Another one of the songs which my choir is singing in our upcoming concert is Torches, which is a modern carol. It was written by John Joubert, a British composer who wrote this piece in 1951. It was a surprise to me when I realised that Torches was a fairly recent piece, because it has an older, robust sound to it. The tune is very catchy, and will stick in your memory once you've sung- or listened- to it. The lyrics tell of people (presumably the shepherds) running to Bethlehem- with torches- to see the newborn Christ child. I sang Torches for the first time in the choir at the church choir I used to be in, and was quite happy to have another opportunity to sing the carol; it's a lot of fun.
The above image is from the 1947 movie Miracle On 34th Street, which is a Christmas classic starring Natalie Wood, Maureen O'Hara, John Payne, and Edmund Glenn. Glenn plays Kris Kringle, who is hired by Doris Walker (O'Hara) to be Santa in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade when their original Santa turns up drunk. The new Santa proves immensely popular and Macy's wishes to hire him for the Christmas season. Doris is less enthusiastic, because Kris claims to actually be Santa Claus, and she has always been firm about telling her daughter Susan (Wood) that Santa isn't real. She doesn't want her daughter getting confused, and also figures that Kris is either refusing to tell the truth, or is crazy. It turns out that Kris lives at a nursing home, and the doctor there assures Doris that he is harmless. The home is a considerable distance from the store, however, so they need to find Kris a place to stay in the city for the duration of his employment. In the end, Doris' neighbour Fred (Payne) who is trying to thaw Doris' cold and cynical heart and also bring some joy into Susan's very pragmatic and unimaginative life, lets Kris move in with him. Before that, however, the plan had been for Mr. Shellhammer- the head of the toy department- to ask Kris to stay with him and his wife. Shellhammer is afraid that his wife won't agree, so gets her liquored up before asking, then puts her on the telephone with Doris. In a giddy haze, she blurrily informs them that "We'd love to have Santa Claus come live with us..."
"Now there is more to a bluejay than any other animal. He has got more different kinds of feeling. Whatever a bluejay feels he can put into language, and not mere commonplace language, but straight out and out book talk, and there is such a command of language. You never saw a bluejay get stuck for a word. He is a vocabularized geyser. Now you must call a jay a bird, and so he is in a measure, because he wears feathers and don't belong to any church, but otherwise he is just as human nature made him. A bluejay hasn't any more principle than an ex-congressman, and he will steal, deceive and betray four times out of five; and as for the sacredness of an obligation, you cannot scare him in the detail of principle. He talks the best grammar of all the animals. You may say a cat talks good grammar. Well, a cat does; but you let a cat get excited, you let a cat get at pulling fur with another cat on a shed nights and you will hear grammar. A bluejay is human; he has got all a man's faculties and a man's weakness. He likes especially scandal; he knows when he is an ass as well as you do." -Mark Twain, Morals Lecture, 7/15/1895
Well, for quite some time on Sunday nights- formerly movie night- we've been watching the Hallmark show When Calls The Heart. This was not, in case anyone was wondering, my idea. A couple of my sisters wanted to watch it because they are are big fans of Hallmark movies and also of the Canadian West series of books by Janette Oke upon which the show is based. No accounting for taste. To be fair, I haven't read the books which I'm told bear little resemblance to the show, but I have seen a few Hallmark movies and... yes, well... ahem. But I resolved to watch the series if not with an open mind and an enthusiastic spirit, then at least with benign resignation. So watch the show we did, and it is...harmless. When Calls The Heart doesn't exactly set the pond on fire, but it's very wholesome, which isn't a bad thing. And it did elicit some laughs- well, snickers- when Lori Loughlin's character (Abigail) was righteously taking the corrupt mayor to task for his bribery scandal. She was written out of the show off screen- so she could deal with her own bribery scandal- by having Elizabeth (the main character) write in her journal that Abigail had to move back east to care for her sick mother. A lot of the characters are pretty bland- especially the school kids- but again, that's not the end of the world. What really grated on my nerves was the complete jettisoning of any pretence of historical accuracy or even reality.
For example, this picture shows women's hairstyles from the time period in which the show takes place- around 1910.
