This post was originally published here on the Blind Pig and The Acorn in November 2013.
Sears was saddened by the poverty he encountered in his community and by the division the country as a whole faced over slavery. He struggled with writing the special Christmas message, but was inspired by the second chapter of Luke in the Bible. While Sears pondered the miraculous story of shepherds being visited by an Angel with the glory of the Lord shining upon them, he wrote a short poem and titled it It Came upon the Midnight Clear. Sears combined the words from an old poem he had written with his new poem and the Christmas carol we sing today was born.
Sears was also an editor for a newspaper and magazine. Working in the print business allowed Sears to publish his poem, ensuring more people than those who attended his church would be exposed to his writing.
Richard Storrs Willis was a choral composer. Willis came across the poem written by Sears and realized a tune he had written fit it perfectly. In 1850 Willis published the song, naming it Study Number 23. Ten years later Willis republished the song with a new arrangement and called it While Shepherds Watched their Flocks by Night. The second version is the song we are familiar with today.
It took 2 men-Sears and Willis-to produce a song that fit neatly into most hymn books, however it took thousands of men to make the song a true Christmas carol that is woven tightly into the Christmas culture of America.
American soldiers sung It Came Upon The Midnight Clear while they were stationed in France during the war. One can imagine how the words of the song struck a chord with soldiers fighting for their very lives. The song became such an important anthem to the soldiers, that the ones who made it back home made sure the song was part of their Christmas tradition for years to come.
The follow lines seems to take on greater meaning for me when I think of soldiers fighting in a strange and distant land:
Peace on earth, good will to men From heavens all gracious King, The world in solemn stillness lay To hear the angels sing
O'er all the weary world: Above its sad and lowly plains They bend on hovering wing, And ever o'er its Bable sounds The blessed angels sing
And ye beneath life's crushing load Whose forms are bending low, Who toil along the climbing way With painful steps and slow, Look now for glad and golden hours Come swiftly on the wing, O rest beside the weary road And hear the angels sing
It Came upon the Midnight Clear is the second track on Pap and Paul's Songs of Christmas cd.
Wish you had one of the cds? I'm giving one of the first issued cds away-all you have to do to be entered in the giveaway is leave a comment on this post.
The first issue of the Christmas cd has 8 songs on it. The second issue has 15. It Came upon the Midnight Clear is on both!
If you'd like to buy a copy of the second issue of Songs of Christmas go here.
*Giveaway ends Wednesday November 18.
Truthfully, It Came Upon the Midnight Clear hasn't ever been one of my favorite Christmas songs. But after researching the history of the song-it's moved farther up the list. I love thinking about Sears writing the poem in a fit of sad inspiration; Willis discovering he'd already composed music that fit the words perfectly; and most of all those WWI soldiers who sung the song as a way of making them feel closer to home.
Sources: *Wikipedia-photo, *Public Domain-photo; *Collins, Ace. Stories behind the best-loved songs of Christmas. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2001. Print.
Christmas is coming! I'm sure you've already noticed the decorations in the stores. The girls and I have been in Christmas crafting mode for a few weeks now. While we were crafting yesterday I said "We ought to listen to some Christmas music." I told the the girls I'd check the tv and see if the Christmas music channels had been turned on yet. Sure enough they had, so we crafted to the sounds of the season.
I found the crazy photo of Chatter from last Christmas. I have no idea what she was doing under the tree nor do I remember taking the photo...which makes me wonder what in the world her and her sister were up to that day.
A couple of years ago, Pap and Paul put out the cd Songs of Christmas-a few of you probably remember it. The cd was a huge success-it completely sold out.
The first cd had 8 songs on it; Paul never felt like that was enough. After the success of the first cd, he decided he wanted to produce another Christmas cd, but instead of starting completely over he added more songs to the original cd for a total of 15 songs.
Hard to believe it's been two years since Paul produced the second issue of the cd Songs of Christmas. It's also hard to believe there are only 7 Sundays between now and Christmas-and that's counting this one! Christmas will be here and gone before we know it.
