As I looked out on a midwinter’s morning,
I saw a stranger passing by.
“Where are you going,” said I to the stranger.
“Come now and see,” was the stranger’s reply:
“Come down to Bethlehem-town to the manger;
There lies a baby boy whose name is Joy.”
“Who is this baby,” said I to the stranger,
“That he be laid in a bed so poor?”
“Lo, he is heaven’s food for earthly nature,
And all who come to him hunger no more.
Come down to Bethlehem-town to the manger;
There your own eyes shall see how this may be.”
Then I arose, and, following the stranger,
Came to the place where the baby lay.
Soon as I saw him my hope was awakened,
And all my sorrow was taken away.
For down in Bethlehem-town, in a manger,
Was the Messiah born, on Christmas morn!
~text by S. Kirchner
Most often with my song-writing, the first snippet of words and tune come together. Not so, with this new carol. I have a Korg keyboard with some very good sampled sounds, and one day I was playing around with the solo flute sound. The wonderful sound of the flute got the inspiration flowing, and I came up with a new melody that seemed like it could have been an old carol. I spent several weeks working out lyrics for the melody on my drives to and from L.A. Master Chorale rehearsals, with the intent of including the new carol on a Christmas CD project for the Juniata College Concert Choir.
As is often the case with my music and lyrics, there is some debt to J.R.R. Tolkien. Gandalf is Tolkien’s “Christ figure,” and it is told in The Silmarillion that the Gandalf we know from The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy is also known as Olorin, one of the Maiar: an order of eternal spirits that helped to shape the world before the ages of elves, humans, dwarves, and hobbits. Of Olorin Tolkien writes:
“…In later days, he was the friend of all the Children of [the World], and took pity on their sorrows; and those who listened to him awoke from despair and put away the imaginations of darkness.”
The third and four lines of my third stanza owe their concepts to this beautiful quote.
The carol lyrics also reference the mythic dimension of the manger in the Nativity story, wherein, as the lyrics imply, “earthly nature” is fed the spiritual “food” of Christliness. But if it weren’t for the need of the rhyme word with “stranger,” I don’t know that the manger would ever have been central to the lyrics of this carol! Such are the happy “accidents” of the creative process.