And this is what the main characters in the show look like:
The women- in a western frontier mining/lumber town- are all heavily made up, with bright- really bright- lipstick. The town- again, frontier, mostly using horses and wagons- is ridiculously clean and the company houses which most of the characters live in are absurdly nice- frequently luxurious. Here's what a typical mining town actually looked like:
And here's Hope Valley, mysteriously free of even a wagon rut or horse dropping:
Perhaps these seem like mere cosmetic defects, and they doubtlessly are; I probably wouldn't pick on them if other, more egregious inaccuracies didn't irritate me so much. The big problem is that no one in this show behaves in a way that people from that time period would. Everyone has very modern sensibilities: all of the women in this town- that we see on a regular basis, anyway- have careers outside the home. All of them. This, I needn't tell you, is very unlikely-virtually impossible. We also frequently have the women of the town hanging out in the saloon until all hours of the night; this raises nary an eyebrow, and neither does a courting couple dining alone together in the guy's house at night. The early 1900's prairie town is remarkably progressive: women lawyers and architects make appearances, along with more mundane nurses, teachers, and dressmakers, etc. And there is a woman mayor- Loughlin's character- which is especially remarkable, because Canadian women didn't even have the right to vote at that time. The characters also use modern expressions which people of that time period would not have used. It's like the writers put zero effort into making the show even remotely accurate to the era it's set in. I think that the one error which, for me, summed up the major problem with this show is one where the local minister is using an English Standard Version of the Bible (the E.S.V. is perfectly obvious on the cover). When I saw it, my thought was, 'Oh, come on, you're not even trying.' The first E.S.V. was published in 2001. Would it have been so difficult to pick up a King James Version, or just use a plain covered Bible? This level of carelessness and inaccuracy permeates the entire show. Doubtless if the plot lines and characters were more interesting, I'd be more apt to overlook all of the needless flaws, but generally the plots are obvious and predictable. While this can no doubt be comforting- like woolly pyjamas- it leaves lots of time to pick the show apart if one is so inclined... which I admittedly was. When Calls The Heart is exactly what it aims to be: visual comfort food, undemanding escapism and complete fantasy. It's not my cup of tea but, despite my carping, I can see how it would be for lots of people just looking for something to watch while unwinding. Certainly my sisters enjoyed it, and it's definitely a step or two up from Hallmark movies.
When I was in elementary school one of the grade five teachers would, every couple of years, put on a big production of The Twelve Days Of Christmas. It was his class' contribution to the Christmas concert, and was always the finale. It was set up as a court case, with a girl on trial before a judge for killing her boyfriend; the song was her defence. This was a huge undertaking which required aid from many students from different classes and grades, as large numbers of paper mache birds with tissue paper feathers needed to be made, and a supporting cast of maids, dancers, lords, pipers, and drummers were required. I remember when I was a first grader, I and several classmates were selected to be lords a-leaping: we were handed garbage bags to wear as capes and instructed to jump up and down in place when sent out on the stage. In grade three, I was a piper piping, issued a recorder for the event. At the end of the song, the stage would be littered with 12 trees containing partridges, 22 turtle doves, 30 french hens, 36 calling birds, 40 gold rings, 42 geese a-laying, 42 swans a-swimming, 40 maids a-milking, 36 ladies dancing, 30 lords a-leaping, 22 pipers piping, and 12 drummers drumming. It was absolute bedlam by that point, what with 40 kids clanging milk pails, 36 dancing about, 30 jumping up and down on the hollow stage, 22 kids blowing recorders, and 12 more beating on drums. When everyone was milling about in full noise mode, the defendant would say- well, yell- into the mic, "And that's when I shot him!" Those were of course, simpler times; we'd never get away with that today, more's the pity. My choir is, however, singing a version of The Twelve Days Of Christmas and, while there are no paper mache birds involved, I'm quite enjoying it.
The Twelve Days of Christmas is an English carol originally published in 1780, though it may be adapted from an earlier French piece. It was not set to music at first, being more of a cumulative chant in which each verse builds upon the last. It was set to music in 1909 by Frederic Austin, an English composer who used an arrangement of an old folk melody. The version we're doing is an arrangement by Bob Chilcott, who is an English composer/director. His arrangement takes over 10 minutes to sing, but it's a lot of fun because it weaves in several different melodies, though always jumping back to the traditional one.
Here's another choir performing Bob Chilcott's version:
This trailer is from the 1993 film Searching For Bobby Fischer. It is based on the true story of child chess prodigy Josh Waitzkin, from the book of the same name written by his father in 1988. It's hard to get your hands on today, but this movie is definitely worth seeking out; it's truly a family film, intelligent and with heart-something which is as scarce as hen's teeth these days.
My 14 year old nephew came home from school with one of those robot "real" babies. My sister said that he reminded her of Imogene Herdman in The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, because he kept blocking the other kids from touching the baby and yelling,"Don't touch it! Stay away! Get back!" In his defence, my sister pointed out, her five year old admitted, "I'll be a terrible father. I ripped the heads off all the dolls."
'Since none of the Herdmans had ever gone to church or Sunday school or read the Bible or anything, they didn't know how things were supposed to be. Imogene, for instance, didn't know that Mary was supposed to be acted out in one certain way- sort of quiet and dreamy and out of this world. The way Imogene did it, Mary was a lot like Mrs. Santoro at the Pizza Parlor. Mrs. Santoro is a big fat lady with a little skinny husband and nine children and she yells and hollers and hugs her kids and slaps them around. That's how Imogene's Mary was- loud and bossy. "Get away from the baby!" she yelled at Ralph, who was Joseph. And she made the Wise Men keep their distance.'