catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 1, Num 8 :: 2002.12.20 — 2003.01.02


The Darkest Night of the Year encourages silent night

I love Christmas. I love driving down Lake Shore Drive in Chicago and seeing all of the trees on the museum campus brilliantly lit up for the season. I love thinking about people the world over celebrating with their own traditions, some of them realizing for the first time that Christmas is about God coming to earth in the humble form of a child.

But every year I get more and more disgusted by how commercial the holiday is becoming. As soon as Thanksgiving is over (and recently they haven’t even waited that long), advertisers start pummeling us with messages about everything we need to buy to make our loved ones happy this year. The entire month of December becomes an insane frenzy of activity and soon, no one seems to be enjoying anything. They don’t have time; they have to push through herds of people to get the perfect gift for everyone they’ve ever had a five-minute conversation with.

And then, of course, there’s the music. The music is becoming commercial, too. Everywhere you go, the joyful, upbeat songs of Christmas attempt to keep us in a perpetual state of bliss, ready to whip out the credit card at any time for the next perfect gift. All of this contributes to a sustained chaos that allows little time to reflect on the incredible birth of Christ, the amazing idea of incarnation.

Over the Rhine, a great rock band from Ohio, released a Christmas album about six years ago that runs against the grain of most Christmas recordings I’ve ever heard. Instead of a collection of happy Christmas ditties, uninspired traditional arrangements and sappy new Christmas originals, OTR’s The Darkest Night of the Year

is a work that evokes wonder and invites reflection. Put simply, there are no sleigh bells on the entire recording.

The band uses acoustic instruments, guitar, piano, cello and bass, to set the quiet, contemplative tone. Instrumentals are interspersed among the vocal songs, featuring two mood pieces by guitarist Ric Hordinski that are perfect soundtracks to a walk in the snow. Multi-instrumentalist Linford Detweiler, on piano, and a guest cellist take turns playing lead on the other instrumentals. Karin Berquist’s lead vocals are a perfect compliment to the non-traditional arrangements of songs like “Silent Night,” “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” and “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” And the original songs, “Thank You My Angel” and “Mary’s Waltz” sit so well next to the well-known carols that I was left wondering, upon first listen, where I had heard the songs before.

Over the Rhine captures the quiet, less stressful side of Christmas and encourages the listener to take a few minutes to ponder the miracle of a virgin birth, the miracle of a boy who was both God and man. I encourage you, even if you never hear this particular work, to take some time this season to actually think about Christmas.

If you’d like to buy The Darkest Night of the Year , it can be pretty difficult to find anywhere other than the band’s web site because it was released on an independent label. However, our music affiliate, Djangos, does have a few used copies available.

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