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Thursday, December 23, 2010

Away in a Manger - A Christmas Music Countdown

“Away in a manger
No crib for a bed
The little Lord Jesus
Lay down His head”

This popular Christmas carol actually has two musical versions, and numerous lyrics. As a child, I learned the “Cradle Song” version, and later heard the version set to “Flow Gently, Sweet Afton.” Initially, I was very put out, because I generally preferred the first, the one I was used to singing. But with maturity, I learned to appreciate both.

According to Wikipedia, “Away in a Manger” was first published in 1885 in Philadelphia and used widely throughout the English-speaking world. In Britain it is one of the most popular carols, a 1996 Gallup Poll ranking it joint second.

The song was first published with two verses in an Evangelical Lutheran Sunday School collection, Little Children's Book for Schools and Families (1885), edited by James R. Murray (1841–1905), where it simply bore the title “Away in a Manger” and was set to a tune called “St. Kilda,” credited to J.E. Clark.

For many years the text was credited to the German reformer Martin Luther. Research has shown, however, that this is nothing more than a fable. In the book Dainty Songs for Little Lads and Lasses (1887) it bears the title “Luther's Cradle Hymn” and the note, “Composed by Martin Luther for his children, and still sung by German mothers to their little ones.” A possible reason for the spurious attribution to Luther is that the 400th anniversary of his birth was in 1883. The words were either based on a poem written for this anniversary or were credited to Luther as a clever marketing gimmick. This song has never been found in Luther's works. The first half of the melody is identical to the beginning of the second theme of Waltz #4, transposed down a fourth, in G'schichten aus dem Wienerwald, Op. 325, by Johann Strauss Jr., composed 19 years earlier.

The third stanza, "Be near me, Lord Jesus" was first printed in Gabriel's Vineyard Songs (1892), where it appeared with a tune by Charles H. Gabriel (simply marked “C”), thus these words are probably by Gabriel. Gabriel credited the entire text to Luther and gave it the title “Cradle Song.” This verse is sometimes attributed to Dr. John McFarland, but since the popular story dates his contribution to 1904 (postdating the 1892 printing by 12 years), his contribution is highly questionable.

Tom Jennings, director of worship and arts, Redeemer Presbyterian Church, consider this carol has odd or misleading lyrics, such as 'no crying he makes'. This lyric misses a key aspect of the Incarnation, Jesus entered into our suffering. [On the other hand, Christ died for our sins, not His own, since He didn’t commit any. He was the perfect baby, delivered directly from Heaven, as He was the perfect man, the model for an erring race, and its Savior. The lyric, “No crying he makes” indicates He was at peace from the very beginning.]

The lyrics and music are very similar to a very old Austrian (Tyrolian) folk song from the Brixon Valley, called “Es Wird Scho Glei Dumpa,” which in German is “Es Wird Schon Gleich Dunkel.” The first verse is roughly translated as:

It will be dark,
It is already night,
Drum I come to thee,
My Saviour to watch.
We sing a little song
The young child, the small one.
You may not sleep so,
I hear you cry only.


Refrain:
Hey, hey, hey, hey
Sleep sweet loving heart's child.

This was a lullaby and folk song in Austria long before attributed to Martin Luther, but was first published in 1913 in a collection named “Tyrolian Real Tracks,” and attributed to the Austrian dialect poet and Catholic clergyman, Anton Reid.

Murray's tune, which is the tune most commonly printed in the U.S., is typically given the name “Mueller.” The tune “Cradle Song” was written by William J. Kirkpatrick for the musical Around the World with Christmas (1895). Kirkpatrick, like others before him, attributed the words to Luther. Thus, there are two different melodies for “Away in a Manger.”

Wikipedia’s musicologists tell us the two tunes actually fit together quite well. An arrangement by Christopher Erskine combining both settings (harmony), first heard in 1996 in Canberra at the annual pair of joint Carol Services in Manuka, performed by the choirs of St Paul's Church (Anglican) and St Christopher's Cathedral (Roman Catholic). In this version the Kirkpatrick setting is sung by one choir, and the Murray setting by the other choir, alternating through the first two verses. Both settings are sung together for the third verse.

It is also sung to an adaptation of the melody originally composed in 1837 by Jonathan E. Spilman to “Flow Gently, Sweet Afton.”

There are so many recorded versions of this song, Wikipedia doesn’t even list them. Practically every popular singer has sung it. However, while they’re no doubt all beautiful, I would recommend Julie Andrews’ version.

There’s just something so lilting and sweet about her voice, when she was in her prime, it’s no wonder she won awards for playing two nannies. Andrews began singing when she was 12, and had an incredible four-octave range. She made her Broadway debut in 1954’s “The Boyfriend.”

According to Wikipedia, her mother, Barbara Wells, was a singer and joined Ted Andrews in entertaining the troops through the Entertainments National Service Association (ENSA).

Ted, Julie Andrews' stepfather, sponsored lessons for her, first at the Cone-Ripman School, an independent arts educational school in London, then with the famous concert soprano and voice instructor Madame Lilian Stiles-Allen.

