Saturday, December 11, 2010


What do I like best about the Christmas season? Of course I like having family around, sharing, gift wrapping, house decorating, and the definite uptick in general cheeriness among people of good will -- all these are part and parcel of the secular part of the seasonal celebration, and I enjoy them.

But what I like most of all is the music of the season, be it sacred, secular, high-bow, low-brow, done professionally or simply by a few carolers who wander through neighborhoods. I love it all.

When I was younger I always sang in the community offering of the Hallelujah Chorus. In the churches our family attended we always sang in a Christmas Cantata. As my own little family got old enough to participate we always went to a nearby nursing home early on Christmas Eve and with me playing the guitar, we strode up and down the halls singing for those old people who always seemed to be so woefully forgotten on this most special eve.

When my four children got to be elementary school age I began working with children's choirs, both at school, at my house and at various churches in town. I scoured the literature for some unusual songs that I thought Children would respond to. These kids were not yet old enough to do much in the way of singing parts, but I was able to fashion some simple harmonies for them and they did surprisingly well for being mostly a rag-tag bunch of neighborhood kids. Now we're not talking professional singing here, but just maybe one notch above what one usually hears. The simple guitar accompaniment pushed their voices to the forefront. The kids loved the songs because they were different, and relevant, as I made sure they understood the images that the songs portrayed. That short period in my life was very special, and my own children remember it well.

Of all the songs I taught the children, the one called "The Friendly Beast" was certainly the favorite. Its simplicity and sensitivity will always keep it at the top of my list. The words are as follows:

Jesus our brother kind and good
Was humbly born in a stable rude
And the friendly beasts around him stood
Jesus our brother kind and good

"I" said the donkey shaggy and brown
I carried his mother up hill and down
I carried him safely to Bethlehem town
"I" said the donkey shaggy and brown

And "I" said the cow all white and red
I gave him my manger for a bed
I gave him my hay for to pillow his head
"I" said the cow all white and red

"I" said the sheep with a curly horn
I have him my wool for his blanket warm
And he wore my coat on that Christmas morn
"I" said the sheep with a curly horn

"I" said the dove from the rafters high
Cooed him to sleep that he should not cry
We cooed him to sleep my love and I
"I" said the dove from the rafters high

And "I" said the camel all yellow and black
Over the desert upon my back
I brought him a gift in the wise men's pack
"I" said the camel all yellow and black

Thus every beast remembering it well
In the stable dark was so proud to tell
Of the gifts that they gave Emmanuel
The gifts that they gave Emmanuel

And there are several renditions of it on YouTube, but my favorite is an old Tennessee Ernie Ford offering and the graphics that accompany this particular song. I think you'll like it as much as I do.


marciamayo said...

Bobby, what a gift you just gave to me. Thank you.

Olga said...

Very nice. I admire and envy anyone who as musical talent and uses it in such an admirable way.

Judith Richards Shubert said...

I, too, admire your talent and your patience with children. I love your addition to the Blog Caroling challenge! Thank you for sharing the history behind it.