HAPPY HOLIDAYS – How this Carol Curmudgeon Ended Up Unwittingly Writing Three Seasonably Suited Carols Himself

carol 12I plead guilty to being a bit of a Christmas Carol Grinch.  OK, I used to be a BIG Christmas Carol Grinch, really loathing most carols and sometimes resorting to lip syncing rather than singing out loud when drawn into a festive sing along.  This bad attitude probably stems from having been raised in a secular household blissfully devoid of Christianity.  I still enjoyed all the pagan accouterments of the holiday, the decorated (Solstice) tree, the presents, a belief in Santa until I was five (OK, that may not be pagan).  But being an aggressively atheistic kid, and stubborn, I didn’t enjoy singing about “Christ the Lord” or “God” or “Baby Jesus”.  I admit my atheism at times was as obnoxious as the aggressive certainty of an overzealous Evangelist.

carol 9Now, I’ve put atheism behind me, but I still consider myself “spiritually unaffiliated” and still am a little allergic to the “C” and “J” words, as well as still a bit of a snob when it comes to the whole baby in the manger kitsch factor.  Nonetheless, 22 years together with Ed has welded me firmly to a family that loves singing carols together, and has taught me to temper my unfestive disdain, and join in with the music.

carol 10And truth be told, the music to most Christmas carols is very beautiful.  I still cringe a bit at the words, especially when it seems the lyrics of foreign carols have been mostly rewritten to interchangeable Christchild adoring homogeneity in English where there was a greater thematic variety in the original, and I still bristle at Beethoven’s Ode to Joy having been rewritten as a Christian Hymn (“Sacrilege, I say!”), but I’ve grown way mellower with age and will be happy to sing along with the program with all the Elders this holiday.

carol 8It is though a bit of an irony that I of all people, this longtime carol-phobe, have found myself writing what I only in hindsight realized were three perfectly seasonally appropriate carols.  They are songs from my musical “beTwixt, beTween & beTWAIN” (about which I have posted before here and here) called “Pilgrims from America”, “Jerusalem” and “Sea of Galilee”.  They are unreservedly suited for caroling occasions.  They may not include the direct references to “Christ the Lord” or “Baby Jesus” but they should nonetheless please the sensibilities of all carol singing enthusiasts, even the very religious.

beTWAIN“beTwixt, beTween & beTWAIN” is a musical adaptation of Mark Twain stories, in Act One short stories based in the American West, in Act Two a musical adaptation of Twain’s episodic travel memoir “The Innocents Abroad”, about the first American cruise ship journey across the Atlantic and all around the Mediterranean Sea.

The climax of the journey, and of the musical’s second act, is the travelers’ adventures in the Holy Land.  Mark Twain refers to them as Pilgrims as they disembark in Beirut and make their way to Palestine on donkeys.

Here is an excerpt.  I will post the lyrics for all songs at the bottom of this post.

Pilgrims from America

The song is lighthearted, for the most part.  But there is a reverential version when the Pilgrims reach Nazareth:

Next stop in the musical is “Jerusalem”, which overwhelms the Pilgrims with its majesty and contradictions.  The tune however is unironic:

Jerusalem

It can even be sung as a canon:

Concluding this segment in Galilee is a bit of a cheat, since in Twain’s book, and geographically, one gets to the Sea of Galilee before one gets to Jerusalem, traveling from the north.  But it was involving the Sea of Galilee that Twain wrote some of the more touching comic passages in the Holy Land section.  So, dramatically, it worked best for the musical to switch the travel itinerary.

First we get a jaunty version of “Sea of Galilee”:

Sea of Galilee

Most importantly for the musical, it was by the shores of Galilee, musing alone at night, that Twain had the most profound spiritual experience of his journey, one that made its way into the lyrics of the song and the final scene in the Holy Land:

carol 3So, there we have them, three songs I composed for a musical about Mark Twain that I believe are also perfect for caroling.  They are about The Holy Land, they have the right “feel” for caroling, and they should generally be appropriate for the sensibilities of the secular and the devout.  Do you agree?  I hope so.  Maybe they exist to atone for all my caroling grinchiness of the past.

Below, the lyrics / scene excerpts for all three songs, from Act Two of “beTwixt, beTween & beTWAIN”: The Innocents Abroad – In The Holy Land:

 

IN THE HOLY LAND – Excerpts

 

PILGRIMS FROM AMERICA

ALL:

Pilgrims from America sail into the harbor

Sail into the harbor

Come on land in Lebanon

Pilgrims from America sail into the harbor

We are on our way to the Holy Land

 

Pilgrims from America sail into the harbor

Sail into the harbor

Come on land in Lebanon

Pilgrims from America sail into the harbor

We are on our way to the Holy Land

 

Making the acquaintance of camels

                             (Getting earlobes bitten by camels)

Checking every stitch in the saddle

                             (Critically examining bridles)

Packing up for overland travel

                                         (Gathering the travel gear)

Memorizing inland routes

Polishing the riding boots

Haggling with the dragoman

Joining with the caravan

 

Pilgrims from America sail into the harbor

Sail into the harbor

Come on land in Lebanon

Pilgrims from America sail into the harbor

We are on our way to the Holy Land

 

NARRATOR:

I have a horse by the name of “Jericho”. He shies at everything he comes across and especially dreads telegraph poles; so it is fortunate that these are on both sides of the road. If I fell on the same side always, it would get monotonous after a while.

