Journal-Times (Grayson, KY)

December 25, 2013

Like Christmas, the song comes back yearly

By Keith Kappes - Publisher

Dec. 25, 2013 — (Reprinted by request from December 2011)

We sang “Silent Night” in church last Sunday and I had the same flashback I have each year when that beautiful song first signals the Christmas season.

But instead of the traditional words we English-speaking Christians know and love, this is the version that first runs through my head:

Stille Nacht! Heilige Nacht!

Alles schläft; einsam wacht

Nur das traute heilige Paar.

Holder Knab im lockigten Haar,

Schlafe in himmlischer Ruh!

Schlafe in himmlischer Ruh!

It is the first verse of “Stille Nacht” in the original German text, later translated into English, altered and now called “Silent Night”.

In addition to researching the origin of the song, I had to memorize and sing the first two verses of “Stille Nacht” as part of my final examination in a German class many years ago at Marshall University.

Professor Walter Perl, a gifted teacher, loved that song because it reminded him of his Austrian homeland from which he and his family had fled during World War II.

In the European tradition, he lectured in an academic gown and demanded that we address him as “Herr Professor”.

I first thought the “Stille Nacht” assignment was silly. I was too busy with my social life and other classes to waste time on such foolishness.

But I realized I needed the class to graduate and that I would be in another of Herr Professor’s classes the next semester.

Honestly, at that point in my life, Christmas was a pleasant childhood memory but it was just another holiday – so I thought.

I learned that a Catholic priest, Joseph Mohr, wrote the original text of “Stille Nacht” as a poem in 1816.

Two years later, he needed a song for Christmas mass that would not require an organ.

He remembered the Christmas poem and took it to his church organist, Franz Gruber, who composed a melody to fit the text.

“Stille Nacht” was written in six verses but the English version only uses verses 1, 6 and 2, in that order.

My apartment was on the second floor above a tavern and I’ve often wondered how the patrons below reacted to my tortured singing in a strange language in the middle of the night.

But I’m forever grateful to Herr Professor for helping me develop a better understanding of the importance of the birth of Jesus Christ – through a deep appreciation of that beautiful Christmas song.

And while we’re on the subject of miracles – I got a “B” in that class.

Danke, Herr Professor.