One of my favourite parts of the Inauguration was this performance of “Air and Simple Gifts“, John Williams’ new “arrangement” for Barack Obama’s Presidential Inauguration, featuring Itzhak Perlman (violin), Yo Yo Ma (cello), Gabriela Montero (piano) and Anthony McGill (clarinet). What strikes me most about the piece is the incorporation of “Lord of the Dance” one of my favorite Celtic Christian melodies. I cannot help but wonder if it is a deliberate connection to Obama’s professed faith, or did Williams simply like the Celtic melody.
Here’s the video from YouTube. I love how much Yo Yo Ma is obviously enjoying the experience.
For those of you who may not be familiar with the piece “Lord of the Dance” was quite popular in contemporary Christian circles in the late sixties/early seventies. It was written by Sydney B. Carter, a freelance British writer and broadcaster. He wrote the lyrics which tell the basic story of the life of Jesus using dance as a metaphor for the gospel message. The lyrics were original written by Carter, but the melody is a variation on a 19th century Shaker tune that Carter adapted for the hymn. He has three other contemporary hymns to his credit.I’ve always liked the piece because of its use of metaphor in representing the Gospel.
Hearing the primary message of Jesus’ ministry presented in other ways has always appealed to me because it causes one to look at the gospel in other ways, helping to broaden and deepen our appreciation of its universal appeal.
Another wonderful example of this is Calvin Miller’s ‘Singer Trilogy.’ in the three volumes Miller presents the story of Jesus as an epic poem telling the story of the Troubadour, who has been called to sing the ancient Star Song, and pays the ultimate price for doing so. The three volumes in the trilogy are ‘The Singer’ which presents the story of the gospels, ‘The Song’ a representation of the Book of Acts, and ‘The Finale’ which explores the imagery of the book of Revelation. I highly recommend it to anyone, but especially to those who appreciate epic poetry and stories.
I present for your consideration as you listen to “Air and Simple Gifts” a second or third time, the lyrics to “Lord of the Dance”
I danced in the morning when the world was begun,
And I danced in the moon and the stars and the sun,
And I came down from heaven and I danced on the earth,
At Bethlehem I had my birth.
Refrain Dance, then, wherever you may be; I am the Lord of the Dance, said he. And I’ll lead you all wherever you may be, And I’ll lead you all in the dance, said he.
I danced for the scribe and the Pharisee,
But they would not dance and they would not follow me;
I danced for the fishermen, for James and John;
They came to me and the dance went on.
I danced on the sabbath when I cured the lame,
The holy people said it was a shame;
They whipped and they stripped and they hung me high;
And they left me there on a cross to die.
I danced on a Friday and the sky turned black;
It’s hard to dance with the devil on your back;
They buried my body and they thought I’d gone,
But I am the dance and I still go on.
They cut me down and I leapt up high,
I am the life that’ll never, never die;
I’ll live in you if you’ll live in me;
I am the Lord of the Dance, said he.