 

ALL:

Pilgrims from America ride on to Damascus

Ride on to Damascus

Burning in the desert sun

Pilgrims from America ride on to Damascus

We are on our way to the Holy Land

 

Pilgrims from America ride on to Damascus

Ride on to Damascus

Burning in the desert sun

Pilgrims from America ride on to Damascus

We are on our way to the Holy Land

 

Look at the American fellas

                                      (Pantalooned American fellas)

Underneath their Paris umbrellas

                                                         (White and green-lined cotton umbrellas)

This is desert fashion, they tell us

                           (Fashion of the Orient)

Wrapping endless Turkish rags

Round their hats and down their backs

Sporting thick green spectacles

Making quite a spectacle

 

Pilgrims from America ride on to Damascus

Ride on to Damascus

Burning in the desert sun

Pilgrims from America ride on to Damascus

We are on our way to the Holy Land

 


PASSENGER:

It is three days’ journey to Damascus. We must do it in less than two, because the pilgrims will not travel on the Sabbath day. We pleaded for the tired, ill-treated horses. We said the long trip was exhausting and therefore dangerous in the blistering heats of summer.

 

NARRATOR:

Nothing would move the pilgrims. They must press on. I am talking now about personal friends, good citizens, upright, conscientious, but whose idea of the Savior’s religion seems to me distorted. They lecture our short-comings unsparingly, and read us chapters from the Testament that are full of gentleness and charity. But apply the Testament’s tender mercy to a toiling horse? Nonsense – these are for God’s human creatures, not his dumb ones.

 

PASSENGER:

Twelve or thirteen hours in the saddle, even in a Christian land and a Christian climate, is a tiresome journey; but in an oven like Syria, and on a horse that is tired and lame and yet must be whipped and spurred all day long, till the blood comes from his side – it is a journey to be remembered in bitterness of spirit.

 

TWO WOMEN:

Pilgrims travel to the scene of th’Anunciation

Of th’Anunciation

See it here in Nazareth

Pilgrims travel to the scene of th’Anunciation

Pilgrims have arrived in the Holy Land

 ———————————-

————————————

 

JERUSALEM, JERUSALEM

 

ALL:

Jerusalem, Jerusalem

The Pilgrims in Jerusalem                                                

The gleam of white stone dazes them

The web of streets amazes them

Jerusalem, Jerusalem

The Pilgrims in Jerusalem

 

PILGRIM:

Just after noon we entered the narrow, crooked streets of Jerusalem by the ancient and the famed Damascus Gate, and now actually walk in the illustrious city where Solomon dwelt, where Abraham held converse with the deity, and where walls still stand that witnessed the spectacle of the Crucifixion.

 

ALL:

Jerusalem, Jerusalem

The Pilgrims in Jerusalem

The Sepulchre enthralling them

The mass of chapels calling them

Jerusalem, Jerusalem

The Pilgrims in Jerusalem

 

PASSENGER(S):

All Christian sects have chapels under the roof of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre; but each must keep to itself and not venture upon another’s ground. It has been proven conclusively that they cannot worship together in peace.

 

We saw the altar built over the very spot where the priests say the soldiers divided the raiment of the Savior.

 

We were shown the place where they preserve a piece of the One True Cross

 

(TWO PLIGRIMS, ALTERNATING):

– The priests tried to show us, through a small screen, a fragment of the genuine Pillar of the Flagellation.

 

– But we could not see it because it was dark inside the screen.

 

– However, a baton is kept here, which I thrust through a hole in the screen.

 

– And then he no longer doubted that the true Pillar of the Flagellation is in there.

 

– I could feel it as distinctly as I could feel anything.

 

 

ALL:

Jerusalem, Jerusalem

The Pilgrims in Jerusalem

The One True Cross bedazzles them

The Tomb of Adam addles them

Jerusalem, Jerusalem

The Pilgrims in Jerusalem

 

PILGRIM:

It is a singular circumstance that under the roof of this same great church Adam himself, the father of the human race, lies buried. There is no question that he is actually buried in this grave – there can be none – because it has never yet been proven that this grave is not the grave in which he is buried.

 

NARRATOR:

The Tomb of Adam! How touching it is, here in a land of strangers, far away from home and friends, thus to discover the grave of a blood relation. True, a distant one, but still a relation. Noble old man – he did not live to see me. And I – I – alas, I did not live to see him. Weighed down by sorrow and disappointment, he died before I was born – six thousand brief summers before I was born. But let us try to bear it with fortitude. Let us take comfort in the thought that his loss is our eternal gain.

