The Ghosts of Christmas Past

by Valentine Wolfe

Released 2015
Released 2015
The Victorians had a tradition of gathering round to tell each other ghost stories and we've tried to capture that atmosphere using just voice and electric upright bass as our medium with which to commune with those Christmas spirits!
  • 03:22 Lyrics Dark Is the Even

    Dark is the even 
    Yet is the heaven 
    Lighted and glowing around us. 
    Shepherds arising 
    In wild surmising 
    Magic indeed hath found us! 

    Fair roses growing 
    Mid winter’s snowing 
    Who hath the vision beholden? 
    Yet, o’er the meadows 
    Through midnight’s shadows 
    See! How the sunlight is golden! 

    Over His dreaming 
    Radiance is streaming 
    Flooding the desolate manger 
    In Mary’s keeping 
    Soft He is sleeping 
    Held in her arms from danger 

    From God descended 
    Ragged, untended 
    Birds in the branches above them 
    Warmer are biding 
    Safe in their hiding 
    Clothed by the hands that love them 

    Melodies ringing 
    Angels are singing 
    Songs all around us are swelling 
    Sun of the morning 
    Tender thy dawning 
    Darkness and ill dispelling


  • 03:15 Lyrics Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence

    Let all mortal flesh keep silence, 
    And with fear and trembling stand; 
    Ponder nothing earthly minded, 
    For with blessing in His hand, 
    Christ our God to earth descendeth, 
    Our full homage to demand. 

    King of kings, yet born of Mary, 
    As of old on earth He stood, 
    Lord of lords, in human vesture, 
    In the body and the blood; 
    He will give to all the faithful 
    His own self for heavenly food. 

    Rank on rank the host of heaven 
    Spreads its vanguard on the way, 
    As the Light of light descendeth 
    From the realms of endless day, 
    That the powers of hell may vanish 
    As the darkness clears away. 

    At His feet the six winged seraph, 
    Cherubim with sleepless eye, 
    Veil their faces to the presence, 
    As with ceaseless voice they cry: 
    Alleluia, Alleluia 
    Alleluia, Lord Most High!

  • 03:57 Lyrics In the Bleak Midwinter

    In the bleak midwinter, Frosty wind made moan 
    Earth stood hard as iron, Water like a stone 
    Snow had fallen, Snow on snow, snow on snow 
    In the bleak midwinter, Long ago 

    Angels and archangels, May have gathered there 
    Cherubim and seraphim, Thronged the air 
    Only His mother, In her maiden bliss 
    Worshipped the beloved, With a kiss 

    What can I give him, Poor as I am 
    If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb 
    If I were a wise man, I would do my part 
    What can I give Him, Give my heart


  • 03:54 Lyrics I Wonder as I Wander

    I wonder as I wander out under the sky 
    How Jesus the Saviour did come for to die 
    For poor lonely people like you and like I 
    I wonder as I wander, out under the sky. 

    When Mary birthed Jesus twas in a cow’s stall 
    With wise men and farmers and shepherds and all 
    But high from the heavens a star’s light did fall 
    And the promise of ages it then did recall. 

    If Jesus had wanted for any wee thing 
    A star in the sky or a bird on the wing 
    Or all of God’s angels in heaven to sing 
    He surely could have it cause He was the King.


  • 03:00 Lyrics Wither's Rocking Hymn

    Sweet baby sleep, What ailes my dear? 
    What ailes my darling thus to cry? 
    Be still my childe, and lend thine ear 
    To hear me sing they lullaby 
    My pretty lambe, forbear to weep; 
    Be still my dear, sweet baby sleep! 

    Thou blessed soul, What canst thou fear? 
    What thing to thee can mischief do? 
    They God is now they Father dear, 
    His holy spouse thy mother too. 
    Sweet baby then, forbear to weep; 
    Be still my babe; sweet baby sleep!


  • 03:13 Lyrics Bethlehem Down

    When He is king, We will give him the king’s gifts 
    Myrrh for its sweetness and gold for a crown 
    Beautiful robes, said the young girl to Joseph 
    Fair with her firstborn on Bethlehem Down 

    Bethlehem Down is full of the star light 
    Winds for the spices, and stars for the gold 
    Mary for sleep, and for lullaby music 
    Songs of a shepherd by Bethlehem fold 

    When He is king they will clothe Him in graves sheets 
    Myrrh for embalming, and wood for a crown 
    He that lies now in the soft arms of Mary 
    Sleeping so lightly on Bethlehem Down 

    Here He has peace and a short while for dreaming 
    Close huddled oxen to keep him from cold 
    Mary for love, and for lullaby music 
    Songs of a shepherd by Bethlehem fold


  • 03:42 Lyrics Candlemas Eve Carol

    Down with the rosemary and bays 
    Down with the mistletoe 
    Instead of holly now up-raise 
    The greener box for show 

