Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas, Mrs. Vankowski

If someone mentions "Christmas carols", what comes to mind? Some would think of Frosty the Snowman, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Santa Baby, or any one of the hundreds of songs being played on radio stations everywhere right now. Others might think of more traditional, church-y tunes such as Silent Night, or O Come All Ye Faithful. (Guess which camp Mrs. M is in?) :)

When I was a little girl, Christmas was still called "Christmas"* in the public school system, and Christmas carols  - true Christmas carols, concerning the birth of Christ - were still freely sung. My 3rd grade teacher, Mrs. Vankowski, decided that we, her students, ought to have a good working knowledge of Christmas carols, so she set out to teach them to us. Several times a week, during the run-up to Christmas, we would gather around the classroom piano, where she would accompany us as we sang our way through a quite extensive list of songs.

Mrs. V, bless her heart, was not of the wishy-washy sing-the-first-verse-only school. With what I can only admire as a proper respect for the text, she took us through all the verses of every song, over and over, until we could sing them without hesitation and with much joy. ("Remember, it's 'light and life', NOT 'life and light'", I can hear her saying.) And in the process, at least one of her students learned every verse of every one of those carols by heart, and remembers them still.

It's Christmas Eve today. As is our yearly custom, we've just listened to the live broadcast of the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols from King's College, Cambridge. The dear, familiar scriptures have been read; the carols - some old, some new - have been sung. The congregation has risen, the collect has been said; now for the final, jubilant rendering of "Hark! the Herald Angels Sing". The glorious organ peals out, and a thousand-plus voices soar up through the splendid roof of the Chapel, singing as one to the glory of God.

Far across the Atlantic ocean, in a small Wisconsin village, a blogger sets down her knitting and sings along. Verse for verse, word for word; no booklet or hymnal is needed. This lovely lyric, and many others like it, are part of her oldest memories, and will remain with her when other memories have vanished. They were given to her as a child, and she counts them among her most precious possessions.

Thank you, Mrs. Vankowski. Merry Christmas to you, wherever you are.

And a very merry Christmas to all of you, my dear bloggy friends and readers.


What is your favourite Christmas carol? (Or holiday song?)

~

P.S. If you would like to listen to the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, check your local public radio station. Though the 2012 live broadcast is over, many stations replay the service at some point during the day. You can also hear this year's service at any time during the next 7 days on the BBC World Service - click here for the link.

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*As opposed to "the winter holiday"

44 comments:

  1. Aren't we blessed to have people like Mrs. Vankowski in our lives? There are others with different names, of course, but memorable just the same. And for you, the added memory of having been at the Cambridge service live. Ahhhh.... Merry Christmas!

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    1. Thank you, Marigold, and the same to you! :)

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  2. Happy Christmas Eve...

    Happy Christmas...

    "Auntie"

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    1. Thank you, Auntie. I hope your Christmas was delightful. :)

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  3. Happy, peaceful, magical Christmas to you Sue! I'll be raising a glass of a 1989 Vouvray to you tomorrow!

    Blessings to you from another carol lover.

    Stephanie

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  4. Wishing you a blessed and truly spirited Christmas Sue, this was such a lovely post. Yes, lest we forget that He is the reason for this season xox We were fortunate enough to watch the carol singers from Kings on TV this evening, it was precious xox Penelope

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    1. Thanks, Penelope! We love to listen to the service from King's - it is at the heart of our Christmas celebrations. :)

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    1. Thanks, Anne - the same to you and your family! :)

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  6. In 8th grade I somehow acquired a book of Christmas carols and learnt each one of them by heart, all three (or sometime four) verses. While I cannot recall every verse of every song some 44 years later, I recall enough to sing my way through nearly any played today. I've also added a comprehensive book of carols to my library, so that should the need arise I can refresh my faulty memory for those few verses which have faded into oblivion.

    It has been a wonderful year reading your postings, as a homesick Midwesterner now living in South Carolina, I wish you all the joy and peace of the season. Thank you for all of the joy you have brought me and others in 2012. Jean

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    1. Thank you so much for all you have said! I hope you had a very merry Christmas.

