CHRISTMAS IN CAMELOT
A Tale of Music and Magic in King Arthur’s Court
More than 14 centuries ago on a cold and sparklingly clear Christmas Eve, a deep snow blanketed the land. A brilliant star illuminated the midnight sky: it was a harbinger of a special Christmas. King Arthur had gathered his court at Camelot for an evening of music and celebration.
Among those in attendance were Queen Guenivere, Sir Lancelot and his son Galahad, Morgan le Fay, Mordred, and Niniane the fabled Lady of the Lake. The guests awaited the arrival of the seer and prophet Merlin, who had promised to provide an evening of music unlike any ever heard in the realm.
The story of this evening comes from a recently discovered account written by Arthur’s court scribe. Embedded within a rare copy of The Red Book of Hergest (the ancient Welsh book of healing and medical remedies) were several hidden pages. Written in an old Welsh dialect, the text, now translated, is history’s only eyewitness account of what transpired that evening.
The chronicler wrote:
The prophet Merlin finally arrived with great fanfare and drama. He carried with him a mysterious glass case covered with a blue silk cloth.
King Arthur asked, “Merlin, can you now please tell about this special evening of music you have promised us?”
Merlin answered, “Your Highness, tonight we will play Christmas music from more than 1000 years hence. I have traveled forward in time and brought wonderful music that people all around the world will come to treasure for their Christmas celebrations.”
The Lady of the Lake then asked “Merlin, since you have the gift of time travel and we do not, please tell us about this future. How will it be different from today?”
Merlin answered, “Dear Niniane, in the future men will call our time an age of darkness. Yet these future people will have forgotten the every day arts and sciences which we know. They will have lost the art of prophecy, the capacity to shape shift and travel through times future or past. They will have reduced reality to what for us is a childlike view. A child only knows what he can see or hold in his hand. Today, for instance, we travel by changing shape, and fly through the air as a falcon. In the future men will build large hollow metal tubes with stiff wings that will travel along the ground and then ascend to the air to fly across the heavens.”
Niniane said “Merlin please tell us more.” Merlin continued, “Over time there will be many changes in music and musical instruments. Our lutes of today will be flatter in shape with a longer neck and they will be called guitars. By the middle of the 20th century men will harness the power of lightening and carry it with a special wire into their guitars. When they play, the sounds will be loud enough to split an eardrum! Some of the young musicians will paint their faces and dance like zombies while they play. I know it is hard to imagine a darker age than these coming future times.”
King Arthur said, “Merlin, were these tales of the future coming from any other being, I would call upon my physician to check for a mental affliction. But no one here doubts the veracity of your prophetic vision. Let us then not further delay. Let the Christmas music begin.”
Merlin then removed the blue cloth covering the glass case and had all the guests look at its contents. Within were all manner of miniature models of musical instruments. Queen Guenivere then asked, “Merlin, what is the purpose of all these instruments?” Merlin answered, “Your Highness, I have traveled long and far through time and space and have gathered these instruments of the future. Now behold!”
With a wave of his arm each of the instruments magically was transformed into its full size. The room was filled with violins, cellos, flutes and various drums and bells. Then Merlin said, “I have traveled the centuries and have brought here much music which will become beloved by all peoples. Tonight we will hear Christmas carols like ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen’, the ‘Coventry Carol’, and ‘O Holy Night’. We will play music of great master composers of the future like Johann Sebastian Bach, Johannes Pachelbel and Antonio Vivaldi. Altogether we will be blessed by the divine joy that their music embodies. We shall bond with the timeless spirit and essence of Christmas.”
Sir Lancelot then asked, “We are wondering how will you perform this music for us, since none of us can play these instruments?” Merlin answered “For that, noble Knight, I will now summon the spirits who have agreed to come here and help us with the music making.” Merlin looked towards heaven and swirled the blue silk cloth through the air. Instantly a host of celestial musicians descended to the great hall and seated themselves among the instruments.
King Arthur then said, “Indeed Merlin this is truly an auspicious beginning to our Christmas celebration. Please begin.”
Merlin then gestured to the musicians. They began by playing two especially festive works:
1. Carol of the Bells Ukrainian Christmas Song
2. Canon in D major Johann Pachelbel
Niniane then said, “Merlin, both of those pieces are indeed inspiring, but can you now play something that is about romantic love?” Merlin replied, “Of course, then let us hear this sweet English tune that will be much cherished.”
3. I Will Give My Love an Apple Anonymous English Folk Song
Then Sir Lancelot spoke up, “Merlin, what about playing a song that really celebrates the spirit of Christmas, and that we can all dance to?” Merlin said, “This song may fit your mood.”