I'll be sharing songs from the Songs of Christmas cd for my weekly Pickin and Grinnin in the Kitchen Spot from today until Christmas in an effort to enjoy every last minute of Christmas this year.
Here's the cut of Silent Night from the cd (just hit your back button to come back to this page after listening):
While I was digging around in the basement for crafting supplies I found 4 cds from the first issue of the cd. I'll be giving them away starting today.
Do I have a favorite song from the cd? It's too hard to choose! O Little Town of Bethlehem has always been one of my favorite Christmas songs; Good Christian Men Rejoice has such a hopefulness about it; and Pap and Paul make Away in a Manger sound like a lullaby.
What Child Is This? gives me chills every time I hear it; Jingle Bells makes me pat my foot and think of Christmas morning; and We Three Kings is breathtakingly beautiful in a way that makes me disbelief someone (2 someones) from my family played every instrument and sung every word.
For a chance to win one of first issued cds leave a comment on this post and tell me what your favorite Christmas song is. *Giveaway ends Wednesday November 11.
If you'd like to buy a copy of the second issue of Songs of Christmas go here.
Portions of this post were published here on the Blind Pig in October of 2012.
This past summer I fell in love with a new scary song. It all started when Chatter picked up a Josh Williams cd at a thrift store in Black Mountain, NC. Chatter was already a fan of Mr. Williams-but once she listened to that cd a few hundred times she became slightly obssessed.
Remember our trip to Cashiers back in the summer? (if you missed it-just click on the words in orange to read about it) Josh Williams just happen to be playing on the main stage-and Chatter just happen to get to meet him. After she came back down to Earth she said "You know what? Someday I'll be playing on the same stage he is and I'm going to tell him I met him when I was only 15 years old and it was one of the best things that ever happened to me." I said "That sounds totally possible to me."
The whole cd is great-all the songs are top notch but the song I like the best is The Cave. I couldn't wait to ask Paul if he'd ever heard it.
I said "I found the scariest song ever!" Then he busted my bubble by saying "Oh that's an old Johnny Paycheck song." I said "Well don't you think it's scary?" He said "Well I guess so." Well I guess so-hmph! See if you think it's scary-here are the words:
Last night I had the strangest dream that I have ever dreamed I was a boy again just barely in my teens Wondering through the woods and hills that towered above our town And in the rocks and brush an entrance to a cave I found
And like most any young boy would I crawled into the cave And in the damp dark darkness then I slowly made my way Tunnel after tunnel going this ole way and that Until suddenly I knew I didn't know where I was at
Well I tried to find the way out but it seemed to be in vain The more I tried the more confused and frightened I became At last in sheer exhaustion I collapsed and fell asleep Until the distant roaring sound of thunder wakened me
The thunder boomed the Earth it shook I trembled in my fear Surely this must be the worst storm in a thousand years And all the time the fury of the storm just seemed to grow Until suddenly it ended with a great earthquaking roar
I then began to crawl around and what a stroke of luck I saw a ball of tiny light and so I followed up And soon I crawled out of what I thought would be my grave And what I saw it made me wish I was back down in the cave
For there was not a blade of grass a tree or bush around Not even one small bug a crawling on the parched burnt ground And looking down the hill I saw the shambles of a town Where people used to live before the bomb came down
Watch the video below and you can hear Josh Williams perform the song.
Another song on the cd is Mordecai-if you've never seen the video it is totally worth taking the time to watch. It's not scary at all-well unless you're afraid of birds. Click here to see it.
The excerpt I shared a few days ago about Dorie being homesick reminded me of the song The Hills that I Call Home written by Bob Amos. The song isn't about the Smoky Mountains nor even about any area of Appalachia, but it sure offers a good narrative for the sense of place many Appalachians feel.
People have pontificated about the attachment folks like me have to their home in the mountains of Appalachia in a positive manner as well as in a derogatory manner. Whether their homes be mansions on a hill or cabins in a holler, they have historically been fiercely attached to them. Appalachians like their place.