      There are a couple of very good carol books (I think by the Oxford Press), the first of which is called "100 Carols for Choirs". The second has a similar name. They're full of beautiful English carols, many of which never seem to have made it into standard American hymnody. I wonder if that is the book you own?

      :)

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  7. Thanks for sharing such a wonderful memory. Merry Christmas!

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  8. A very joyful and blessed Christmas to you my dear friend. Thank you for all your love and support over the year. I appreciate your photos and thought provoking....tongue in cheek....comments and thoughts. Joan

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    1. Thank you, Joan. I hope that your 2013 is filled with good health and happiness. :)

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  9. Lovely post, Mrs. Micawber!
    Merry Christmas!
    That's great that you keep traditions, old carols singing - sounds wonderful to me!I'd love to spend Christmas days in your part of the world :)
    I'm not familiar with Christmas carols in English (at least, no those which are old ones):) Going to listen to them then:)
    Anna

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    1. Thank you, Anna. I'll bet you know some lovely Russian carols....

      :)

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  10. Sue, a lovely memory, what a fantastic teacher. I am a "I'll Be Home For Christmas", gal, it makes me tear up every time I hear it. Merry Christmas to you!
    Meredith

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    1. Thanks, Meredith. That is a very wistful song, isn't it? I like it too. :)

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  11. My best memory of a teacher was Maxwell Fernie in New Zealand. An amazing man, always dressed very dapper with a bowler hat and cane. He used to take our school choir for lessons. I reckon we sounded like angels.
    Silent night always does it for me especially when sung by the old crooners. Tears can come in direct relationship to the amount of Xmas stress levels. Thank Goodness it's over, have been cooking all day and my legs are aching from standing. Having a cup of tea and a read. Here in Stockholm we have had about as much snow as you Sue...it's lovely. Peace and a good rest to you all. Eva

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    1. Thank you, Eva. And yes, Christmas is stressful. My husband gave me a cold, and I coughed my way through the day. :)

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  12. What a lovely memory! My family used to get together on Christmas Eve and my mother would read or tell us the Christmas story--sometimes with a flannel board. Then we'd all pile in the car (there were four of us kids) and sing carols as my father drove us to look at Christmas lights and luminarias (this was in New Mexico). There were lots of Christmas lights then--house after house--and we'd be in long snaking lines of cars. We'd return sleepy and tumble into bed listening for hooves on the roof top.
    Merry Christmas!

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    1. That's a wonderful memory - thanks so much for letting us in on it! There don't seem to be as many Christmas lights as there were when I was young.

      Merry Christmas to you too. :)

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  13. What a lovely snowy picture. I listen to my CD of Carols from King's College, Cambridge each year. I was away for 24 hours over Christmas joining family in the mountains, so couldn't see the BBC2 televised programme from King's College this year.
    I hope you had a lovely Christmas and are enjoying a peaceful 'Boxing Day' (so-called in Britain).

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    1. Thank you, Sandra - I am writing this on my lunch break as I have to work today. I hope your Christmas was wonderful - being in the mountains, it had to be! :)

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  14. Me too, me too, traditional carols are so beautiful. I also learnt many of them at school, but I don't sing along with the carols from King's ... my children complain if I do (and I can sing quite well, honest, they just say they can hear me any day and prefer the unadulterated sound of the choir, but do you know I think next year I just might sing anyway!)

    I hope your Christmas has brought you and yours all that you hoped for Sue. Season's Blessings m'dear x

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    1. Thanks, Annie. No one here complained when I sang - but as it was only Mr. M and my nephew, and I sang very softly (in part due to a sore throat), I don't think they minded. And after all it was a congregational hymn so I had all the people in the Chapel singing too. :)

      I hope your Christmas was wonderful.

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  15. I used to keep Christmas music in my CD player in my car from October to March, because I loved the way it made me feel. I've always believed Christmas tends to be happier than any other time of year, and I've always attributed it to people hearing Christmas music everywhere.

    I wish we could make those feelings, and the reverence, last all year.

    I hope you had a very blessed Christmas, warm with family!

