John Lamb, Published December 25 2012
Lamb: Do you hear what I hear?
I’ll speak for the Royal We (but not the British Royals, Pippa and I aren’t talking), when I say we love the holidays, the gathering of family and friends, the food, festivity and yes, the gifts.
What we don’t like is the anticipation that things have to be a particular way. Some people grind their teeth about getting enough baking done. Some tie themselves in knots finding just the right gift. Some people stress about travel plans, making it a white-knuckle ride over the river and through the woods.
Me, I fear mangling lyrics to Christmas songs into a twisted, contorted mess, like a present wrapped by someone with two drill bits for hands.
I like singing, but seldom do it in public for fear that I’ll trip over a line and scar some impressionable listener’s ears with “Oh, Bowling Night.”
I like Christmas mass because of the singing. Well, there are a number of reasons that service warms my heart, but singing from a songbook with the lyrics spelled out definitely helps, especially given the setting and subject matter.
But outside church, when I go off-script, strange things can happen.
My mom always has Minnesota Public Radio’s classical station tuned in at Christmas and one of the highlights is listening for the “Hallelujah Chorus” from George Handel’s “Messiah.”
You don’t have to know much about classical music to recognize this oratorio, mainly because the chorus is “Hallelujah. Hallelujah. Hallelujah.” Etc.
Hence the title.
It’s what comes after that throws me.
Technically, the next line is, “For the Lord God Omnipotent reigneth.” But if you’ve spent 30-plus years wincing while listening to heavy metal guitar solos, straining to hear whispery folk singers and had your chest thumped by any bass-driven band, you may hear that next part as, “Lord of the cotton field protect Namath/ Hallelujah. Hallelujah. Hallelujah.” Etc.
I know my interpretation isn’t what Handel had in mind, but I enjoy the imagery. God, a kindly Southern gentleman in seersucker robes, overseeing his plantation (slave-free, of course) as he slides over to block a blitz, saving Broadway Joe to smile and pose for the cameras.
It’s more action-packed than Handel’s version, but the message of a loving protective God is still there.
Regardless, today is Dec. 26 and the Christmas tunes have been filed away for 11, or at least 10 months. The only songs I need to worry about now are why we sing “Old Hang Sign” at midnight on Dec. 31 and who to look at when singing, “What are you doing on New Year’s, Steve.”
Readers can reach Forum reporter John Lamb at (701) 241-5533