Back in mid-December, the Columbus Gay Men’s Chorus presented Joy!, our annual holiday concert. Like most such concerts, Joy! is only nominally a ‘holiday’ concert; really it’s a Christmas concert, with a token Hannukah piece or two and a smattering of nondescriptly-wintery-but-who-are-we-kidding-really-Christmasy songs. And let me be clear here: I’m fine with that. Our artistic staff does a great job of trying to cast a wide net, but in order for a song to exist in a choral arrangement it really needs to (1) be associated with a tradition that has a history of choral singing; (2) be commercially viable, since composers and arrangers need to pay their rent like the rest of us. For these and other reasons, pagan Yule carols for men’s chorus aren’t exactly growing on trees.
This past December, however, we were one of eight men’s choruses that jointly premiered a new commissioned work from composer Ola Gjeilo (lyrics by Charles Anthony Silvestri), “New Year’s Carol.” In the break after our very first read-through, I talked excitedly with a fellow pagan chorister: this was a solstice carol! Sure, the opening verse nodded to the Christmas aftermath (“After all the gifts have been opened / After the candles all have burned down”), but the heart of the song was deeply rooted in the rhythms of the earth, the slow waxing of light that reminds us even in the depths of winter that life continues, extravagant and dauntless. And it didn’t require a stretch; we actually literally sang, “The wheel of the year keeps turning, returning”! I wrote to our director to thank him for our participation, saying “I do want you to know how immeasurably meaningful it is to me to be able to sing such a beautiful piece of music with my whole heart.”
So why am I writing this post now, mid-March, a whole three months later? Because “New Year’s Carol” makes a promise, and the wheel of the year has now fulfilled it.
I hope you’ll listen to the whole piece, but listen especially around 4:10. The piano has just finished one of Gjeilo’s beautiful, tranquil arpeggiated solo sections when the basses come in, soft but growing in power, to climb steadily up the scale as we sing again, “Under the snow waits the promise of May.” And just as that line reaches its full strength, the tenors answer back with the lyrics’ central premise: “We hold in our hearts the joys of this season, / Warming our spirits as bitter winds blow.” Throughout the long, cold winter, we have clung to the joy of family, community, and pious hope for springtime, and now the earth has erupted in greenery, bright crocuses and snowdrops appearing almost overnight.
As I mentioned in my last post, I wasn’t able to celebrate the Spring Equinox with Three Cranes Grove, since I was singing with CGMC during the rite. But I think that I had an even better, more spontaneous equinox celebration on Saturday, listening to CGMC’s recording of “New Year’s Carol,” walking through my neighborhood photographing the early spring, and grinning like a maniac the whole way. Even yesterday’s late-March snowstorm couldn’t dampen my spirits; now I don’t even have to hope, but can actually see with my eyes the promise of spring poking through the snow.