“She had an enormous influence on me,” Andrews said. "She was my third mother – I've got more mothers and fathers than anyone in the world.” In her memoir, “Julie Andrews – My Star Pupil,” Stiles-Allen writes, “The range, accuracy and tone of Julie's voice amazed me ... she had possessed the rare gift of absolute pitch.”

According to Andrews: “Madame was sure that I could do Mozart and Rossini, but, to be honest, I never was.”

Of her own voice, she says, “I had a very pure, white, thin voice, a four-octave range – dogs would come from miles around.” [Not only did Andrews have a tremendous voice, but a great sense of humor.]

After Cone-Ripman School, Andrews continued her academic education at the nearby Woodbrook School, a local state school in Beckenham.

Julie Andrews performed spontaneously and unbilled on stage with her parents for about two years beginning in 1945.

“Then came the day when I was told I must go to bed in the afternoon because I was going to be allowed to sing with Mummy and Pop in the evening,” Andrews explained.

She stood on a beer crate to reach the microphone and sang, sometimes a solo or as a duet with her stepfather, while her mother played piano.

“It must have been ghastly, but it seemed to go down all right,” she notes.

Andrews got her big break when her stepfather introduced her to Val Parnell, whose Moss Empires controlled prominent venues in London. Andrews made her professional solo debut at the London Hippodrome singing the difficult aria “Je Suis Titania” from Mignon as part of a musical revue called “Starlight Roof” in 1947. She played the Hippodrome for one year.

Andrews recalled “Starlight Roof” saying, “There was this wonderful American person and comedian, Wally Boag, who made balloon animals. He would say, 'Is there any little girl or boy in the audience who would like one of these?' And I would rush up onstage and say, 'I'd like one, please.' And then he would chat to me and I'd tell him I sang... I was fortunate in that I absolutely stopped the show cold. I mean, the audience went crazy.”

On Nov. 1, 1948, Julie Andrews became the youngest solo performer ever to be seen in a Royal Command Variety Performance, at the London Palladium, where she performed along with Danny Kaye, the Nicholas Brothers, and the comedy team George and Bert Bernard for members of King George VI's family.

On the eve of her 19th birthday, on Sept. 30, 1954, Andrews made her Broadway debut portraying ‘Polly Browne’ in the already highly successful London musical, “The Boy Friend.” Critics hailed her as the stand-out performer in the show. Near the end of her Boy Friend contract, Andrews was asked to audition for My Fair Lady on Broadway and got the part.

Andrews auditioned for a part in the Richard Rodgers musical, “Pipe Dream.” Although Rodgers wanted her for “Pipe Dream,” he advised her to take the part in the Frederick Loewe and Alan Jay Lerner musical “My Fair Lady,” if it was offered to her. In 1956, she appeared on stage in “My Fair Lady” as Eliza Doolittle to Rex Harrison's Henry Higgins. Rodgers was so impressed with Andrews' talent that concurrent with her run in “My Fair Lady,” she was featured in the Rodgers and Hammerstein television musical, Cinderella. Cinderella was broadcast live on CBS on March 31, 1957, attracting an estimated 107 million viewers.

After that came Camelot, Mary Poppins, and The Sound of Music.

In 1997, she developed vocal problems. She subsequently underwent surgery to remove non-cancerous nodules from her throat and was left unable to sing. In 1999 she filed a malpractice suit against the doctors at New York's Mount Sinai Hospital who had operated on her throat. Originally, the doctors assured Andrews that she should regain her voice within six weeks. The lawsuit was settled in September 2000.

Despite the loss of her singing voice, she kept busy with many projects. In 1998, she appeared in a stage production of Dr. Dolittle in London. As recounted on the Julie Andrews website, she performed the voice of Polynesia the parrot and “recorded some 700 sentences and sounds, which were placed on a computer chip that sat in the mechanical bird's mouth. In the song ‘Talk To The Animals,’ Polynesia the parrot even sings.” She has also starred as the royal grandmother in “The Princess Diaries” and the nanny in the films of the “Eloise” series.

In 2004, Andrews performed the voice of Queen Lillian in the animated blockbuster Shrek 2 (2004), reprising the role for its sequels, Shrek the Third (2007) and Shrek Forever After (2010). Later, in 2007, she narrated “Enchanted,” a live-action Disney musical comedy that both poked fun and paid homage to classic Disney films such as “Mary Poppins.”

From 2005 to 2006, Andrews served as the Official Ambassador for Disneyland's 18-month-long, 50th anniversary celebration, the “Happiest Homecoming on Earth,” traveling to promote the celebration, and recording narration and appearing at several events at the park. In addition, Andrews has been the author of 23 biographies and children’s books

Only a few days ago, her husband, Blake Edwards, passed away from pneumonia at the age of 88. Yesterday, it was announced that Andrews would receive a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award at the 53rd Grammy Awards ceremony in 2011.

The award is well-deserved for this former resident of the London slums. She’s reached great heights with her singing and acting, charming audiences for generations.

And nobody can sing a lullaby quite like Andrews.



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