January-February 2014

Brightest and Best

By Susie Glaze

Winter Landscape

I can think of no better way to mark the winter solstice and new year than by telling the story of Christmas in the Eastern Kentucky mountains. This was a time of rest and reflection for the families that dotted the cold and frosty hills. The harvesting was done and everyone could step aside from their usual chores and spend time with each other, taking shelter from winter weather and readying the holiday celebrations and family reunions. This time of year is perfectly summed up in Jean Ritchie’s song Wintergrace.

This is the time so well we love

The time of all the year;

When winter calls with chilling breath,

For fireside and good cheer.

A time for man and beast to stand

And feel the season turn;

To watch the stars for secret signs,

And God's true lessons learn.

For the time when the corn is all into the barn,

The old cow's breath's a frosty wine

When the morn along the fallow field

Doth silver shine.

And when cold morning's radiant star

Shines over hill and plain;

We know anew that little Babe

Is born to us again.

And man and beast and bird and tree,

Each one in his own place;

We bow our hearts and thank our God

For winter rest and grace.

For the time when the corn is all into the barn,

The old cow's breath's a frosty wine

And the morn along the fallow field

Doth silver shine.

But the most perfect culmination in poetry and melody is Jean’s family version of Brightest and Best of the Suns of the Morning which was also immortalized in the Southern Harmony collection. I do love the Ritchie’s version and offer it up in all December and January concerts to mark the Ritchie family’s “Old Christmas.”

Jean tells the story of her Grandmother “Katty” who remembered the times in the mountains when the elders celebrated Christmas on January 6th and considered it “old Christmas.” The following is from her book Singing Family of the Cumberlands:

“Christmas was the best time of the year - Granny Katty would endure our December 25th Christmas celebration, but everyone would wait for the evening of January 5th when she’d sit before the fire… then, with the children all gathered around she’d tell about Old Christmas, the real one, which fell on the 6th of January. Then she’d tell about the baby Jesus born in a stable on this night…”

“Now, if you go out to the barn at midnight, you’ll see the old elderberry bush in the corner blooming right in the snow, and if you peep in through a chink in the stable and make no racket at all you’ll see the cow and the old mule kneeling down, paying honor to the little King of Kings.”

Name Play
Brightest And Best
Susie Glaze

Hail the blest morn when the great mediator

Down from the regions of glory descends,

Shepherds go worship the babe in the manger,

Lo, for a guard the bright angels attend

Brightest and best of the suns of the morning,

Dawn on our darkness and lend us thine aid,

Star of the east, the horizon adorning,

Guide where our infant redeemer is laid.

Winter

Cold on his cradle the dewdrops are shining,

Low lies his head with the beasts of the stall;

Angels adore him in slumber reclining,

Maker and monarch and savior of all.

Brightest and best of the suns of the morning,

Dawn on our darkness and lend us thine aid,

Star of the east, the horizon adorning,

Guide where our infant redeemer is laid.

Vainly we offer each ample oblation,

Vainly with gifts would his favor secure,

Richer by far is the heart’s adoration,

Dearer to god are the prayers of the poor.

Brightest and best of the suns of the morning,

Dawn on our darkness and lend us thine aid,

Star of the east, the horizon adorning,

Guide where our infant redeemer is laid.

…in the evening on the fifth day of January, I always remember Granny Katty sitting bowed over the fire, singing of the little babe with dewdrops a-shining on His cradle.”

The Ritchie family children numbered 14 in all (Jean was the youngest) and they learned this song in fine harmony to surprise their Grandmother to sing it beneath her window the next morning.

I send it to you with wishes for the brightest and best new year ~ prosperous, warm and loving. In the spirit of the mountains, find time for quiet reflection, poetry and song, which is the natural winter legacy that comes to all of us. Noise should die down now. Find the time to discover your Winter’s grace.

Award-winning recording artist and critically-acclaimed Bluegrass powerhouse vocalist, Susie Glaze has been called by BLUEGRASS UNLIMITED "an important voice on the California Bluegrass scene." Her album "Blue Eyed Darlin'" was the winner of the Just Plain Folks 2006 Music Award for Best Roots Album and Folkworks Magazine's Pick for Best Bluegrass Album of 2005. "One of the most beautiful voices in bluegrass and folk music today." (Roz Larman of FolkScene). Susie's new release "Green Kentucky Blues" and additional recordings can be found at www.susieglaze.com.

  

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