Does “Maris” Mean “Mary” in “Ave Maris Stella”?

Star over the SeaWell I’m glad you asked! Because “Maris” doesn’t mean “Mary.” It means “sea” or “ocean.” So the title literally means, if you keep the same word order: “Hail, Sea Star.” So where did that wording come from?

To begin with, someone in the 9th century wrote the chant version that is used in Roman Catholic liturgy. There ended up being four different tunes authorized for use in various services. The words present Mary as a merciful and loving mother, with “Star of the Sea” being a title that especially appealed to travelers praying for a safe journey.

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What? Yet Another Up-and-Coming Young America Composer in Our Concert?

Well my goodness! So far I’ve written about the music in our concert from Anne Kilstofte, Dan Forrest, and Daniel Elder. All three are young and American, actively engaged in composing, arranging, teaching, conducting . . . you name it. To that list I now add Victor C. Johnson, the composer of our lovely opening piece, “Music in the Night.” I had looked up the author of the lyrics, Harriet Prescott Spofford, and found her life story to be quite interesting. She’s a good example of what was called a “lady writer” back in the late 1800’s-early 1900’s, turning out short stories, poems and novels to make money when her father’s business failed.

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Is “Oh Hush Thee” a Christmas Song?

From the Library of Congress collection, artist Florence Edith Storer, 1912.

I have to admit that I’m writing this post on “Oh Hush Thee” with at least a partial determination to make the case that it isn’t really a Christmas song, or at least a Christmas carol, as such. I’m not going to quite get there, but I can at least prove, I think, that the child being addressed, “Dear-my-Soul,” is not the Christ child. Why do I want to make this point? Mainly because I think it’s so great that we could have a whole concert about starry nights without using any Christmas music. Not that I don’t love music from that season—far from it! I just think it’s such an original move to put a Christmas-y sounding title on a concert in October. Will people come to it out of sheer curiosity? I don’t know, but I’m sure going to do my bit to publicize it.

Having said that, I will now proceed to undermine my case by admitting that the original title of this poem is “Christmas Eve,” and that it was published in a book of poems and short stories by Eugene Field called Christmas Tales and Christmas Verse.

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Why Would You Try to Tell a Star What to Do?

Oh folks, you’d just never believe how much I want to say about “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star”! I will try to rein myself in, but it’s hard.

Let’s start with this whole idea of talking to or about stars in poetry or song lyrics. Last week’s post had Robert Frost pleading with a star to “say something.” We are also singing another piece, “Catch a Falling Star,” about the possibility of “catching” a star, specifically a falling star, putting it in our pocket, and saving it for a rainy

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What Can We Learn from a Silent Star?

I have been absolutely salivating at the idea of sinking my teeth into this Frost poem. We tend to associate Frost with his familiar and simple poems: “Stopping by Woods,” “The Road Not Taken,” and perhaps “Mending Wall.” Even those poems can be mined for deeper meaning, but when you get to some of his other ones, well! You (or perhaps I) can go on just about forever.

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Should Dan Forrest’s Three Nocturnes Inspire Us to Look Up at the Stars?

Um, I guess so. I’m going to try, anyway.

(Note to the readers of this blog: I write these posts first of all for the members of my beloved Cherry Creek Chorale, so there are often references to past performances included. I decided not to edit those references out when I re-post them on this page.  If you’re intrigued by those references, maybe you’ll be even more motivated to attend one of our performances!)

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Why Write a Song About a Painting?

Van Gogh's Starry Night
Not the original but a watercolor copy.

Wow, folks—what a fascinating concert! I hardly know where to begin with these commentaries, as I know I won’t be able to get to every single one before our performance. But I was immediately taken with “Vincent” by Don McLean, so I’m starting with that. There may be some weeks when I cover more than one piece, but we’ll see. This short piece will more than suffice for this week.

First of all, I have to confess my (former) utter ignorance about who Don McLean is. I was of course familiar with the song “American Pie,” but for some reason had never actually noticed who its original performer was. (And I’m

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What’s Everybody So Glad About in “I Was Glad”?

Let’s start with the original source of the words for this piece: Psalm 122 in the Jewish Bible. It is one of a group of Psalms (songs) usually called “Psalms of ascent.” Scholars disagree on what exactly the word “ascent” refers, but the idea that’s usually listed first is that these psalms were sung by pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem to participate in various festivals during the year. Jerusalem is built on several hills

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What Do We Learn About Gabriel Faure’s Early Life from “Cantique de Jean Racine”?

When we got our music for this concert I was intrigued by the title of this piece, as I associated Racine with Greek mythology. As a French minor in college I had read Racine’s play Phèdre, which has a story line about the hero Theseus, his second wife Phaedra, and his son from his first marriage, Hyppolite. I won’t go into the story here, but it sure doesn’t have anything to do with Christian theology! 

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Where Did Composers Haydn and Handel Get Their Ideas?

​Well, duh. From the Bible, of course. We all know that. But when a pieces becomes so familiar, so ingrained in our consciousness, we forget sometimes that they’re actually about something–that the composers started with an idea, a nugget of truth, a theme.

Let’s look at the Haydn first. Our selection, “The Heavens Are Telling,” is not from the first chapter of Genesis as you might have expected.

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