My elementary school choir teacher was a perfectionist to some and a slave driver to others. She strictly enforced her rules. And all of these characteristics were amplified in the time leading up to the school's annual Christmas concert.
Each year, we were required to take tests on the words of the Christmas hymns to ensure that we knew them. It wasn't enough to just know the first verse or the familiar verses. We learned every verse of every hymn. The memorization task was daunting for a second grader. I remember reading the words over and over in preparation for the tests. If you didn't pass the tests, you were excluded from singing in the concert. Some of the tests were fill in the blank, but on some you had to write out all of the words to each verse.
I remember being really embarrassed when I had to retake the test on "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear". I forgot some of the words to the fourth verse. How many second graders have even heard the fourth verse before? How many of you could even tell me what's in the fourth verse?
I passed the tests each year and was allowed to participate in the concerts. As a result, I still know all of the words to all of the verses of all of the Christmas hymns. I even know all the words to the more secular, traditional songs as we used to travel to nursing homes and other places to give mini-concerts. I still love Christmas music, even though I learned it from the drill sergeant choir teacher. And even though I know all the words, I discover new meaning in them each year when I sing them and listen to them.
Below are the words to "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear". While listening to it, I was reminded of the drill sergeant and the test I failed because of the fourth verse. The fourth verse is actually a really great verse...and while I knew the words before, I know them and understand them so much better today.
It came upon a midnight clear,
that glorious song of old,
from angels bending near the earth
to touch their harps of gold.
Peace on the earth, good will to men,
from heaven's all gracious King!
The world in solemn stillness lay
to hear the angels sing.
Still through the cloven skies they come
with peaceful wings unfurled;
and still their heavenly music floats
o'er all the weary world;
above its sad and lowly plains
they bend on hovering wing,
and ever 'er its Babel sounds
the blessed angels sing.
But with the woes of sin and strife
the world has suffered long;
beneath the angel strain have rolled
two thousands years of wrong;
and man, at war with man, hears not
the love song which they bring;
O hush the noise, ye men of strife,
and hear the angels sing.
For, lo! the days are hastening on,
by prophet bards foretold,
when with the ever-circling years,
comes round the age of gold,
when peace shall over all the earth
its ancient splendours fling,
and the whole world give back the song
which now the angels sing.