She grew up singing with her sisters, her strong alto voice easily settling upon the natural harmonies that complemented the sweet sound of her four siblings as they visited from church to church in the central Texas countryside. But even after marrying and moving away from her family, singing continued to be an integral part of her faith, especially in the weeks leading up to Christmas.
Her favorite secular song was clearly “Silver Bells,” and though she never actually met Bing Crosby… or traipsed along snow-crunched city sidewalks…it didn’t stop her from doing a duet with him whenever it played on the radio… “Ring-a-ling (ring-a-ling), hear them ring (ting-a-ling), soon it will be Christmas Day.”
When it came to carols, however, there was one song that similarly made her seasonal hit list every year. For within the Methodist hymnal published in 1905 that she grew up with was a new melody composed by the gifted Wesleyan University professor who was charged with assembling that songbook to be used by churches across the country both big and small, from New York to Nacogdoches.
Based upon a poem by the novelist Josiah Holland written for an 1874 Sunday School Journal, Karl Harrington fashioned a tune around each phrase, merging both words and music as a melody quickly came to life:
“There’s a song in the air! There’s a star in the sky! There’s a mother’s deep prayer and a baby’s low cry! And the star rains its fire while the beautiful sing, for the manger of Bethlehem cradles a King!”
To be sure, the song sounds a little schmaltzy today, and I halfway expect an announcer to precede it with the words, “This is an all-skate.” But if I close my eyes and listen hard, I can still hear my mother’s alto voice gliding effortlessly over the melody line:
“We rejoice in the light and we echo the song, that comes down through the night from the heavenly throng.”
And whatever your personal tastes or musical style may be, in the words of Josiah Strong, that “song from afar” really has swept over the world.
So let “the beautiful sing” indeed! No doubt my mom will be harmonizing with you in heaven.