“Carpathian sheep men are dancing tonight. . . “

Dallas, 4 AM sleet

Dallas, 4 AM sleet

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It’s one of those memories that makes one crazy. Did I dream it? Did it happen? Did it happen in a former life? Somewhere in the inner folds of my brain I can hear a women’s chorus singing what I think is a Christmas carol that ends (point of fact—the ending is all I hear) with an ascending melody on the words, “to the Christ of the snow.”

A few short years ago, when I was still thinking about church Christmas parties, I bought yet another collection of “all the Christmas songs everyone wants to sing and then some.” In the collection is the carol “Christ of the Snow,” a traditional Hungarian carol, or so the book says, arranged after a setting for three-part women’s chorus by Harvey Gaul. It makes perfect sense that at some point in my musical life I accompanied—or at least heard enough times to remember—such a setting.

The mystery is that my carol book gives the Hungarian (I presume) title of the carol, Posjtarolo Arvendezna. I can usually find an inkling of information about almost anything, but this phrase, whatever language it is, has only one mention I can find—the Harvey Gaul anthem from 1932. The Carpathian Mountains are a large range that cuts across Hungary, Romania, Ukraine, Slovakia, and Poland, so I think the phrase could be from one of several languages

I was humming “to the Christ of the Snow” at 4 this morning as I was up taking a picture of the snowy parking lot beneath my 4th-floor window (I shouldn’t need to mention by this point that I’m always up at 4 in the morning). Turned out pretty well, I think. And then I was pondering snowstorms I have known.

Snowstorms I have known.

There was the blizzard of ‘49 in Western Nebraska. I don’t exactly remember it (we lived in Wyoming then) except that the legend was recounted often by ’52

The Blizzard of '49

The Blizzard of ’49

when we moved there. I wished as a kid we’d have another Blizzard of ’49. Don’t get me wrong. We had some pretty fierce blizzards, but apparently none equaled ’49.

And then there were the regular snowstorms in Iowa City. Snow. Simply lots of snow. I don’t remember any particular storm while I was there, 1974-1977. But, then, I don’t remember much about Iowa. Straight vodka by the quart will do that to a person.

In the fall of ’77, I moved from Iowa to Methuen, MA, to be with him. You know, that one that I was not complete without. His house was pretty much in the country (Methuen is on the Massachusetts/New Hampshire border). Cross country skiing is big there.

On February 6, 1978 (a Monday), the Nor’easter that had been building up let loose on Massachusetts. It snowed for pretty much two days, and we were trapped in the house. Literally could not open the doors. That Wednesday was Ash Wednesday, and services at my church in Salem (25 miles away) were cancelled (we had Ash Sunday the following Sunday). He was from Stowe, VT, and this was simply an inconvenience for him. And off he went on a work trip as soon as he could get out of the house, leaving me stranded in the Massachusetts countryside. At that time, my only means of support (besides him) was a half-time church music job. I had almost no friends and certainly no family anywhere near. The only thing keeping me in that snow-bound place was him. You’d think I would have packed up by the end of the week and headed to my old stomping grounds in California. But I had even less sense then than I have now.

The Blizzard of '78

The Blizzard of ’78

Eventually I did get out of New England (after 17 years).  I came to Dallas because my partner (he was more than just a him) got a job here. The difference between my moves across the country was that this time I knew I how I was going to support myself before I moved. And I was also following my lifelong dream of studying creative writing. I didn’t move here just for him. In fact, I waited almost a year to follow him—waited until I had the possibility of a “life.”

But the day I left Massachusetts there was a foot of snow on the ground, and there was an ice storm on top of that. I drove all the way to Waterbury, CN (perhaps 150 miles) before I stopped for the night. I’d say I got out of Massachusetts just in the nick of time.

Now this morning it’s snowing/sleeting/icing in Dallas. We’re not having classes today, so I’m here at my desk writing. And as soon as I put the period here, I will start grading papers. The weather forecasters got this one right, and they say it’s not going to get above freezing for a couple more days. Well, that’s OK with me. I have food in the house and lots to do, and if I want to go anywhere—

—why would I want to go anywhere? The cats and I know when to sing, “Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.” Well hang out here and watch a few people try to

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow

get out of the parking lot and be glad neither SMU nor anyone else expects an old man like me to appear anywhere today.

I did manage to make a little video. If anyone knows for sure the origin of this tune, I’d love to hear from you.

“The Christ of the Snow”
Posjtarolo Arvendezna
(presumably) Hungarian traditional
After an arrangement by Harvey Gaul (1932)

Carpathian sheep men are dancing tonight,
Carpathian hill folk now follow the light.
They’re coming from highlands, they’re coming from low,
To the shrine in the village, to the Christ of the Snow,
To the Christ of the Snow.

Sing fathers and mothers, sing daughters and sons,
Sing shepherds and gentry, your glad orisons.
The Christ child is born now, the shrine is aglow,
Carol hill folk and town folk to the Christ of the Snow,
To the Christ of the Snow.