    Thus times and seasons oft do shift 
    Each thing his turn doth hold 
    New thoughts and things now do succeed 
    As former things grow old 

    The holly hitherto did sway 
    Let box now domineer 
    Until the dancing Easter day 
    Or Easter’s Eve appear 

    Then youthful box which now hath grace 
    Your houses to renew 
    Grown old, surrender must his place 
    Unto the crisped yew 

    When yew is out, the birch comes in 
    And many flowers beside 
    Both of a fresh and fragrant kin 
    To honor Whitsuntide 

    Green rushes then and sweetest bents 
    With cooler oaken boughs 
    Come in for comely ornaments 
    To re-adorn the house

  • 03:15 Lyrics Gaudete

    Gaudete! gaudete Christus est natus 
    Ex Maria Virgine: Gaudete! 

    Tempus adest gratiae, Hoc quod optabamus; 
    Carmina laticiae Devote redamus. 

    Deus homo factus est, Natura mirante; 
    Mundus renovatus est 
    A Christo regnante. 

    Ezechielis porta Clausa pertransitur; 
    Unde Lux est orta, Salus invenitur. 

    Ergo nostra concio Psallat jam in lustro; 
    Benedicat Domino: Salus Regi nostro.


  • 03:52 Lyrics The Coventry Carol

    Lully, lulla, thou little tiny child 
    By, by lully, lulla, thou little tiny child 
    By, by lully, lullay 

    O sisters too, How may we do 
    For to preserve this day, 
    This poor youngling 
    For whom we do sing, By, by lully, lullay 

    Herod the King, In his raging 
    Charged he hath this day 
    His men of might, In his own sight 
    All young children to slay 

    That woe is me, Poor child for thee 
    And ever mourn and sy 
    For this parting, Neither say nor Sing 
    By, by, lully, lullay

  • 03:10 Lyrics Morning Hush

    Morning hush 
    First a blush 
    Faintly telling 
    Day is welling 
    Down the glades 
    Flee the shades 
    Through the meadows 
    Speed the shadows 
    Yet in vain 
    For again 
    Come the even 
    All the heaven 
    Loses light 
    Turns to night 
    Fades from splendor 
    Pale and tender 

    Brighter light 
    Burns at night 
    What a wonder 
    Burst asunder 
    Night unmade 
    Where a maid 
    Bears a blossom 
    At her bosom 
    Holy morn 
    God is born 
    Heaven’s treasure 
    Without measure 
    Poured on earth 
    At His birth 
    Night for ever 
    Gone for ever 

    Here is news 
    None refuse 
    Crowns of gladness 
    Changed for sadness 
    Joy for shame 
    Since He came 
    No more sorrow 
    No tomorrow 
    All today 
    Sing and pray 
    Sing His praises 
    Ask His graces 
    All is bright 
    All is light 
    On the seven 
    Roads to Heaven

“Marley was dead, to begin with.”

This is the opening to my favorite Christmas Story, Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol. When I was a child, the fact that it is a ghost story wasn’t immediately obvious to me. But I loved it. I had storybook and record of the tale, and I generally would listen to side one (the ones with all the scary bits in it) over and over instead of turning the record over for the happy ending. And when the George C. Scott version of A Christmas Carol started coming on television, I never missed it, looking forward to the fog, the lanterns, and the ghost hearse. Especially the ghost hearse. A Christmas Carol was scary, and not like a horror movie, and while young me didn’t quite understand the distinction, I knew I loved this story the most.

It is easy, therefore, to imagine my delight in finding out that a cultural tradition around Christmas involved families gathering on the 24th of December and telling ghost stories. The notion of passing Christmas Eve in sheer terror of the return of the dearly departed sounded...well, fun. And instantly brought me back to memories of cold winter evenings and the spectral visage of Jacob Marley.

So in the spirit of the Ghosts of Christmas past, we’re offering you ten tales for your musical enjoyment this season. There’s nary a reindeer or a kindly old elf to be found, but there are memories and echoes of the past abounding, both in the texts and textures of the music.

Musically, we challenged ourselves to write an entire work with only my double bass and Sarah’s voice. I’ve been fascinated with the notion of using delay and reverb (short for reverberation, meaning an audio effect that mimics physical space) to create musical ghosts, that is, music that plays itself and exists as its own shadow.

And with the dark nights of December upon us, it seemed we had the perfect opportunity to conjure up our ghosts. They are mostly traditional songs, but Sarah wrote her own melodies for three of them, and all of them have been manipulated to create our own spectral atmosphere.

So turn the lamps down, light a candle, and lock your doors. There will be time enough for the bright songs of the morning to bring comfort on Christmas Day. But on this dark eventide, the bumps in the night are not reindeer…

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