“Before the marvel of this Night,” this year’s Christmas concert theme, is sure to marvel audience members with the sights and sounds of hundreds of student musicians. What concert goers will not realize without carefully reading their program is that our own President William Craft is playing a large role in this year’s opening number.
A poem written by Craft is being sung during the opening musical number at the Christmas concert. This verse is just a portion of the poem written by Craft.
“In this cold and angry season, this winter of our sin,
From the rude, unlovely manger, love calls to us again,
Speaking justice over empire, lifting hatreds’ mortal curse,
Making whole our broken spirits with news of peace on earth.”
It all started a few years ago when Craft was asked by a colleague to write a Christmas hymn text to a particular English hymn tune. While sitting in the Pittsburgh airport on his way back home, Craft began to scribble out some ideas and phrases that had popped into his head. Soon, it was a finished Christmas text connecting the creation story of Genesis to Christ’s birth.
“When I wrote this, I was wrestling with this notion of the beauty of God’s creation and then the suffering, loss and cruelty that we are ourselves sometimes responsible for,” Craft said.
The hymn was performed at the colleague’s church during the Christmas season.
It seemed that was the end of that text’s journey until Craft’s wife, Anne Craft, urged him to use this text on their Christmas cards. The cards were sent out and one landed into the hands of professor René Clausen. As the artistic director of the Christmas concerts, Clausen took interest in the text and saved it in his Christmas concerts interest folder.
“I immediately liked (the text) as just a piece of literature,” Clausen said.
When it came time to start the process of designing this year’s Christmas concert, Clausen returned to his idea folder to retrieve Craft’s text. He saw the opportunity to write original music to original text that seemed to fit flawlessly into the theme.
“Many of the ideas fit very beautifully into a dusky, nocturnal beginning,” Clausen said.
He decided to give Craft a call.
Craft was honored to have Clausen ask to compose a piece of music using his words.
“I’m just amazed and pleased beyond my ability to say that René would think it was worthy of a setting,” Craft said.
With Craft’s consent, Clausen began composing the Christmas concert opener. Clausen used the imagery of the text to inspire the music that approximately 350 singers and a 70-piece orchestra would perform for audience members this Christmas season.
Once the piece was completed, Clausen headed over to Craft’s office to show him the finished product of both their efforts.
“I was just utterly blown away when I saw it,” Craft said.
Craft was given a copy of the score but has yet to hear the song. Anne Craft is a pianist, but they have both resisted the temptation to try to play the piece before the choirs and orchestra perform it.
“I never imagined this would happen,” Craft said. “It’s a lovely experience.”
This piece will be performed during the Concordia Christmas concerts Dec. 13, 14 and 15 at the Faro Civic Center and at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis Dec.12.
This article was written by Maureen Wieland, contributing writer.