Song- Mary Had A Baby
The Advent Calendar which we bought a few years ago from the Cloisters Museum here in New York City which sits above the CD’s in our apartment, and next to other holiday decorations informed me this morning that it was December 22nd. Which reminded me that I only have three more installments left of this Christmas blog series. I hope you have been enjoying them. Though it has been tough setting time aside each day to do them in between work and family and shopping, I have really enjoyed writing them. That calendar was helpful this morning in fact because I realized back on December 4th, with the fourth installment I wrote about my favorite Christmas album- Bruce Cockburn’s Christmas. I had mentioned that I enjoyed this album so much through the years, that I would be returning to it. Well time almost slipped away for me to do that, but opening up the door to ’22’ this morning reminded me I needed to do it today, or not at all. It’s now or never, as Elvis sung once.
As I said in Part 4, Bruce’s album is so great because of the variety of sounds on it. There is the spooky ballad Down In Yon Forest. There is a song in Spanish, Riu Riu Chiu, and one sung in French-Les Anges Dans Nos Campagnes (the origins of Angels We Have Heard On High). There is even one sung in the Huron language, Jesus Ahatonnia. Bruce also wrote a nice little song called Shepherds for the album. There are dulcimers and hammered dulcimers, electric violin and electric guitar. There is folk, and there is rock. Maybe the most pleasing to me though on the album are the Gospel driven songs, of which there are three. The second song on the album is the stomping Early On One Christmas Morn, and later on the classic Go Tell It On The Mountain. My absolute favorite song on the album however has always been Mary Had A Baby. If you have not been clicking on these links to the songs, I really urge you to give this one a go.
I was unfamiliar with this song when the album first came out. Here is what Bruce himself said about it in the notes to the album-
“This call-and-response song appears to have originated on the South Carolina coastal island of Saint Helena in the last century. The verses follow a fairly predictable pattern till you get to ‘moving in the elements…'”
Indeed, Saint Helena is a center of the Gullah tradition and although the origins of call and response come originally from Africa, the American form of it is heard especially in Gospel music today and has its roots with the Gullah. Perhaps because of the call and response I was immediately hooked by the song. The metallic and percussive clank keeping time, along with the hand claps and an almost funky back beat sealed the deal. Can I also just say that if ever there was a Christmas song to play loud, this is the one to do it with surely. I have subsequently come across this in other versions now, and though I think it is a great song period, nothing will ever sway me from liking Bruce’s version the most. So this morning I am especially glad I opened that door on the Advent calendar so I could write about my favorite song, on my favorite Christmas album. I hope it becomes one of your own favorites too.
Mary Had A Baby-Traditional, Arranged By Bruce Cockburn
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