I went last night to the rehearsal at the down-the-hill church, instead of the up-the-hill church where I have been going. The difference is striking. At the up-the-hill church, everyone scurries to be on time, enters and takes a seat quietly, and the time between songs is quiet. At the down-the-hill church, many people are late, including the pianist, people talk all the way through the rehearsal, even when there is simply a rest in their part, and much time is wasted in laughing and bickering.

You wouldn’t think we were in the same town.

Both are fun, though there’s a predictable difference in the outcome as far as the music goes. Last night’s rehearsal was not only a jolly way to spend an evening, it also included a new-to-me carol that I really like, “Star in the East.”  Here’s some shape note music for it. Here’s a Wikimedia file, and here’s a YouTube file with an authentic shape note sound, which not everyone will enjoy. Friends of the Mountain Dulcimer share the dulcimer tab for it in pdf form. It’s included in the podcast of The Rose Ensemble. You can sing it with a YouTube karaoke while you get to know it.

The song is also known as “Brightest and Best of the Sons of the Morning,” though I know a completely different song by that name so I won’t be calling it that. It is usually attributed to William Walker, author of the shape note hymnal Southern Harmony, but Oremus says it’s by Reginald Heber, the Bishop of Calcutta.

If you’re not determined to sing it in  traditional shape note style, it’s a beautiful tune. The words are pretty cool, too:

1. Brightest and best of the stars of the morning,
dawn on our darkness, and lend us thine aid;
star of the east, the horizon adorning,
guide where our infant Redeemer is laid.

Refrain:
Brightest and best of the stars of the morning,
dawn on our darkness, and lend us thine aid;
star of the east, the horizon adorning,
guide where our infant Redeemer is laid.

2. Cold on his cradle the dewdrops are shining,
low lies his head with the beasts of the stall;
angels adore him in slumber reclining,
Maker and Monarch and Savior of all. (Refrain)

3. Shall we then yield him, in costly devotion
odors of Edom, and offerings divine,
gems of the mountain, and pearls of the ocean,
myrrh from the forest, or gold from the mine? (Refrain)

4. Vainly we offer each ample oblation,
vainly with gifts would his favor secure;
richer by far is the heart’s adoration,
dearer to God are the prayers of the poor. (Refrain)

5. Brightest and best of the stars of the morning,
dawn on our darkness and lend us thine aid;
star of the east, the horizon adorning,
guide where our infant Redeemer is laid.

This is a very good song for fiddles and other stringed instruments.

If you get tired, as many people do, of hearing the same Christmas music over and over at this time of year, you may be cheered by the knowledge that there are always lots more different tunes out there to learn.