My sincere thanks for the many cards, personal messages and gifts you have presented to me. Although my tenure as your director of music has been for three months, I have been warmly welcomed and feel I have been here for many years! Thank you!

Members of the choir have been working hard getting used to a new director! I hope you are aware how hard they work, not only learning new material, but their dedication and many hours working behind the scene keeping this church vibrant and welcoming to all in the Port Royal community.

~Ray Ackerman

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Have you ever wondered how or why a particular hymn came into existence? Let me share with you the history of Silent Night.

On Christmas Eve 1818 the carol “Stille Nacht! Heilige Nacht” was heard for the first time in a village church in Oberndorf, Austria. As the fame of this carol grew, its whereabouts were slowly forgotten. Myths and fanciful tales gathered around its origins. Only recently the name of the real composer was discovered. Here Bill Egan tells the true history of this beautiful piece of popular music. This excerpt of “Stille Nacht! Heilige Nacht!” is one of many authentic versions of the famous carol nowadays available.

“On Christmas Eve 1818. In 1818 the carol “Stille Nacht! Heilige Nacht” was heard for the first time in a village church in Oberndorf, Austria. The congregation at that Midnight Mass in St. Nicholas Church listened as the voices of the assistant pastor, Father Joseph Mohr, and the choir director, Franz Xaver Gruber, rang through the church to the accompaniment of Father Mohr’s guitar. On each of the six verses, the choir repeated the last two lines in four-part harmony. On that Christmas Eve, a song was born that would wing its way into the hearts of people throughout the world. Now translated into hundreds of languages, it is sung by untold millions every December from small chapels in the Andes to great cathedrals in Antwerp and Rome.”

Although meant for a performance in a church, Silent Night was composed for guitar. That is rather unusual for those days.

Some fanciful tales. Today books, films and Internet sites are filled with fanciful tales purporting to tell the history of “Silent Night.” Some tell of mice eating the bellows of the organ creating the necessity for a hymn to be accompanied by a guitar. Others claim that Joseph Mohr was forced to write the words to an new carol in haste since the organ would not play.

A recent film, created for Austrian television places Oberndorf in the Alps and includes evil railroad barons and a double-dealing priest, while a recent book by a German author places a zither in the hands of Franz Gruber and connects Joseph Mohr with a tragi fire engulfing the city of Salzburg. You can also read claims that “Silent Night” was sung on Christmas Eve in 1818 and then forgotten by its creators. Of course, the latter are easily discounted by manuscript arrangements of the carol by both Mohr and Gruber which were produced at various times between 1820 and 1855. In this age of tabloid journalism, it’s not surprising that some feel it necessary to invent frivolous anecdotes and create fables for a story that is quite beautiful in its simplicity.

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