Light in the Darkness: Abbie Betinis writes a new Christmas Carol for troubled times

by John Birge, Minnesota Public Radio
December 21, 2012

ST. PAUL, Minn. — "The message I got out of this poem is that even in a dark world, where there's so much trouble and so much heartache, and so much disease, and so many hard, hard, things; still, somehow we carry this absurd joy in our hearts to get through it. This carnival, this something that gets us through this tragic, tragic world. That really spoke to me this year."

Composer Abbie Betinis has exquisite timing in that, given the sorrow of Newtown and the prospect of Christmas and the New Year. The poem that composer Abbie Betinis refers to above is "Heart's Holiday" by Grace Fallow Norton. Abbie turned it into a new Christmas carol titled "The Mirthful Heart."

Betinis carries on a family tradition begun ninety years ago by her great-grandfather Bates Burt, and continued by Betinis's great-uncle, Alfred Burt. Some of Alfred Burt's carols, such as "Caroling, Caroling" and "The Star Carol" have become a part of the standard Christmas repertoire.

Abbie picked up the tradition by writing a new carol every year, and for the past twelve years she has premiered them on Classical Minnesota Public Radio. This year, Abbie and her MPR Carolers also performed two carols by Bates Burt: "Let's Have a Merry Song Tonight," and "While All the Earth Was Dark and Dreary."


The Mirthful Heart

Adapted by Abbie Betinis from "Heart's Holiday" by Grace Fallow Norton. From Poetry: A Magazine of Verse. January 1914. Harriet Monroe, ed.

Without, a city's whirling dust,
A city's alley-wall;
Without, a bleak, pale strip of sky.
Within, high festival.

Without, no greeting on the street,
From the hurrying crowd no smile.
Within, my heart's bold pageant moves
In glorious solemn file.

Chorus: Noel, noel, noel, noel...

There was no call for revel. Day,
Who summons us each morn,
Came forth in dreariest garb and blew
No gala herald-horn.
But slave of day I am not -- nay,
Her mistress still, I wield
The crystal sceptre of my mood,
Bearing my dream's white shield.

Chorus: Noel, noel, noel, noel...

Exultant, rapture-flooded, mad
With mystic inner mirth,
My heart holds her strange carnival
Unseen of all the earth.

Chorus: Noel, noel, noel, noel...

While All The Earth Is Dark And Dreary

Music and lyrics by Rev. Bates G. Burt (1931)

While all the earth was dark and dreary,
Fast held in bonds of sin and shame,
When souls were sick, and hearts were weary,
'Twas then the Word incarnate came.

Born 'mid the out-cast and rejected,
Child of a poor and humble maid,
He, whom the prophets long expected,
Was in a lowly manger laid.

Foregoing rank and reputation,
Leaving His high exalted state
Bringing God's love for man's salvation,
He leads us now through Heaven's gate.

O wondrous love beyond all knowing!
O Word Divine of Virgin born,
Come to our hearts, thy peace bestowing,
Fill all our lives this Christmas morn.

Let's Have A Merry Song Tonight

Music and lyrics by Rev. Bates G. Burt (1940)

Let's have a merry song tonight,
A jolly Christmas tune;
Stars are bright and hearts are light
Beneath the Yuletide moon.

Nowell, Nowell, Nowell.

Kindle the Yulelog, hearts aglow,
And hang the holly wreath,
Hang also the mistletoe
So maids may stand beneath.

Nowell, Nowell, Nowell.

Welcome the guest from far or near
Who comes on Christmas Eve;
Such good cheer may he find here
That he'll be loath to leave.

Nowell, Nowell, Nowell.


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