There are varying reasons behind our love for home. I'm sure some Appalachian scholar could explain each of them to you in great detail. Me-I like things simple. And in my simple mind I narrow that love of place down to three reasons.
First: There is a true sense of belonging to the actual terrain of Appalachia. It's the towering mountains that hover close; the sparkling water that sings a merry song to you; it's the wind in the trees that whispers secrets; it's the deep dark hollers that make you feel the presence of those who walked the trails before you. Appalachia is magic. People like me, who've lived here their entire lives feel the magical pull of belonging to Appalachia, and people who move here feel it too.
Second: Generational ties to Appalachia are hard to break. In a 2010 Blind Pig guest post, David Anderson wrote about two of his ancestors. In the post he highlighted the fact that ten generations later the descendants of those ancestors are still abiding in Clay County NC. Take a minute to think about that. Ten generations of the same family who walk the same paths; who speak the same words. Ten generations who are bonded with the same landscape and culture of Appalachia, never straying far from where their ancestors first settled.
Third: The physical landscape of the Appalachian Mountains has made it an isolated area. Appalachia as a whole was a very remote and hard to get to place and in turn a hard place to make an exit from. It was too hard for people to leave, too hard for them to imagine a life outside the mountains, and it was hard for them to leave in a physical sense because their travel was restricted by the rugged terrain. Certainly modern transportation has removed the barriers which have traditionally held the inhabitants of Appalachia close. Yet even now, portions of the area could still arguably be called isolated. Murphy, the county seat of Cherokee County NC where I live, is closer to five other state's capitals than to its own.
Give Pap and Paul's version of the song The Hills I Call Home a listen and see if it speaks to you about your place.
I don't agree with a lot of things scholars say about Appalachia, but I do agree a sense of place is at the heart of Appalachia and its culture.
A line from the song says: Yet I found no peace within me till the day that I returned For there's two things you can count on as the troubled world we face Every season has an ending and every person has a place.
Appalachia is my place.
This post was originally published here on the Blind Pig in January of 2009.
Sunburst logging town (present day Lake Logan)
I became interested in logging railroads when I worked at Lake Logan in Haywood County, NC. At the time, the lake was owned by Champion International (a paper manufacturing company). Champion used Lake Logan as a meeting facility. Folks would come for a conference or a workshop and while they were there they got to enjoy a little R&R in the form of fishing, golfing, canoeing, hiking, and party time in the bar which was called the Boojum Cave.
When I worked at the lake there were amazing photos of tough logging crews from the early 1900s enlarged to 3 or 4 feet in length. The photos showed trains hanging on to steep mountainsides, hauling logs bigger than any I've ever seen.
During my days of boat house attending, I was also being smitten by The Deer Hunter. We spent many days tramping through the Middle Prong Wilderness. In places you could see the remnants of the railroad, still lingering after all those years.
I'm still drawn to the picture of the railroad logging operation. At that point in history it was modern technology, it provided work for hundreds of loggers and for folks who serviced the loggers, it was loud, it drastically changed the landscape of the mountains, and a whole town sprung up around it, in other words it was the biggest thing going.
Along side the first picture is a newer one. Most of the acreage logged in that area is now protected land, the timber is once again impressive in size, the town is gone. All that's left of the railroad are a few pictures and a few memories. Small fragments from a time in history.
The forests are now silent except for the occasional hunter, fisherman, or hiker. It's almost like the logging railroad at Sunburst never existed.
The comparison between the two pictures is why I find history so fascinating. What once was in now gone, but sometimes if you look closely you can still see the imprint of it.
For this week's Pickin' & Grinnin' In The Kitchen Spot I've got a train song for you- Gordon Lightfoot's Big Steel Rail Blues. A song about a man wanting the big steel rail to carry him home to the one he loves.
Hope you enjoyed the song!
More than a few of you have recently asked how Pap's doing these days. He's doing great! He's back to his pre-hip break/heart attack health.
