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- Saturday, December 2, 2017
- 8:00 PM–11:00 PM
- Chapel Sanctuary
- $20 General Admission Seating
Over the Rhine, the Ohio-based folk duo of wife and husband Karin Bergquist and Linford Detweiler, has been creating music together for over twenty-five years. Their most recent album, Blood Oranges in the Snow (2014), which happens to be their third Christmas album, runs counter to the usual holiday cheer associated with Christmas songs. While their first Christmas release, The Darkest Night of the Year (1996), was primarily made up of reinterpretations of classic yuletide songs, they have since shifted their focus to writing the types of Christmas songs that have yet to be written. “Reality Christmas” is the phrase Over the Rhine has coined for their song-explorations of the dual-reality of the hope of Christmas and the unsentimental brokenness of the world into which that hope is meant to speak.
In writing Blood Oranges in the Snow, the band found inspiration from T. S. Eliot’s poem “Journey of the Magi,” which presents an intermingling, and even a confusion, regarding the themes of birth and death. Detweiler wrote for the band’s website: “Yes, there comes a time in life when the two are so intertwined they become inseparable, companions on the same journey, lovers even. Our happiest tears now sparkle with a glimmer of sorrow, which feels like a song.” This song-feeling of intertwined birth and death is at the core of Over the Rhine’s project: taking a new look at Christmas and its music, seeking a renewed perspective that sheds a simultaneous tear for the beauty and the heartbreak of the festive yet unresolved season of Christmas.
“My Father’s Body” is a clear exploration of the death side. In its reminiscence of a lost father, the song depicts the often heightened poignancy of loss felt during memory-soaked times of festivity. It does so without any sentimental softening of the blow. Christmas is associated with both the resonant grace of ringing bells and the unwaning reality of an absent loved one:
My father’s body lies beneath the snow
Sometimes on Christmas Eve that’s where I go
I hear faint Christmas bells from far away
Ring out all the unspoken words I’ve never found within myself
“Another Christmas” rests more in the tension between the death and birth, the broken- ness and hope of Christmas. The song begs the question, in light of humanity’s historically re- lentless addiction to violence, if we are, in fact, prepared for and able to believe in “peace on earth this Christmas:”
‘Cause we’ve committed every sin
And each one leaves a different scar
It’s just the world we’re living in
And we could use a guiding star
I hope that we can still believe
The Christ child holds a gift for us
Are we able to receive
Peace on earth this Christmas
By embracing, for better or worse, the intertwined themes of birth and death as they re- late to Christmas, Over the Rhine offers a new, previously unspoken story—“reality Christmas.” They hold onto the yet unrealized hope of Christmas—birth, or peace on earth—while not pre- tending that such promises of peace have been fulfilled already. Death-realities, such as buried fathers and the persistent, stubborn acts of human violence are not negated by the beautiful hope of peace on earth, for such ugly realities are ultimately and inescapably part of the human story. Over the Rhine holds the birth of Christmas in one hand and the death in the other, ignoring nei- ther. The songs might be less amenable to sing-a-longs than most well-known carols, but they might be a little more true.