Many folks, like me, think of the Moravian College Christmas Vespers as an annual pilgrimage to a place where the music is all.
Central Moravian Church in Bethlehem, PA, is a serene setting for Vespers. It's all about heart-stoppingly beautiful music that makes you hold your breath as the choir fills the space and fills your mind. It's all about the precious talent and energy of amateurs who rise to the occasion each year, and create the best you can imagine at the moment, and each moment brings new wonder, and each year automatically starts to feel like it's "the best it's ever been," except that we remember we felt the same excess of delight last year…
The Vespers performance in 2011 was no exception to the marvelous tradition of seasonal choral music that proclaims glad tidings of great joy. My wife and I usually agree immediately on the "best" piece in the program, and the friends who accompany us usually chime in with their approbation. Over the years we haven't squabbled much as we savor the premier offering.
This year, hands down, it was "I See" from "Three Spirituals" by Robert S. Cohen, text by Maria Seigenthaler. I say "hands down" with some poignancy: it is Vespers tradition that there is no applause during the program, I honor the code but I yearn often to stand and flout it noisily.
Cohen's "I See" is a tender retrospective by a newborn babe who recalls first moments with plain, earnest, delicate awe…and a barely awakened vocabulary of love.
As a grandfather, I can't resist urging you to read it and listen (see below).
Listen to " I See "
Text of "I See" from "Three Spirituals" --
I saw the light before I knew to call it light.
I saw the light at the moment I was born
And I cried for the soft smooth darkness,
The darkness that had been my only home.
Then I felt the cold before I knew to call it cold
I felt the cold and I wailed out for the warm.
The warm and the closeness of the soft, smooth darkness,
And the rhythm of the comfort I had known.
Then I felt the love before I knew to call it love.
I felt the love as she touched and held and fed me.
Then I welcomed in the light for the love was in the light
Where I came to see that I am not alone.
In the light I saw that I am not alone.
Text from December 11, 2011, program for Moravian College Christmas Vespers.
About Robert Cohen
Central Moravian Church, Bethlehem, PA
Moravian College, Bethlehem, PA