The Story behind the Song
The Advent and Christmas season, among many other virtues, fuses the marvelous God-implanted imagination of a child with the glorious wonder of the Incarnation. The sensory experience of Christmas imparts an indelible impression upon a child’s soul; an impression that remains—deepens and enriches— all of the days of her life.
I composed To Bethlehem, like almost all of my songs, through my identify and work as a parish minister. I was preparing for a Christmas Eve sermon during which time I began to be fascinated by the inanimate things around the birth of the Savior: the manger, cave or stable, star, sky, and swaddling clothes. Of course, there was no Christmas tree around. Though, when I was in my study, I had a small one on my desk. In that moment, I was carried back to a rural area of Louisiana, to a place that was the last acreage owned after the losses from the Civil War (Yes; I know that sounds far-fetched, but you have to know: my Aunt Eva, who reared me, was born in the 1800s, just as Reconstruction made her father—my grandfather, George Michael Milton—a sharecropper on the land he grew up on—his father was a soldier in Company G, the 9th Infantry, or “The Fighting Tigers,” as they were known). I was orphaned. Things were often hard, but never without food we raised in pasture or in a field. Back to the tree. I thought about how I would go out to get the tree in the woods behind our home. With ax over my shoulder, and my faithful dog, Snooper, running ahead, as if to spot a good one for us, I went in search of—what?—an icon of sorts; an inanimate, and traditional artifact to bring us, by reading Scripture, warm spirit, imagination, and mincemeat pie, to Bethlehem.
The sensory experience of Christmas imparts an indelible impression upon a child’s soul; an impression that remains—deepens and enriches— all of the days of her life.
Those Christmases seem so far away, now. The days are forever inaccessible. Yet, in a way, by the warm glow of memory, made more nostalgic with age, the slow, quiet, far-away Christmas days,wrapped in a mindful vignette of creamy, soft light, are near. In a way, they are more accessible than ever. In fact, I think of those distant days as so close that Christmas is forever present. Do you feel the nostalgic tension of your own Yuletide impressions? Am I journing farther, or, perhaps, nearer?
When I composed the song, I hoped it would connect with your own memories from childhood. When I went to the recording studio to plan the song, I worked with the wonderful Steve Babb to produce it. Steve, and recording genius, Fred Schendel, helped me to see the song as something different than a quiet acoustic ballad, my go-to approach. I recorded the acoustic and my voice, and, then, we began to experiment. The product was a sort of electric folk, the lows all but absent, leaving room for a remarkable bass track. Cindy Gibbs added her vocals, with Fred, and we had it. The bass runs on this song, with a Paul McCartney-like technique, add a festive layer to an otherwise contemplative piece. I hope you enjoy it.
If the song warms your heart all the better. If the music works like a gentle solvent to expose the day-to-day build-up of busyness, hiding your divinely-placed spiritual longing, then, perhaps even removing enough to feel again, then, prayers will be answered. If, To Bethlehem unleashes any Gospel truth embedded in that musical and lyrical carrier, that leads you to the One satisfies the deep cry for eternity within each of us: then, listen, and follow. Follow the musical signposts all the way To Bethlehem.
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