Back in August he took the stage with us again for the first time. We were playing at the Hiwassee Dam Opry and he came on stage to sing 2 songs. He didn't feel like playing a guitar that night but since then he's joined us on stage 2 times to do some picking and singing just like he did before his accident.
Here's a video from the show back in August. It starts out with a little humor from The Pressley Girls as a discussion about which microphone Pap should use is going on.
I hope you enjoyed the video. Just so you know I credit Pap's good health to all of you who said a prayer for him and sent good thoughts his way. I'm still awed by the overwhelming show of support you showed us.
I'm hoping Pap feels up to playing with us next Sunday October 4 at the John C. Campbell Folk School. We take the Festival Barn Stage at 2:00 p.m. If you make it to the show please come up and say HELLO we'd love to talk with you! We usually congregate just to the left of the stage as you go out the back of the barn.
This post was first published here on the Blind Pig in April of 2011.
Are there kids from your childhood that you can't forget? I'm not talking about the kids you were best friends with or even friendly with. I'm talking about the kids who seemed to be on the periphery of the playground. Maybe they were odd, poor, had annoying or strange habits, or maybe they were only at your school for a short time before they were gone leaving you wondering what happened to them.
I remember kids that fit into those molds and every once in a while they pop into my mind. How could knowing them for a short period of time, and not very well at that, make them unforgettable?
Could it be my brain likes to remind me I could have reached out to them or maybe the kids were such enigmas that all these years later my brain is still trying to figure out who they really were.
Hamilton Skeleton-was that really even his name? What happened to him, his cookie making Mother, and all the kids their family seemed to have?
Karem and her brother and sister who were from Venezuela. Why did they come to Brasstown and why didn't they stay longer?
The Castleberry brothers, where did they go? They road my bus for years it seemed and then they were just gone.
Bobby who lived down the road and once told me I was a witch. Was she really murdered or is she still alive somewhere on this Earth?
Paul sings a song written by Ron Sexsmith, Strawberry Blond, it fits my thoughts perfectly. Give it a listen and hear about the girl he couldn't forget.
Hope you liked the song! Are there any kids you can't forget?
Jo Kilmer - Spirit Tall
Two interesting things happened during the month of July at the Blind Pig House. It all started when the girls did some work for one of our dear friends Jo Kilmer.
Jo is a very talented rustic artist as well as an amazing clogger-the clogging part is how we met her in the first place. She hired the girls to help do some work in her yard and told them upfront "We'll work in the morning while it's cool and then when it gets too hot we'll go inside the studio and create." Who wouldn't want a job like that?
On the hot days of July the girls learned much about jewelry and macrame from Jo. You can see some of the things Chitter learned in her Etsy shop.
During that time Chitter also wrote 3 new fiddle tunes! Maybe it was all that creative vibe going on or maybe it was getting to spend quality time with a good friend.
Everyday when I got home from work I'd ask the girls how work was and what sort of 'creative' things they did with Jo that day. I got the feeling they were hiding something from me. Since my birthday was coming up I figured Jo was helping them make me a necklace or a dragon fly.
Skip ahead to my birthday.
I came home from work that afternoon and could not believe what was sitting in my living room...these two chairs!
I was so shocked I could barely say anything. Chatter said "Well are you disappointed? Do you like them?" I said "Are you CRAZY I love them! I just can't believe you made them."
The girls said it was only possible with Jo's help and man did they have a new respect for the rustic art Jo makes-cause it's hard to make.
A few days later we were down at Pap's picking and grinning when Chitter decided the name of one of her new fiddle tunes needed to be Two Old Chairs. I totally agreed.
I hope you enjoyed the tune! If you'd like to know more about Jo and her Rustic Artwork jump over to her website Spirit Tall and poke around. Along with the beautiful furniture and dragon flies she also holds workshops on a regular basis.
I first shared portions of this post back in June of 2012. I grew up hearing the tune called Bonaparte's Retreat, but never gave the song much thought until C. Ron Perry, a Blind Pig reader, sent me an email containing the story the song played in the Civil War and the chain of events which resulted in Bonaparte's Retreat being called Grooms Tune in Haywood County NC. Since I'm nearing the end of my WC Penland's Civil War Letters Series I wanted to share the story with you again.
