I first heard this poem in Houston, when it was read by the head pastor at my sisters’ church on Christmas Eve in 2012. I do not consider myself religious in the strict sense, as in belonging to any particular denomination or even religion, but I do consider myself prayerful; I couldn’t get through a day without prayer. And I am powerfully drawn to sacred writings and music and especially to works having to do with Christmas; in fact, all of the choral music I’ve published so far has something to do with the Christmas story.
I’d known Wendell Berry’s work as an essayist and environmentalist for many years before I first heard this poem. When Dr. Pace (at St. Luke’s UMC) read it aloud, I could see the farm, the animals, the farmers’ “own frozen breath/ Hanging in front of us,” and I was entranced. I contacted Wendell Berry’s publisher and obtained the rights to set the poem to music, and when I had finished it and this recording had been made, I asked them how I might get Mr. Berry a copy. They told me that he doesn’t own a computer or a CD player, handles all correspondence through the U.S. Postal Service, and probably doesn’t even have a record player. They said he would likely never get a chance to hear it.
I am happy to say that he has now heard it—a result of the hard work of friends and family members on both sides and numerous back-road travels from Illinois to Kentucky—although I have no idea what he thought of it.
— Doug Brandt (www.dougbrandtmusic.com)
The featured recording was made by the First Readings Project in Minneapolis, J. David Moore, conductor.
“Remembering That It Happened Once” by Wendell Berry (b. 1934)
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