Calm on the Listening Ear of Night
(A Christmas Anthem for SATB chorus & organ)
Calm on the Listening Ear of Night (A Christmas Anthem for SATB chorus & organ) is the result of a commission from Aurelia Gray Eller for A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols (2017) at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Winston-Salem, North Carolina. This annual St. Paul’s service is an Advent/Christmas tradition at St. Paul’s and in the Winston-Salem community. Since 2014 the Service has featured a newly commissioned choral work. Musically, the Service is led by the choirs of St. Paul’s (Dr. John Cummins, Organist and Choirmaster).
Aurelia Gray Eller, a long-time and prominent member of St. Paul’s and the Winston-Salem community at large, commissioned Calm on the Listening Ear of Night in 2017 in memory of her husband, Mr. John DeWalden Eller, Jr. (1929-2000) and her first grandchild, Dr. Mark Glenn Cathey (1981-2011). Both men were beloved by many and, through their lives, touched countless others.
Calm on the Listening Ear of Night was composed during the summer of 2017. Its evocative text of the same title is by the 19th century Massachusetts Unitarian minister and writer, Edmund H. Sears (1810-1876). Educated at the Theological School of Harvard University, following several brief Unitarian pastorates in Massachusetts, he was forced into early retirement in 1847 due to ill health. For the remainder of his life Edmund Sears devoted himself to writing. It is from the first years of his retirement period, in 1849, that he produced his most universally beloved Christmas hymn text, It Came Upon the Midnight Clear. His earliest hymn text, however, Calm on the Listening Ear of Night, dates from fifteen years earlier. Created in 1834, Calm on the Listening Ear of Night was first published the same year in the Boston Observer. Later revised by Rev. Sears, it is that revised version of his Christmas text that has led it to become so enduring and is the one used in my new choral setting.
Duration : ca. 6’
Winston-Salem, North Carolina
Calm on the listening ear of night
Come heaven’s melodious strains,
Where wild Judea stretches far
Her silver-mantled plains.
Celestial choirs from courts above
Shed sacred glories there;
And angels, with their sparkling lyres,
Make music on the air.
The answering hills of Palestine
Send back the glad reply;
And greet, from all their holy heights,
The Dayspring from on high.
O’er the blue depths of Galilee
There comes a holier calm,
And Sharon waves, in solemn praise,
Her silent groves of palm.
“Glory to God!” the sounding skies
Loud with their anthems ring,
“Peace to the earth, good-will to men,
From heaven’s eternal King!”
Light on thy hills, Jerusalem!
The Saviour now is born!
And bright on Bethlehem’s joyous plains
Breaks the first Christmas morn.
Edmund H. Sears (1834)
(As it appears in The Hymnal of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America, 1871.)