At the Manger

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Featured Recording
The Schola Cantorum of the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle, Washington, DC
William Culverhouse, conductor

This piece has been recorded on the CD Christmas at St. Matthew’s.

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In 2005, conductor William Culverhouse approached me to write a Christmas piece for his choir, the Schola Cantorum of St. Matthew’s Cathedral. From previous conversations, he knew that I am not very fond of most Christmas music, so I was intrigued that he nevertheless wanted me to write a piece for his choir. He knew full well that I had no intention of writing a piece that in any way resembled stereotypical Christmas music and suggested that I look to writers such as C.S. Lewis or W.H. Auden for unusual texts. I found a deeply moving text in Auden’s For the Time Being… and knew immediately that this would be my text. For the Time Being… is an oratorio text written for Benjamin Britten but one that he never got around to setting before his death. The scene is Mary at the manger singing to the baby Jesus.

Oh shut your bright eyes that mine must endanger with their watchfulness.
Protected by its shade, escape from my care.
What can you discover from my tender look but how to be afraid?
Love can but confirm the more it would deny.
Close your bright eye.

Sleep. What have you learned from the womb that bore you,
but an anxiety your Father cannot feel?
Sleep. What will the flesh that I gave do for you,
or my mother love but tempt you from His will?
Why was I chosen to teach His son to weep?
Little one, sleep.

Dream. In human dreams, earth ascends to heaven
where no one need pray nor ever feel alone.
In your first few hours of life here,
oh have you chosen already what death must be your own?
How soon will you start on the Sorrowful Way?
Dream while you may.

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