gershon hepner

(5 3 38 / leipzig)

white christmas


The writer dreamt of Christmases as white
as prayer shawls he remembered in the shtetl,
which I believe inspired him to write
the song that lifts my heart like heavy metal;
composing with the magic wand of Merlin
he never felt it was at all unnerving
to be a chazzan for the goyim, Berlin
the miracle that he created, Irving.
The miracle that he created starts
when he begins his song by stressing “I’m; ”
it is this “I’m” that reaches to our hearts
each time we hear his song at Christmastime.

This poem was inspired by Jody Rosen, a music critic who is and author of 'White Christmas: The Story of an American Song' (Scribner,2002) , in the Los Angeles Times, December 25,2002, but I added the last quatrain after reading “The Best-Selling Record of All, ” by Roy J. Harris Jr, WSJ, December 5,2009, where Harris points out that Irving Berlin made his song magical by stressing the first word, “I’m”.

Jody Rosen writes:

Here we arrive at another irony: The creator of the Great American Christmas Carol was neither American-born nor Christian, but a Russian Jewish immigrant, the son of an orthodox cantor. 'White Christmas' thus stands not just as a symbol of the ad hoc invention of Christmas 'tradition, ' but of the assimilationist striving behind the Golden Age of Popular Song, that remarkable era when Jewish songwriters from Berlin to Kern to Gershwin made a tuneful conquest of mainstream imagination. The most surprising aspect of Berlin's song is its melancholy - the plaintive ache for long-gone Christmases 'just like the ones I used to know' that marks 'White Christmas' as the bluest tune ever to masquerade as a Christmas carol. It is perhaps this more than anything that accounts for the song's enduring appeal.

Roy J. Harris Jr. writes:
Berlin biographer Philip Furia believes the songwriter's lack of formal musical training—he composed mostly on the black keys of F-sharp, often transposing songs with a specially modified piano—led to songs that 'subtly depart from the most fundamental tenets of songwriting.' While others might have stressed 'dreaming' and 'Christmas, ' for example, 'Berlin deftly emphasizes the seemingly unimportant 'I'm' with a whole note, then races over the other syllables' before the next whole note, 'white.'

12/25/02,12/5/09

Submitted: Saturday, December 05, 2009

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