The Hymns of Christmas: Go Tell it On the Mountain
I love every sensory aspect of Christmas. I love the sights and the smells, but most of all I love the rich and textured sounds. In short, I love Christmas music.
More than any other holiday, my Christmas season is hemmed in and held together by music. Music is a common thread woven through all the little holiday rituals, traditions, and memories that I share with my family and friends. Beautiful music. Nostalgic music. Radio music. Nature’s music. Muzak music. The music of Christmas is everywhere, and I love it all, but nothing quite so much as the season’s sacred music.
There aren’t quite words to describe the warm and inviting glow of a church sanctuary illumined by candlelight on Christmas Eve night, and the peace that washes over me when friends and strangers gather and sing the sweet strains of these well worn hymns. These simple songs bridge the chasm of time and space, and help me to be present to the miracle of Christ’s birth.
In an uncertain world, they stand for me as guideposts, pointing me always towards the certainty of hope. The exuberant and joyous African American Spiritual, “Go Tell It on the Mountain” is no exception to this rule. This carol is at the top of my list, because it so beautifully captures the joy of this season.
Though its precise origins are unknown, many believe this spiritual was discovered shortly after the Civil War, and popularized in the early- to mid-twentieth century. It has been a song of hope rising from the valleys of southern plantations, and issuing forth from the deep heart of Appalachian Mountain trails. It has been a gospel song enjoyed round cozy family pianos, by church choirs, and sung from main stages of grand concert halls. Peter, Paul, and Mary once adapted its lyrics and utilized this song as a civil rights hymn. It has been covered by an eclectic group of musicians ranging from Mahalia Jackson to Dolly Parton. In short, this is a carol that has seen a rich history.
Needless to say, I was delighted when two veteran artists, Margaret Becker and Jennifer Knapp, included it in their 2012 collection, The Hymns of Christmas, and gave it the royal musical treatment. For their collaboration, Margaret and Jennifer took ten Christmas classics and infused them with heavenly harmonies and their signature guitar work.
Encountering their arrangements is a bit like running into a dear old friend wearing a brand new dress, every bit as gorgeous as you had remembered and then some. From the looks of their sampler video, Jennifer and Margaret were busy weaving friendship alongside their harmonies. For anyone who needs a delightful burst of Christmas cheer, do yourself a favor and give this album a listen. You can start with, “Go Tell it on the Mountain.”
Photo of choir by Flickr/Duncan Harris, CC BY 2.0
Want to recommend a song for our Tuesday evening melody? Submit your suggestion and a little bit about the tune. We’ll take a listen for possible publication on the On Being Blog.