Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Music of Christmas

Our December 10 entry presented information about the free Christmas Concerts at St. Louis Cathedral on Jackson Square in New Orleans.

Since that first concert with Ellis Marsalis, we have attended four other performances. Since we were asked not to take photographs during the concerts, I will include some photographs of the activity around the Cathedral while giving a brief description of the performances.

We will take a look around Jackson Square (photo on the left, looking south from the Cathedral) and the different aspects of life that take place in the plaza in front of the Cathedral before heading into the Cathedral.

You will find a variety of musicians, costumed walking-advertise-ments, tarot card readers and palm readers, travelers on long journeys, visitors pausing on one of the benches, artists, photographers and their subjects (see photos #10 and #11 below), and a number of people watchers.

The first concert of the next four was a perfor-mance by Philip Manuel and Shades of Praise.

Songs included both secular and traditional religious songs. In particular, we enjoyed
"Mary Had a Baby" with its refrain:
"The people keep a-comin' an' the train done gone." Known primarily as a jazz vocalist, Manuel sung this beautiful traditional African-American Christmas song in an elegant style.

In contrast to the more energized interpretations of gospel songs, the interracial, interdenominational gospel choir presented "Silent Night." Three singers were featured, each singing a verse. Of particular note was the verse sung by a strong man with elegant facial features. We expected to hear a strong baritone or bass voice, but instead, and surprisingly, we heard a magnificent falsetto. It was glorious.

As an aside, my favorite artists' interpreta-tions of
"Silent Night" were those of Enya and The Tempta-tions. Shades of Praise's version, sounding very similar to that of The Temps, now shares second place with the Temptations.

The Preservation Hall All-Stars performed several familiar Christmas songs and carols. Santa had joined the group for the vocals and the trombone parts in this fun performance.

A few nights later, we attended an Irvin Mayfield concert. A jazz trumpeter, Mayfield noted before his perfor-mance: "I am very nervous about playing Christmas music, because if I mess up, everyone knows it."

Well, that may be the case when playing "Ave Maria" and "O Holy Night," but Mayfield performed these flawlessly. But with songs like "Winter Wonderland,"
"Let It Snow," and the Charlie Brown classic "Christmas Time is Here," his artistic interpretations shown through to the great pleasure of the crowd that lined the Cathedral's walls.

The fourth perfor-mance discussed today was presented by the St. Peter Claver Catholic Church Gospel Choir. The selections sung by this group were traditional religious hymns and showed the group's talents well.

The choir was joined by Clyde Lawrence for two songs. Mr. Lawrence led the chorus at McMain Secondary School and was Orleans Parish’s Middle School Teacher of the Year.

"...singing is life itself to Lawrence. The very core of his being is so packaged by musical notes that he was nicknamed 'Mr. Music' by a friend years ago" (

As Mr. Lawrence walked down the aisle, one could tell that the gentleman with the Santa Claus build took joy in singing and teaching others how to enjoy their own voices.

And then he began singing. This jolly fellow's voice filled the Cathedral. As he sang "O Holy Night," his voice became stronger and the tones mesmerizing. When he finished with the words "O night divine," without a break he made the transition to "How Great Thou Art." There was neither a sound nor a movement among the audience until he reached "great" in the last three words of the song. Those in attendance rose as one and applauded loudly. He found it difficult to begin his walk back to his seat because the sign of appreciation did not soon wane.

The choir seemed inspired as they finished their last couple of songs, and this earned them an equally enthusiastic sign of appreciation from the audience.

When we left the Cathedral, we said very little; I think we both were still replaying the performance.

As we were doing some window shopping while waiting for the shuttle back to the RV Park, Mr. Lawrence came walking down the street. We took this chance meeting to tell him how much we appreciated his performance. A wonderful end to the evening.

The route back "home" took us up Canal Street with its decorations.