Life in Community

Rise Up, Shepherd

December 18, 2020 by

There’s a star in the East on Christmas Morn
Rise up shepherd, and follow
It will lead to the place where the Savior is Born
Rise up shepherd, and follow.

CarolingListingShepherds rise up in the Fox Hill barn.

My favorite Christmas carol? I can’t answer that. Or rather, I’ll answer it differently every time. It’s not as if the choices end on page 305 of the Bruderhof’s hefty red Christmas song book, replete with songs from the simplest two-line round to the most obscure Flemish carol, to the three-page, four-part, lead-swapping, drum-rolling harmonies of “Shall I tell you who will come to Bethlehem on Christmas Morn?” But I love the old English carols, set in minor keys that sound like they’ve traveled across centuries and frozen moors to be sung around a hearth by candlelight. Songs like “Green Growth the Holly,” and “In the Bleak Midwinter.”

So when asked if our family would consider a musical contribution to this year’s first ever Bruderhof Christmas Spectacular (think international YouTube concert of dazzling variety), I pondered the possibilities of a harp and pennywhistle cover of “I Wonder as I Wander,” or… wait, what about “What Child Is This?”

I wasn’t allowed to ponder long. My colleague Marianne, co-orchestrator of said event, informed me that most of those songs were claimed, and anyway, they needed a few carols with a kick to throw in the mix. Oh. The faint, fading strains of harp and tin whistle drifted back onto the moors, and another note intruded – a honking, rocking note.

One of the first times I saw (or shall we say heard) my future husband, he and his clarinet were smoking through a fired-up spiritual, “Rise Up Shepherd and Follow.” He couldn’t seem to decide if he wanted a blues or Klezmer sound so he was doing both, and a note in the last line kept dropping a half-step in a way that sounded so right it’s now permanently stuck in my head… a problem when singing with many righter people.

So how about that for a carol with a kick? The rest of the family flock said amen to this choice, but we never actually found a moment to practice it. For one thing, Fox Hill community’s Drive-Through Live Nativity event was looming, and we were racing around trying to drum up other shepherds to abide in fields, not to mention cookies to abide in boxes, choirs on sound stages, and three separate babies with their abiding families to rotate in and out of one-hour time slots.

CarolingEmbedFox Hill Bruderhof Live Nativity, 2020.

It all turned out well; in fact it was an incredible evening. Friends from the neighborhood streamed through in their cars, stayed for as long as they could in front of the manger and child, and on their way out, stopped to say a prayer or a wish from their car windows, as members of our community lit a candle for them on surrounding pine trees. At the close of such a brutal year it was something, at least something, toward bridging the distance and loneliness; a way to follow the star of Bethlehem together.

Still, here we were, two days before deadline, with no song. Actually, we all know the song. Two-year-olds know the song. But getting our whole crew together, including three friends (lucky for us they included a violinist and guitarist) and the camera-man, who was our friend but might no longer be after this…? True, we’re quarantining together, but trying to align schedules during these particular weeks was perhaps on the far side of ambition.

So when we did manage to convene at our community barn the day before yesterday evening, with a few ragged costumes and musical instruments (not so ragged) it was a minor miracle. While the camera-man waited semi-patiently, and the clarinet and fiddle got a bit colder and flatter, we debated about who got to pop out of which door or loft, at which line of which verse. With no clear consensus, but the youngest (age six) beginning to feel cold and flat herself, we decided to just tear into it and “see what happens,” a line no videographer wants to hear. Roll call: barrel-riding beatboxer? Check. Skid-scooting guitar-man? Check. Fiddler in the tack room? Check. Small child pointing in the general direction of a star, namely, up? Check.

Actually, Take One would have been fine except that (a) eldest daughter never made it out of the horse stall, where she was communing with her favorite Haflinger. I didn’t ask her whether she couldn’t get out of the hay bin, or didn’t want to. She’s spent happy afternoons cantering over the autumn fields with Callie, and perhaps they were just catching up, thus missing her cue. Also (b) the three stooges at the end of the music video were having such a good time with their improvised solo that we never sent in the small shepherdess who was supposed to haul them off-stage. Why break up a good thing? But they took umbrage, or ran out of air, or something, so a second shot was called.

On Take Two we learned from our mistakes, or were cold enough to call it a glowing success, and retired for hot chocolate and popcorn. If the horses were any indication, it was definitely time to leave. They kept turning their heads back and forth and rolling their eyes in long-suffering fashion. I could see the thought-bubbles above their heads: “So rise up already. Turn off the noise and just go to Bethlehem.” “You’re totally in the wrong stable.”

Not content with asking us to make some music, Marianne also requested I write about how it went. I have set down a true account of the struggle. Was it worth it? Watch the Bruderhof Christmas Spectacular concert on YouTube on Sunday December 20 (or any day after that), when twenty mini-choirs and musicians (most family groups, some Covid-bubble sharing assemblies of friends) raise their voices in the spirit of Christmas. Did I say Watch? Nah… Sing along with us!

We’ll be here on the Bruderhof YouTube channel on Sunday evening at 7:00 pm Eastern Time.

If you take good heed to the angel’s word,
Rise up, shepherd, and follow.
You’ll forget your flock, you’ll forget your herd.
Rise up, shepherd, and follow.

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About the author

Maureen Swinger

Maureen Swinger

Maureen Swinger is an editor at Plough Publishing House and lives at the Fox Hill Bruderhof in Walden, New York, with her...

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