Last night, appropriately in the first snow of the season (just a light snowfall that melted almost immediately after falling), i went to the annual Celtic Christmas concert at the Dumbarton church in Washington, DC. The church building dates to the 1850s; its beautiful stained glass windows were installed in the late 1890s; but the church itself was established in 1774, apparently making it one of the oldest Methodist congregations in the U.S. The downstairs area is an open space that on concert nights is used to display works of art for sale and there are always some yummy refreshments for sale. The concerts are upstairs in the sanctuary, which is usually decorated in some way for the season or holiday. At Christmas time, the railing in the front has an evergreen swag tied to it, and this year there was a huge green wreath (probably evergreen Magnolia leaves) on the organ (which is at the back of the small stage), and greens and wreaths in each of the window wells, as well as lit candles, and poinsettia plants all around.
The music was provided by Linn Barnes (lute/guitar/banjo/Irish small pipes) and Alison Hampton (harp) with friends Joseph Cunliffe on flutes and penny whistle, Steven Bloom on all sorts of percussion, and Robert Aubry Davis (of XM/Sirius radio, formerly of the local NPR station) reading several seasonal poems accompanied by the musicians. This is the concert that always marks the beginning of the holiday season for me. The music is uplifting, bright, contemplative, sweet, a little melancholy sometimes...the sweet sweet sounds of the lute and harp lifting up into the church's interior cast a warm light over everything. (Go to the Barnes and Hampton's site http://barnesandhampton.com/discography.html and click on the links on the discography page...lovely stuff, isn't it?!)
My favorite reading is Robert Aubry Davis reading Dylan Thomas's A Child's Christmas in Wales. I knew it was somewhat abbreviated from and different than the printed version; my friend David asked Robert about that last night, and the answer was fascinating...he uses a radio script that Dylan Thomas himself adapted from his book for presentation on the BBC, maybe in the 1940s.