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    1. Thanks, Deb! It was certainly warm with family, but a bit sneezy and cough-y as I have a cold. :)

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  16. Hope your Christmas was wonderful. Isn't it great that those lovely songs are still with you, to sing and to enjoy.

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    1. Thanks Beth, and I hope your Christmas was wonderful too. :)

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  17. Mrs. V. sounds like she might have been an Episcopalian! We sing all the verses, too.
    One of our choir members has invited us over a week from Friday (11th day of Christmas, I think it will be) to have an evening of singing from the Oxford Book of Carols - because there just isn't enough time during the Christmas services to get them all in!
    Hope your cold is better, Sue, and thanks for the beautiful post.

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    1. Oh, that sounds like an evening of delight. I never get enough chances to sing Christmas carols - though of course I sing at home while playing CDs, it's not the same as singing with a group. Have a wonderful time! :)

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  18. I have very much missed your posts, dear friend. I am sorry I have been away from blogland for so long. My favorite Christmas carol is "What Child Is This?" Blessings to you for a happy 2013!

    P.S. I got some D.E. Stevenson and THirkell books for Christmas! So excited to delve into them :-)

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    1. Thanks, K! I hope you enjoy your books. :)

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  19. Merry Christmas! I loved your post. Christmas carols are the only songs that I know most of the lyrics to. I used to play piano but all my music books are gone. My favorite carol is Oh Come All Ye Faithful ! I really don't care what time of year it is if I need to sing a song it is usually a carol cuz I know the words.
    Happy New Year!!!

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    1. Thanks so much for commenting, and a belated Merry Christmas to you! :)

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  20. I can't remember anything about 3rd grade. I do remember my 4th grade teacher -- Mrs. Cargill. She had long fake fingernails, a glass eye, our track team was called the Cargill Cougars and she was the first and only teacher to send me to the principal for a paddling (back in the day when that was a okay). Mrs. Vankowski sounds so much nicer!

    I enjoyed caroling with my church group as a teenager. And will never forget when we visited Bethlehem and were in the Church of the Nativity in the little manger area where Jesus was born and an Italian tour group started singing Away in a Manger, in Italian -- me and my girlfriend both started crying, it was such a beautiful moment. My all time favorite song that always gives me goosebumps is Oh Holy Night.

    Hope you are over that cold by now. I still have a cough that came with the flu I had the two days after Christmas.

    Wishing peace and love, health and happiness in the new year. Tammy

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    1. Thanks Tammy! I remember Mrs. V particularly - not only because of the carols, but because she had a reputation for being mean, which proved to be totally unfounded. She was firm, but kind.

      Your Mrs. Cargill sounds fascinating. :)

      Hope your cough is better soon - I have quite a nagging one myself and am sure Mr. M is tired of listening to it.

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  21. What a wonderful teacher! What a wonderful way to mould her students. I love to sing and normally on Christmas eve I go with my family to the local crib service in an Anglican church and sing my heart at, gloriously, there are a few who are keen to try the different parts and it makes your heart soar to part of it.....there may only be a handful of people, but they are welsh ;-) with big voices! The church I go to, is modern and we sing modern songs, but oddly enough, I have been in discussion with our worship leader today (I play as part of a group) at the loss of vocabulary in modern day church music, well coined phrases, simple language and steering clear of subjects lest we offend, something has been lost. Old hymns have a richness that in some ways has been lost....I think it will mean that maybe our services may change a little, and for the better I am sure.

    I hope that you had a good Christmas, and that 2013 brings much blessing for you and Mr. M.x

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    1. Thanks, Faith, and how nice to hear from you again! I love part-singing as well, and like to jump all over the scale when singing at church.

      Many old hymns do have great richness of language and subject matter, and I much prefer them to almost any modern worship song. Have you thought of taking time-tested lyrics and setting them to different tunes? Some of the original tunes suit the lyrics, but some could stand improvement. And it's one way to get people used to more involved lyrics. :)

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    2. That is exactly what we were talking about...I think we may well give it a whirl!

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    3. That is exactly what we were talking about...I think we may well give it a whirl!

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