Tuesday, December 24, 2013

christmas presence | set lists

A standard feature of Christmas Presence performances is people wanting to track down their favourite pieces after the show, or to follow up with the musicians they've heard. Because we make up our set list new every night, there's no program listing or anything like that, so unless you catch somebody after the show, these remarkable pieces and artists can easily slip by.

So we've taken to posting our set lists after the show. Here are links to the specific posts for various dates right here (between Garrison Keillor and Annie Dillard, below).  There's also an index to various of the pieces we've actually posted online over the years, right here.

sun, dec 8

wed, dec 11
thu, dec 12
fri, dec 13
sat, dec 14 | all-request matinee
sat, dec 14 | eve
sun, dec 15 | north shore

wed, dec 18
thu, dec 19
fri, dec 20
sat, dec 21 | matinee
sat, dec 21 | eve
sun, dec 22 - valley

"And you ought to have seen all the things that was in that wagon. Apples 'n' real oranges y'know, and stripe-itty candy, and nuts. And mama, she was holdin' the baby in her arms and she peeked over in there an she just caught her breath. And we all started talkin at the same time, askin momma what this was and what that was..."

 John Henry Faulk, "Christmas Story" (or, "A Child's Christmas In Texas")

Sunday, December 22, 2013

madeleine l'engle | o sapientia

It was from Joseph first I learned
Of love.  Like me he was dismayed.
How easily he could have turned
Me from his house; but, unafraid,
He put me not away from him
(O God‑sent angel, pray for him).
Thus through his love was Love obeyed.

The Child's first cry came like a bell:
God's Word aloud, God's Word in deed.
The angel spoke: so it befell,
And Joseph with me in my need.
O Child whose father came from heaven,
To you another gift was given,
Your earthly father chosen well.

With Joseph I was always warmed
And cherished.  Even in the stable
I knew that I would not be harmed.
And, though above the angels swarmed,
Man's love it was that made me able
To bear God's Love, wild, formidable,
To bear God's Will, through me performed. 

mike mason | three fools

The three wise men (as everyone knows but tends to forget) did not visit Jesus in the manger as a baby.  They found him much later, living in a shanty on the outskirts of Bethlehem, when he was two years old.  This is important.

They knew they were looking for a child, and this was a matter of some awkwardness for them.  They often wondered: What behaviour would be appropriate in the presence of a child-king?  They pictured themselves kneeling, presenting their gifts, and then perhaps sitting stiffly on the edge of wooden chairs and nibbling biscuits.  Their conversation would be mainly with the parents, of course, while the child looked on serenely, wonderingly.  With careful humility they would avoid his large, omniscient eyes.

This is not how it turned out.  These men were bachelors, remember.  Monkish types.  Contemplatives used to sitting on their duffs and reaching after the ineffable with their noggans.  What could they possibly know about the terrible twos?

How surprised they were to find their little king blazing around the house in a torn toga, chattering up a storm, and leaping onto their laps to tweak their beards!  Even more surprising, they found they did not react to these improprieties with horror.  Instead they felt all the stiffness draining out of them, lifetimes of reverent caution (i.e. distrust) dissolving like sugar lumps in tea.  They were charmed, delighted, won. Truly and deeply.  In no time they found themselves regressing, relaxing back into the childhoods they had never had.  They got down on their knees, all right, but it wasn't to worship - it was to give the kid camel rides, and then to roll over like great fat bears while the boy who had made the universe used their bellies for trampolines.  Yes, they fell down before their king, yet not in some formal act of prostration, but bowled over like ninepins by the thunder of a child's chortle.

Even the stars - which to these men objects of utmost seriousness – were like so many marbles to the Boy King.  Had they not given themselves to following one of them, believing this to be the great high purpose of their lives?  And where had the star gotten them?  Rolling around in their sumptuous robes on the dirt floor of a hovel, that's where.  Squealing like pigs, hooting till their sides fairly split, squirting out buckets of snotty tears.  Ripping open their fine silks and brocades so that the holy little hoodlum could blow trumpet kisses into their bare tums. 

Did the magi know beyond doubt that they had found their king?  O yes, they knew!  They knew it when the little guy sat astride their backs, smacked them on the rumps and cried, "Giddy up, Frankincense!  Mush, Myrrh!  Heigh ho, Gold - away!"

"Jesus, hon," his mother kept saying, "Don't embarrass the nice men."

But he was born to embarrass nice men, to embarrass them with riches.  All day long the great sages lay in the dirt collapsed in ecstasy, slain by the spirit of an urchin.  All night they lay there too, babbling in tongues, humming snatches of psalms and Mother Goose, burbling musically like babes.  That night the greatest astrologers of the ancient world literally saw stars - saw them for the first time, as they are, rolling round heaven to a toddler's tune.

