Anthony Esolen helps LifeSiteNews break into music reviewing here. He flexes his chops as an English professor, but really: music is more than its text.
I won’t say anything about the intentions of the composer and author, or about his faith. I’ll grant that his intentions are good and his faith is ardent.
Professor Esolen might have done better just citing the composer, Dan Kantor, and referencing the text as “Night of Silence,” a companion song to “Silent Night.” Instead the reader gets two contradictory sentences that I suspect the writer wanted to strengthen a larger dollop of seasonal bile.
I checked the composer’s website where this informative bit is offered:
The text of the song was inspired in part by the northwoods of Wisconsin and the sparkle of freshly fallen snow in the moonlight of a sub-zero winter’s night.
Professor Esolen complains that …
If it’s night, and you’re indoors, you aren’t trembling in shadows, because there aren’t any shadows. It requires light to cast shadows.
It’s possible for a critic to over-think an analysis. When I was first introduced to “Night of Silence,” the imagery of the first verse seemed clear enough to me. I wasn’t thinking of a full moon in the forest–which does indeed cast significant shadows. The Star came to mind, but that could also have been in the context of other Christmas songs. Or even the light described in other verses of the partner piece, those “radiant beams from (Christ’s) holy face” or the heavenly glories streaming in the final verse.
I’ll grant that Mr Kantor’s text, taken alone, isn’t as traditional as a hymn or carol that tells a story. But it has a context.
Professor Esolen’s conclusion:
We are apt to think merely functionally when it comes to divine worship. So long as we pray, hear the Scripture, and try not to let our minds wander during the homily, all is well. That is a serious mistake. We are creatures of flesh and blood, body and soul, reason and imagination. We are capable of far more than logic. We are capable of wonder. We cannot allow the television, or the movie screen, or, God forbid, the leaking sewer of popular novels to form our imaginations. We would then be to the world like faltering and half-hearted preachers with bad breath.
It has long been time to return wonder and reverence to worship.
The man has a Wikipedia entry. He translates a lot. Maybe he could try his hand at original writing. It’s the artist’s principle: show, don’t tell. Dan Kantor may not be a poet in the same league as Dante, but I get a good picture of shadows in moonlight, or the barren cut-back rosebushes in my mother’s garden at winter. They seem more connected to the mystery of the incarnation than bitter reviews and swipes at colleagues programming for the Providence College music department.