The incongruity of the story of Christmas - that the Creator of the universe was born in flesh as a child who spent his first night of life sleeping in a feed trough because his parents, an unmarried peasant couple, were forced to take shelter in a stable because there was no place for them in the inn - was shared Saturday and Sunday in concerts by the Rolla Choral Arts Society.
Performances were in the sanctuary of First Presbyterian Church of Rolla.
"Magnificat," by Gerald Finzi, and "O Magnum Mysterium," by Morten Lauridsen, demonstrated the irony of Christmas to anyone who had ears (as that child born in a stable was fond of saying in his adulthood as a rabbi).
The Rolla Community Choir and the Rolla High School Chamber Choir combined on the Finzi work. The Rolla Community Choir performed the Lauridsen piece.
Both "Magnificat" and "O Magnum Mysterium" stress the dichotomy between the riches of the universe found in the person of Jesus, the Son of God, and the poverty of his birth to Mary, the virgin engaged to Joseph, a common laborer.
As is obvious from the title, Finzi used Mary's beautiful soliloquy recorded in Luke 1:46-55 for the lyrics of his work. Mary spoke the words when she arrived at the home of her cousin, Elizabeth, who lived in the Judean hill country.
Both women were pregnant, Elizabeth with the child who would grow up to be John the Baptist, the prophet who would baptize Jesus. Elizabeth said that her baby "leaped in my womb for joy" when Mary entered the house and spoke her greetings.
"Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?" Elizabeth said.
Mary replies with what has been known for centuries as her Magnificat.
"My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior," she says. "For he hath regarded the lowliness of his handmaiden ... He hath put down the mighty from their seat and hath exalted the humble and meek. He hath filled the hungry with good things. And the rich he hath sent empty away."
Finzi set the full Magnificat to music of great drama.
The paradox of well-trained singers – dressed in fine clothing in the setting of a well-lit, well-appointed house of worship – singing about the incarnation of God to a poor couple was further driven home by "O Magnum Mysterium."
This is another piece of music using an ancient text for the lyrics. This is not from scripture but is a chant from the Matins of Christmas. In Latin, it is just 23 words; in English, just a little longer.
Page 2 of 2 - The composer has said he wrote the music to express the irony of God as an infant lying in a barn with animals.
Certainly the birth of a person who was fully divine and fully human simultaneously was a momentous occasion, yet there were no city officials, no members of a ministerial alliance, no commercial leaders, no elite members of the community present at that birth.
"O great mystery, and wondrous sacrament, that animals should see the newborn Lord, lying in their manger!" is the chant in English, followed by "Blessed is the Virgin whose womb was worthy to bear the Lord Jesus Christ. Alleluia!"
A slang word used way too much is "awesome," yet that is the word to use in describing Lauridsen's composition, which he himself calls "a quiet song of profound inner joy."
In addition to the aforementioned choirs, other performers were Rolla Men of Song, RCCC Young Singers, Rolla Community Children's Choir, Rolla Junior High Jazz Choir, Rolla High School Jazz Choir and guest musicians Ilene Morgan, flute, and Marty Munz, percussion.
Accompanists were Annie Gao and Kathy Mazzeo. Directors were Jane Tummons and Jeff Sandquist.