These men who had come to pray, ended in play.  They came to give gifts, but ended by leaving what they had always longed to get rid of: starched collars, phony crowns, jaded adult wisdom.  The wise men were turned into wise guys.  Jokers.  They became fools - fools for Christ.

annie dillard | god in the doorway

One cold Christmas Eve I was up unnaturally late because we had all gone out to dinner ‑ my parents, my baby sister, and I.  We had come home to a warm living room, and Christmas Eve.  Our stockings drooped from the mantel; beside them, a special table bore a bottle of ginger ale and a plate of cookies.

I had taken off my fancy winter coat and was standing on the heat register to bake my shoe soles and warm my bare legs.  There was a commotion at the front door; it opened, and cold wind blew around my dress.  Everyone was calling me.  "Look who's here! Look who's here!"  I looked.  It was Santa Claus.  Whom I never ‑ ever ‑ wanted to meet.  Santa Claus was looming in the doorway and looking around for me.  My mother's voice was thrilled: "Look who's here!"  I ran upstairs.

Like everyone in their right mind, I feared Santa Claus, thinking he was God.  Santa Claus was an old man whom you never saw, but who nevertheless saw you; he knew when you'd been bad or good.  And I had been bad.

My mother called and called, enthusiastic, pleading; I wouldn't come down.  My father encouraged me; my sister howled.  I wouldn't come down, but I could bend over the stairwell and see: Santa Claus stood in the doorway with night over his shoulder, letting in all the cold air of the sky; Santa Claus stood in the doorway monstrous and bright, powerless, ringing a loud bell and repeating Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas.  I never came down.  I don't know who ate the cookies.


For so many years now I have known that this Santa Claus was actually a rigged‑up Miss White, who lived across the street, that I confused the dramatis personae in my mind, making of Santa Claus, God and Miss White an awesome, vulnerable trinity.  This is really a story about Miss White.

Miss White was old; she lived alone in the big house across the street.  She liked having me around; she plied me with cookies, taught me things about the world, and tried to interest me in finger painting, in which she herself took great pleasure. She would set up easels in her kitchen, tack enormous slick soaking papers to their frames, and paint undulating undersea scenes: horizontal smears of color sparked by occasional vertical streaks which were understood to be fixed kelp.  I liked her.  She meant no harm on earth, and yet half a year after her failed visit as Santa Claus, I ran from her again.

That day, a day of the following summer, Miss White and I knelt in her yard while she showed me a magnifying glass.  It was a large, strong hand lens.  She lifted my hand and, holding it very still, focused a dab of sunshine on my palm.  The glowing crescent wobbled, spread, and finally contracted to a point.  It burned; I was burned; I ripped my hand away and ran home crying.  Miss White called after me, sorry, explaining, but I didn't look back.

Even now I wonder: if I meet God, will he take and hold my bare hand in his and focus his eye on my palm, and kindle that spot and let me burn?

But no. It is I who misunderstood everything and let everybody down.  Miss White, God, I am sorry I ran from you.  I am still running, running from that knowledge, that eye, that love from which there is no refuge.  For you meant only love, and love, and I felt only fear, and pain.  So once in Israel love came to us incarnate, stood in the doorway between two worlds, and we were all afraid. 

photos | luigi ghirri

photos by luigi ghirri

Thursday, December 19, 2013

dec 19 | christmas presence set list


Christmas Is Coming | Nelson Boschman, Becca Birkner, Kenton Wiens
Charlie & Linus | Charles Schulz
Huron Carol | Garth Bowen
Seth: A Shepherd | David Kossoff
Angels We Have Heard | Peter La Grand

Screed | Ron Reed
Christmas Time Is Here | Nelson Boschman
A Child's Christmas In Texas | John Henry Faulk

Lo How A Rose Ere Blooming | Garth Bowen, Nelson Boschman
Half-Spent | Sheila Rosen

Seven Principles of Christmas | Garrison Keillor

Mary's Song | Crystal Arnold & Peter La Grand
Mary Considers Her Situation / Too Much To Ask | Luci Shaw
Joseph's Suspicion | Rainer Maria Rilke
O Sapientia | Madeleine L'Engle
Go Tell It | Garth Bowen


I Heard The Bells | Nelson, Becca, Kenton
Southern Magi
Alleluiah | Garth Bowen with Lesley Hagen
The Secret of the Gifts | Paul Flucke
King Of Kings | Peter LaGrand

Joy To The World | Nelson, Becca, Kenton
Three Fools | Mike Mason
White Christmas | Garth Bowen
He Knew How To Keep Christmas Well | Charles Dickens
Allelua, Christ Is Born | Peter La Grand

Saturday, December 14, 2013

john f. deane | driving to midnight mass in dublin on christmas eve

Five thousand million years ago
this earth lay heaving in a mass of rocks and fire
and burdened with its emptiness

when anthropods and worms and sponges
have given way to working, wondering apes
homo erectus have given way to sapiens
and he to homo sapiens sapiens
alias Paddy Mack,
look down on Dublin from the hills around.
Them lights could be a million Christmas trees
still forest standing
while in the sky a glow as if of dawn:
"This day a light shall shine on us.
The Lord is born within our city."