After Ron sent me the email, I googled around and found the same story C. Ron had told me on the Find A Grave website. Ronald Halford graciously allowed me to share the story here on the Blind Pig and The Acorn.
Tradition has it that George Grooms Jr. and his brother Henry Grooms were working in their field in Cataloochee on April 10, 1865. A group of raiders from Teague's Company came into the field and captured George and Henry. They marched them to the Tennessee Line, nearly 8 miles away where they met up with other raiders who had captured Henry's brother in law, Mitchell Coldwell. The raiders decided to shoot the three. The story continues that George cursed the raiders as they shot him tied to a tree. Mitchell Coldwell was said to have been a kind and simple minded individual and the raiders made him pull his hat down over his face. They did not want to kill a man that was smiling at them. Henry who was a fiddle player asked to pray before he was shot. The raiders agreed that they would let him pray but he would have to play them a tune on his fiddle. Henry played them Bonaparte’s Retreat, said to be his favorite tune. Afterwards, he also was shot. All three were left in the road beside the bullet scarred tree where they were tied and shot. Henry's wife Elizabeth Coldwell Grooms (sister to Mitchell) and a Sutton boy, probably a relative, went to the site later and took the three bodies back on a sled pulled by an ox. All three were said to have been buried in a common grave in this cemetery and all three in one large pine box (coffin). The story continues that the actual fiddle belonging to Henry Grooms is on display at Dollywood Theme Park in Tennessee. The song Bonaparte’s Retreat is known locally as the Grooms Tune. This information was gathered from several sources including information on display at the Theme Park. Accuracy and truth of this account is unknown by the writer. Note the photo of the grave stone is inscribed Mitchell Coldwell but by tradition it is the burial place of Henry, George, and Mitchell.
written by Ronald Halford.
If you've heard the Blind Pig Gang or The Pressely Girls perform live, you've most likely heard our version of Bonaparte's Retreat aka Grooms Tune and you've probably heard Chitter tell the story above in her own unique fashion. After Ron shared the story she started telling it to every audience that was listening to her.
Almost a year ago Don Casada, discovered more information about Grooms Tune and the story that took place in the Cattaloochee section of Haywood County. He even found a map that helped him locate the approximate location of the event. One thing led to another and before you know it we realized this past April would be the 150th Anniversary of the Grooms brothers' death and we decided it would be pretty cool to go find the spot and let Chitter play her fiddle right there where we think the incident took place.
I'll be sharing the video we filmed that day, but before I get to it I'd like to share some of the other research Don discovered as well as research from some other folks. Be on the lookout for more about this fiddle story.
A few of you may remember, I shared a post about the song Working on a Building last October. At that time, Pap, Paul, and Chatter had been singing the song for a few months. If you missed the post you can click here to go back and read it.
We continued to do the song on through the Winter and into the Spring with Chatter singing the verses and Pap leading out the chorus with Paul and Chatter jumping in to form some great three-part harmony.
We had several performances lined up throughout late Spring and on into Summer. After Pap's accident we knew it would be a while before he was able to do any traveling around with us.
The song Working on a Building is so fun to play that one Sunday afternoon Paul got Chitter to try doing Pap's part since he wasn't feeling up to singing just yet. One thing lead to another and this is the version we came up with. I think it's pretty amazing.
Paul's guitar breaks are something else. I've woke up more than one night with that break going round and round in my head. And you can tell by the looks on the girls faces its a song they really like performing.
Hope you enjoyed the video, it was filmed at the Hiwassee Dam Opry. The Pressley Girls will be playing there again November 6 at 7:00 p.m. And while Pap didn't sing on this song-we did convince him to come up to the stage and sing two songs that night. Hopefully before long he'll be up there with us for the whole show.
p.s. Ed Ammons wrote about a interesting character from his neck of the woods yesterday too. Ed wishes he'd taken time to get to know the man better before it was too late. Go here to read Ed's post.