4. God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen English Christmas Carol
With all the guests seated again after the dancing, King Arthur said, “Merlin, let us now hear more music to inspire our Christmas mood.” Merlin answered, “The next three pieces I hope will fulfill your wish.”
5. O Holy Night Adolphe Adam (1847)
6. Largo from The Four Seasons Antonio Vivaldi (1725)
7. Coventry Carol 16th Century English
The guests listened with deep reverence as the heavenly musicians played. When the Coventry Carol finished Merlin spoke again, “We will now hear a most wonderful song called Greensleeves. It tells a romantic story of courtship, but in later times religious lyrics will be written and it will also become known as “What Child is This?” So without further ado let the musicians will play the tune.”
8. Greensleeves Variations Anonymous 17th Century
Merlin again addressed the guests, “Since I already spoke to Queen Guenivere about the transformation of the lute to the guitar, we have three pieces for you to be played on guitar tonight. There will be many kinds of guitar by the 20th century, in addition to the one powered by the force of lightening. Tonight we will hear a Spanish guitar playing two pieces by the great 18th century master Johann Sebastian Bach, followed immediately by a Prelude written by a composer who will be born across the great ocean in a land to be called Brazil. He will be known to the world as “Villa Lobos” and will be much beloved for the music he brings to his time.”
9. Sarabande – 6th Cello Suite Johann Sebastian Bach
10. Gavotte II – 6th Cello Suite Johann Sebastian Bach
11. Prelude #3 in A minor for Guitar Heitor Villa Lobos
The guitarist bowed to the assembled guests after finishing his last piece and then Queen Guenivere said, “Merlin, did I really hear a quiet chirping of birds while the guitarist played Bach’s Sarabande? It is a cold winter night and I have not seen or heard songbirds for a very long time."
Merlin replied, “Indeed you have heard correctly. Our spirit musicians are always followed by a small flock of birds. When the birds are especially inspired by the music they join in and add their sweet singing to the music being played. Our evening of music from the future is almost at its end and soon our heavenly guests must return to their celestial abode. We can ask them to play but one last piece. But first I must ask young Sir Galahad, who appears a bit distracted, to please share what is lying so heavily upon him.”
Sir Galahad then spoke, “Thank you Merlin. I am afraid that my question is not in keeping with our wonderful festivities, so I am reluctant to ask it.”
Merlin said, “This is an evening where everyone’s heart should find peace. So please do not be shy.”
Sir Galahad said, “Well, as part of our training for knighthood, we are told that at any time we may face sudden annihilation, and although I am young I have already seen much death and am greatly disturbed by it. I know it is Christmas and a time for joyous celebration, but can you impart some wisdom about what happens when we leave our earthly life?”
Merlin said, “I have, perhaps, a quantum of solace to offer regarding the mystery of death. Imagine a pure white feather softly floating to earth from a heavenly blue sky. When we die, our soul rises towards heaven – somewhat like that white feather, but instead of coming to rest on earth, we ascend into heaven.”
Merlin said, “Let us now offer one final musical piece, but this music comes from the past. Thousands of years before the great civilization of Egypt, there was a more ancient culture that would become known to the world as Atlantis. For now, suffice it to say, that two of Atlantis’ great composers together wrote music about the very subject of Sir Galahad’s question. Their composition is called ‘Heaven.’
“As you listen you may contemplate the sublime journey of the departed soul as it floats upward and is embraced by Heaven. We are now privileged to call forth the timeless Atlantean composers who will perform ‘Heaven’ for us.” Merlin raised both arms upwards and then the two composers from Atlantis materialized. They bowed once towards Merlin and then to the guests.
The one once known as Tua-At then spoke, “My fellow composer Chimfu-Ra and I wrote “Heaven” together in Atlantis many centuries ago. We have adapted it to the instruments here tonight, but we wish you to know in advance that as the music is played the instruments and the musicians will gradually transform into bodies of light. Do not be alarmed. Because the music follows the journey of the soul from human embodiment to its ascent after death into heaven, we decided to have all of the elements – music, musicians and their instruments actually follow the path from Earth to Heaven itself.”
They then stood together before the assembled musicians and their music began. And indeed, as the music was played, both the musicians and the instruments slowly began to transform into rainbows of light. When the music finished, the instruments and the celestial musicians had fully ascended back into the heavens from whence they had come.
After the performance all of King Arthur’s court remained entranced in meditative quietude. King Arthur said, “This was a most remarkable evening of music and mystery and is a fitting celebration of Christmas Eve. Let us decree that we will all meet here again next year for another evening of enchantment. Thank you Merlin. Thank you honored guests. Merry Christmas!"
So ended the chronicle of Christmas in Camelot.