it, producing a much different sound than a small group as demonstrated by the second recording by Chanticleer.  The third version is sung by young women, Pro Musica - by far the most crystal clear of all the recordings. I've become partial to the women singing it, in part because the video demonstrates it as it was supposed to be - with the smaller choir in the cathedral choir loft. I've heard and seen Biebl's Ave Maria sung this way too - by men - definitely in the St. Olaf Chapel and very likely for one of many choir festivals I attended in St. John's Abbey - built by Marcel Breuer.

By the time the top St. Olaf recording was made, I'd already struggled with Ave Maria because of its Catholic origin - the first blatantly Catholic songs I sang as a solo in high school. As a fundagelical I struggled to wrap my head around that - and though I nailed Schubert's version, I believed that singing such a beautiful song in praise of the Virgin Mary was playing with pagan fire.

But - I sang it and loved singing it. When I hear Biebl's version again today - in waves of music memory my full body trembles the way it did each time I've heard this song - and I see more than Jesus - I see the Goddess - your Mother, my Mother - I see her sitting in awe of her child.

For every fundie girl out there taught to suppress worship of Wise Women - this song is for You.

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