 

(Canon)

PILGRIM #1:

Jerusalem, Jerusalem

The Pilgrims in Jerusalem

The gleam of white stone dazes them

The web of streets amazes them

Jerusalem, Jerusalem

The Pilgrims in Jerusalem

 

PILGRIM #2:

Jerusalem, Jerusalem

The Pilgrims in Jerusalem

The Sepulchre enthralling them

The mass of chapels calling them

Jerusalem, Jerusalem

The Pilgrims in Jerusalem

 

PILGRIM #3:

Jerusalem, Jerusalem

The Pilgrims in Jerusalem

The One True Cross bedazzles them

The Tomb of Adam addles them

Jerusalem, Jerusalem

The Pilgrims in Jerusalem

 

PILGRIM #4:

Jerusalem, Jerusalem

The Pilgrims in Jerusalem

The gleam of white stone dazes them

The web of streets amazes them

Jerusalem, Jerusalem

The Pilgrims in Jerusalem

 

PILGRIM #5:

Jerusalem, Jerusalem

The Pilgrims in Jerusalem

The Sepulchre enthralling them

The mass of chapels calling them

Jerusalem, Jerusalem

The Pilgrims in Jerusalem

 

PILGRIM #6:

Jerusalem, Jerusalem

The Pilgrims in Jerusalem

The One True Cross bedazzles them

The Tomb of Adam addles them

Jerusalem, Jerusalem

The Pilgrims in Jerusalem

 

PILGRIM #7:

Jerusalem, Jerusalem

The Pilgrims in Jerusalem

The gleam of white stone dazes them

The web of streets amazes them

Jerusalem, Jerusalem

The Pilgrims in Jerusalem

 

————————-

————————–

 

SEA OF GALILEE

 

PILGRIM:

We traversed some miles of desolate country; a silent mournful expanse. We passed a hill, and there, finally, lay a vision which millions of worshippers would give half their possessions to see – the sacred Sea of Galilee.

 

ALL:

I travel to the Sea of Galilee

A happy longing taking hold of me

The ancient mountains faithfully surround the

Hallowed, desert ground

Around the holy sea

 

I’ve numbered all the stations of the past

To reach the Sea of Miracles at last

Now I stand wide-eyed like a child before

The fabled, rocky shore

That hugs the ancient sea

 

PASSENGER:
During luncheon, the pilgrim enthusiasts of our party could scarcely eat, so anxious were they to sail upon the waters that had born the vessels of the Apostles. They sent a frantic yell after a boat that was speeding by.

 

PILGRIM(S):

How much? Ask him how much, Ferguson! How much to take us all to Bethesda yonder and to the place where the swine ran down to the sea – quick! – and we want to coast around everywhere – everywhere! – all day long! – ask him how much – anything – anything whatever!

 

GUIDE:
He says two napoleons – eight dollars.

 

(pause)

 

PILGRIM:

Two much! We’ll give him one!

 

PASSENGER(S):

In an instant that ship was twenty paces from the shore and speeding away like a frightened thing!

 

Two more napoleons were offered – more if necessary. But the boatmen sailed serenely away and paid no further heed to pilgrims who had dreamed all their lives of some day skimming over the sacred waters of Galilee and had journeyed countless leagues to do it, and – and then concluded that the fare was too high.

————————–

————————–

 

WOMEN:

As night falls on the Sea of Galilee

A sweet enchantment settles over me

I see the ghosts of songs from bygone ages

Floating by in stages

On the tranquil sea

 

The sea is bathed in dim angelic light

While scores of tales are given sound and sight

I feel the promise of a soothing spirit

All around and in it

Comforting the night

 

NARRATOR:

Pilgrims, sinners, and Arabs are all abed now, and the camp is still. Night is the time to see Galilee. In the starlight it has no boundaries but the broad compass of the heavens, and is a theater meet for great events, meet for the birth of a religion able to save the world. But in the sunlight one says: Is it for the deeds which were done and the words which were spoken in this little acre of rocks and sand eighteen centuries gone that the bells are ringing today far and wide?

One can comprehend it only when night has hidden all incongruities and created a theater proper for so grand a drama.

ALL:

The sea is bathed in dim angelic light

While scores of tales are given sound and sight

I feel the promise of a soothing spirit

All around and in it

Comforting the night

 

 

carol 11

About dannyashkenasi

I'm a composer with over 30 years experience creating music theater. I'm also an actor, writer, director, producer, teacher and general enthusiast for the arts.
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2 Responses to HAPPY HOLIDAYS – How this Carol Curmudgeon Ended Up Unwittingly Writing Three Seasonably Suited Carols Himself

  1. earlhilton@aol.com says:

    What a wonderful Holiday greeting! HAD A WONDERFUL CAROLING PARTY HERE LAST NIGHT. THANKS FOR YOUR CORDIAL GREETING! LOVE TO YOU BOTH. MIM

    Liked by 1 person

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