Thursday, December 10, 2009

A Christmas Memory

Thinking about Christmas music, as I have been, recently, this memory surfaced. I retrieved this photo from my boyhood album and am endeavouring to piece together the story from my fragmentary memory as best I can.

One Sunday morning in Novemeber of 1963, Sunday School teacher, Norm Butler, informed his class of truculent and recalcitrant sixteen year-old boys that the group was to present a piece in the Young Peoples Christmas program. He passed around a passage, an audition of sorts, for us all to read, and I flubbed my reading rather badly. Notwithstanding, he informed the class that he was choosing me to perform the reading. He said that I had been nervous during the audition but that I had a good speaking voice.

Now I wonder whether I wasn't, in point of fact, the least awful choice out of a group of miserable teenage boys. It was a tough group that, apparently later worked to get Norm tossed as our teacher. I didn't know about it at the time, but we soon had a new teacher, and I found out later that some sort of rebellion had transpired. Poor Norm; he was a good man trying his best with a bad group; almost anybody would have has a tough time with that group.

I don't know why but I never thought to renege from the task that I had been given. I wasn't exactly a good church boy at that time, but I went along with it and performed my reading about Silent Night and how that carol came in to being. It was Norm who took that photo of young AC rehearsing the reading.

I read my piece, went home and thought no more of it, but come the next Sunday received some praise from Norm who said the he and others of the audience thought that my reading was the highlight of the evening. While I still feel a little warm over that bit of praise, I am also realistic enough to realize that being the highlight of what was, doubtless, a very amateurish evening of poor performances was not a exactly a monumental accomplishment.

Wow! I just remembered something that I had long forgotten about that night. My class friend, Al Bowen, played Silent Night on his trombone after my reading. He was the other, not too-evil-boy in that class. Al went on to become a well known, devout pastor in Toronto, while I went on to obscurity and agnosticism. How's that for diverging paths?

There are several versions of how Silent Night came into being, but I think I can remember almost verbatim one line from my two-page reading. Apparently, on Christmas Eve, "the organist of the church, Franz Gruber, made an alarming discovery. The organ would not play." My piece went on to say that the Silent Night was composed as a song that could easily be sung sans organ accompaniment. While those exact facts are certainly in dispute, at least the broad strokes are more or less correct. Following is some of what Wikipedia has to say.

On December 24, 1818 Joseph Mohr journeyed to the home of musician-schoolteacher Franz Gruber who lived in an apartment over the schoolhouse in nearby Arnsdorf. He showed his friend the poem and asked him to add a melody and guitar accompaniment so that it could be sung at Midnight Mass. His reason for wanting the new carol is unknown. Some speculate that the organ would not work; others feel that the assistant pastor, who dearly loved guitar music, merely wanted a new carol for Christmas.

Later that evening, as the two men, backed by the choir, stood in front of the main altar in St. Nicholas Church and sang "Stille Nacht! Heilige Nacht!" for the first time, they could hardly imagine the impact their composition would have on the world.

Karl Mauracher, a master organ builder and repairman from the Ziller Valley, traveled to Oberndorf to work on the organ, several times in subsequent years. While doing his work in St. Nicholas, he obtained a copy of the composition and took it home with him. Thus, the simple carol, began its journey around the world as a "Tyrolean Folk Song."

See Wikipedia for the full story.

What pleases me most about this memory is that a young AC was there in a small way for poor, beleaguered Norm Butler that night. The adult me, who became a teacher, feels bad for whatever he endured as a teacher of that class.


Bernie said...

Bittersweet memories....:-) Hugs

PS - your blog takes a very long time to open, has been the last 3 post....

Pearl said...

hum, wonderful how memories can seem gone and then unfold so completely at the right spark.

I suppose in any kid's christmas concert, high praise is relative but still best of any crop is still encouragement to float on.

kids can do wild things. one class I was in conspired to give the teacher a nervous breakdown thru harassment. pretty much worked too. the hazards of teachers being listed in the phone book...

Donna said...

What a great memory Ac! Love the pic too!!! And I'm with Bernie...the blog takes forever to open...wonder why?! Never happened before...Happy night to you and Cuppa!hughugs

Mary said...


What a treasured memory. I'm so glad Norm thought to take the picture.

Enjoyed hearing about your experience and the history of Silent Night.

Try to stay warm. The wind here sure has a bite to it.


Lorna said...

Al Bowen? Anglican minister and activist? Father of Anna Bowen, reader at my daughter's wedding and Young Bowen whose first name i can't remember who is a smashingly good musician? Ben, I think ? that Al Bowen?

Barry said...

Very interesting. It is amazing the memories still flowing around in our brains waiting for the right key to open them.

And what a great memory that was.

By the way, your page is opening fine at the moment. Took no time at all.

KGMom said...

Ahh, AC--don't go there; don't go regretting youthful indiscretion or mischief or whatever manner of miscreance committed.
History has been writ and cannot be undone.

Ann, Chen Jie Xue 陈洁雪 said...

Lots of people travel to New Zealand, just not back packing.

May be you will want to change your mind.

Once I was travelling, an israeli man in his 70s went black water rafting with his wife in her 60s. We were in the same group. After that, he says, he has done everything he wants to do.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the story behind "Silent Night". Very cool.
and we are traveling back in time here a bit to 1963.. I was beginning my senior year in high school then, graduating in 1964. I love your pictures here. Christmas blessings to you! Come and visit me as I plan on enjoying your future post! Found you through QMM. The Bach

Ruth said...

You hardly look like a S.School troublemaker all decked out in that suit. Funny how we can see the other person's perspective so much better as we get older (happens to me frequently when I think of my parents)

Amrita said...

Lovely story AC.
Really like your blog

Jinksy said...

How kind, to spare a thought for that long ago teacher! Understanding makes all the difference...

Janet said...

What a wonderful post for my return to my blogging friends. I'm sure Norm remembered you fondly as a student who cooperated, and did it gracefully.