Look along to the river
toward O'Connell Bridge:
the lights, the neon signs
all stream on water like breathed-on strips of tinsel.
All is still.

Pubs begin to empty.
Men stop to argue,
sway and say the name of Jesus.
"For those who have known darkness
have now seen a wondrous light:
those who have dwelt in unlit streets,
to them the light has come."

few cars go by.
The blocks of flats with windowed plastic trees and fairy lights
watching for a miracle.
Here are no dells where fairies might appear.

Out from the dark
an ambulance comes speeding,
sickly blue lights searching,
siren still.

The mystery of the night ticks slowly on:
it will pass and leave memories of friends
and small half-welcome things.
"In him was life:
and his life was the light of men."

For neither prehistoric swamps
nor trilobites,
the mezozoic birds,
neanderthal nor modern man,
had ever dreamt or seen
what was our God.

The shops are gay with lights and bright things.
All save funeral homes:
they dare not advertise their presence.

As midnight peals and organs start to play
two cars meet headlong in a haze of drink.
The crash flicks into silence,
pain crawls like slime through blood and into limbs.
God is revealed:
a baby,
crying in a crib.

In the church porches and out along the grounds
teenagers laugh and swear,
watching girls.

So once more Christmas trails away,
its meaning moves back into the mist
and the march of time. 

Thursday, December 05, 2013

found poem | define mysteries

Movements of the lower lip in dance
A work consisting of a hundred love lyrics
One born out of an egg
Literally, offering of sprouts
First solid meal given to a child
Happenings before death
Literally, the tree under which horses stand
Appropriate time for the administration of drugs
The ocher garments of a recluse
An auspicious drawing
A dark, moonless night heralding the first day of the moon in its cycle of fourteen days
Literally, the wrestler's pillar
The food that is to be consumed by licking
Emotional feeling of separation from one's spouse
Indicators of the probability of rain
A body which has attained the strength of a diamond
Upwardly channelized semen
Subordinate airs governing the human body
Artistically laid out parks
A time in the day considered not suitable for starting any new work

by Ron Reed

from Harper's Magazine, December 2013
From explanatory subtitles in the U.S. edition of
The Encyclopedia of Hinduism
photo by King Douglas

Monday, November 25, 2013

this country in the morning

This Country In The Morning debuted in 1971. Its signature host, Peter Gzowski, left the program at the end of June, 1974, when I graduated from high school.

In September 1982, Gzowski returned to CBC Radio to host Morningside, which ended in May 1997.

Friday, November 22, 2013

it was fifty years ago today

The Beatles second album, With The Beatles, is released in the UK, 89 days before their American debut on the Ed Sullivan Show on February 9, 1964.  Mark Lewisohn: "With astonishing British advance orders of 300,000, it swiftly passed the half-million and, in 1965, the one million sales marks. It even earned a brief placing in the singles chart, which in the early 1960s was calculated on sales of any record, irrespective of diameter."

"Friday, 22 November 1963, began as usual in the Lewis household, Warnie later recalled: after they had breakfast, they turned to the routine answering of letters, and tried to solve the crossword puzzle. Warnie noted that Lewis seemed tired after lunch, and suggested that he go to bed. At 4:00, Warnie brought him a cup of tea, and found him 'drowsy but comfortable.' At 5:30 [GMT], Warnie heard a 'crash' from Lewis's bedroom. He ran in to find Lewis collapsed, unconscious, at the foot of the bed. A few moments later, Lewis died. His death certificate would give the multiple causes of his death as renal failure, prostate obstruction and cardiac degeneration." Alistair McGrath

"President Kennedy was killed today by an assassin's bullet as he rode in a motorcade in Dallas. The assassination occurred shortly after noon (12:30 CST, 5:30 GMT). Cheering crowds lining the streets had been stunned when shots rang out and the 46-year-old president crumpled in the seat of the open limousine, a massive, gaping wound in his head." Chronicle of the 20th Century

fiddle oak

self-portraits by a 14-year-old photographer
who goes by the name "fiddle oak"

Sunday, November 17, 2013

holy city | brian whelan

"Here and there in this picture gold sparkles, as it does in many of his pieces. But these are not fragments of gold leaf, they are foil chocolate wrappers, knowingly applied as if on an icon. This is one of Whelan’s signature techniques, a conscious reference to his vision of the presence of God in the most mundane locations. His are visionary paintings, effortlessly combining the temporal and the spiritual – heaven and earth in one reality."

Meryl Doney, Artway Visual Meditation, November 17, 2013

"What intrigues me most about Brian’s Holy Cities are the many doors and windows that seem to beckon me to enter. This is a city which welcomes the stranger and seems to thrive on transparency. There is a genius behind the fact that the many houses of worship are created from the wrappers of various sweets from around the world. Not only does this give the paintings luminosity unlike anything I have ever seen, but it invites the pilgrim to understand that the structures themselves are merely a shell, a recollection of the true sweetness which was found inside."

Jeff Frohner, "A Pilgrimage Of Sight"