“About Strange Lands and Foreign Peoples . . . “

A historic street

A historic street

A friend is in Boston this weekend visiting Emerson College with an eye to enrolling there to finish his undergraduate degree.

Yesterday on PBS radio’s “This American Life” the producer’s mother, Mrs. Matthiessen, challenged the staff to find and record conversations about the “seven things you’re not supposed to talk about” in order not to be boring. One of them is “routes,” that is, the route you took to get somewhere. Sorry, Mrs. Matthiessen, you can stop reading because I’m going to bore you.

The first time I saw Boston my late ex-wife and I were on our way to the wedding of my college roommate in Massachusetts and arrived in Boston in the evening. It was 1970 or so, and we had been married about three years and still had a good time adventuring together.

We arrived in downtown Boston at rush hour—I suppose we took the exit from the freeway at the Prudential (the name of which I can’t remember). We drove on Bolyston and turned up Charles Street, turned left at Beacon Street, somehow made our way to Storrow Drive and hightailed it out of the city on Route 1a. We went all the way to New Hampshire—way out of our way—and found a motel to crash for the night.

We had planned to stay in Boston and see the sights, but we were so overwhelmed by the city and the traffic that we drove right on through. We were used to L.A. traffic, so it was strange that Boston unnerved us so. But that was my first experience knowing that Los Angeles drivers pay no attention to each other but obey the laws; whereas, Boston drivers watch each other like hawks and ignore the laws.

My career was never brilliant

My career was never brilliant

After being overwhelmed by the traffic, we were overwhelmed by the high society folks we were thrown in with for the wedding. Let me say only that the bride’s mother was a friend (college classmate for starters) of Julia Child, and the Larousse Gastronomique would not have been available in English but for her translation.

Ann and I were reduced to scrupulously watching other people in order to obey the rules of the kind of society down into the middle of which we were dropped. The whole experience reminds me still of the movie My Brilliant Career, with the young Australian girl playing over and over and over on the piano Robert Schumann’s “About Strange Lands and Foreign Peoples,” Kinderzenen Op. 15, No. 1.The one right move I made in the entire three or four days was to suggest that the groomsmen’s gift to the couple should be a weekend at Tanglewood.

So my young friend is in Boston this weekend looking over Emerson College and being looked over by them. Emerson is a fine school, and my friend is as bright and personable and talented as he can be, and I am sure they will be a fine fit if they decide they want each other.

But Boston is, for all of its charm and history and elegance and sophistication, a difficult place. I never lived in Boston proper (or is it Proper Boston?) but up on the North Shore. I was, however, chair of the music department at Bunker Hill Community College in Boston, and I knew Boston very well in the years 1978 through 1994.

Here’s the thing about a place like Boston. You shouldn’t show up there at the time you’re trying to learn who you are. You should either grow up there and have no choice in the matter, or you should go there when you know what you’re about and are not in a position to be influenced (perhaps even molded) by such a city.

I moved to the Boston area (to Methuen, which may not be the Boston area—but soon to Beverly, which is much closer and more Bostonian. One of my acquaintances (I knew many Brahmin types who lived up on the North Shore, both Cabots and Lodges [really!]—but that’s another story) drew herself up to her full height once (when I told her I could not understand the message she left on my phone—as it turned out because an important word ended in “R”) and said, “My deah, I don’t have an “AHHH” in my entirah vocabulahry.” I was out of place from the get-go, and I knew it.

One of my friends (who happened to be drinking beer out of the can at that moment), told me that a brass bowl on her coffee table that I was admiring came from Tehran. Her friend Alice brought back for her. From the Tehran Conference. Alice had accompanied her father, FDR. How’s that for communication links away from the rich, famous, and powerful? My friend lived on Chestnut Street in Salem—the whole street on the National Registry of Historic Places because every house is perfectly preserved from the Federal Period. The condo I owned in Salem was in a not-so-prestigious neighborhood.

He knew about Strange Lands and Foreign Peoples

He knew about Strange Lands and Foreign Peoples

Here I am in Dallas, having come here as a poor student. The suburban church where I directed the music for fifteen years had no Cabots or Lodges as members. I know none of the Bass family or the Hunts or the Crowes. (A friend of mine did have dinner with President Obama the other night.)

I began this writing with a point in mind. I’ve wandered somewhat away from it, but not really. I simply want to say that Mrs. Matthiessen is quite wrong. The “route” by which I arrived here this morning is interesting.  My whole life is about “strange lands and foreign peoples.”

But it’s not the society to which I don’t belong that makes me feel out of place. That’s only a symptom. “Sometimes I always feel like a motherless child a long ways from home.”
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(1) “The Seven Things You’re Not Supposed to Talk About.” This American Life. thisamericanlife.org. Nov 8, 2013. Web. 10 Nov. 2013.
(2) “McIntire Historic District.” Welcome to Salem, Massachusetts, The City Guide.  salemweb.com/guide. 1995-2013. Web. 10 Nov. 2013.