Several years ago on a freezing Sunday just
before Christmas, Norman Vincent Peale, the minister at Marble Collegiate
Church, told his congregation about two men, hurrying to do last minute holiday
shopping. They were standing on the curb of a busy New York intersection.
Traffic was at a standstill. Cars were in a gridlock and were backed up for
blocks. Horns honked, people pushed and tempers were tested. One man said to
the other, "Isn't this terrible?" The second man smiled, looked at
the crush of humanity around him and replied, "I think it's just amazing.
All this hustle and bustle caused by a tiny infant born two thousand years
Each of us sees Christmas differently. Even
carols describe a variety of scenes: Love Came Down at Christmas, Cold
December, Silent Night, O How Joyfully. For Metropolitan Opera bass Paul
Plishka, "Christmas is family and it's seeing other people happy."
It's not always easy to find family and happy people in a big city. But when you
have a loving home church, your chances of a "hometown" Christmas are
Marble Collegiate Church may sit on New York's
sophisticated Fifth Avenue, but it could just as easily grace a sleepy little
lane in Vermont or a rural road in the corn-fields of Indiana. The Collegiate
Church is America's oldest Protestant church, with a continuous ministry since
1628. It was the New World and the small city was known as New Amsterdam. Early
settlers had come to the land on the Hudson from Holland and the church they
founded was Dutch Reformed. Since then, a remarkable group of clergy and laity
has served the Collegiate Church, from Peter Minuit - its founding Elder - to
Norman Vincent Peale and now, continuing the tradition, Arthur Caliandro.
Marble Collegiate Church is an astonishing mix
of tradition and warmth. The bell in the outer churchyard was cast in
Amsterdam, Holland, in 1975 and, before being moved to Marble, it hung in the
historic Old North Church on Fulton Street. The bell in the tower has tolled at
the death of every American president since Martin Van Buren in 1862. The spire
rises 215 feet above Fifth Avenue and is crowned by the original six-
foot-six-inch-high Dutch style weather-vane, a reminder of the cock that crowed
after Peter denied knowing Jesus.
The interior of Marble is no less fascinating.
Three carpeted aisles divide horizontal pews of solid, deep mahogany padded
with rich red wool damask upholstery, woven in France from the original pattern
dating from the mid-nineteenth century. Tiffany stained-glass windows installed
at the turn of the century filter sunlight into the sanctuary. A narrow balcony
is suspended over the sides and back of the church, like a rectangular European
recital hall, the back of which houses the organ, a mass of organ pipes and the
choir-loft. And three carved mahogany chairs sit on the chancel, which is
flanked on both sides by two more sets of organ-pipes. Marble may be carpeted,
upholstered and dignified but, like those who worship there, it's also
encouraging, genial and friendly. It's always aglow with lights and
conversation and cheer and love. " America's Hometown Church" is
written in large letters outside the doors and, inside, the affability
overflows in noisy, communal chatter.
Christmas at Marble is a time of family
remembrance. It's a time to join with new and old friends to celebrate the
warmth of the season; to sing carols and inhale the aroma of the perfect pine
wreaths, decorated with huge red bows, that circle the balcony. It's the
Christmas we dreamed of as children. It's the Christmas we long for as adults.
People from allover the world worship at Marble
and this Christmas recording is meant to reflect their diverse backgrounds.
Each of the carols is familiar, from the gentle It Came Upon a Midnight
Clear that sets the tone for a tender, old fashioned Christmas, to the
rollicking good cheer of Good Christian Men Rejoice, with its
tambourines, harp and high spirited singing. The carols are sung in English but
some verses are heard in their original languages: French, German and even
Ukrainian. The settings are simple, the tunes and words well-known, and the
performances balance the sophistication of a Fifth Avenue church with the
hometown spirit of Marble.
The essence of Marble is Home. And this recording
is made to conjure up memories of Christmas past and fantasies of snowy seasons
to come. You're invited to sing along or have a party with plenty of friends
and good cheer. Decorate your tree while you listen. Or curl up on the couch
with your dog, a mug of hot chocolate and your memories. Marble is America's
Hometown Church and this recording is meant to give you a real hometown
1995 June LeBell
Paul Plishkahas been a principal artist and
starring bass of New York's Metropolitan Opera for over 27 years, with a busy
career that has taken him to leading opera-houses throughout North America and
Europe. He was born in Pennsylvania into a family of Ukrainian origin and had
his musical training with the Paterson Lyric Opera Theater before joining the
National Company of the Metropolitan Opera. While his majestic and powerful
voice and impeccable artistry make him one of the world's foremost singers, in
the opera-house he is most often associated with the music of Giuseppe Verdi
and for his renowned and idiomatic portrayal of the title role in Boris
Godunov. His recordings include a release from the Metropolitan Opera on
laser disc and video of Verdi's Falstaff, in which he assumes the title
role under the baton of James Levine, as well as a number of complete operas,
and solo recitals of opera arias and of Ukrainian folk songs. His extraordinary
bass voice, heard so often in major operatic roles, also exemplifies the
gentleness, warmth and depth of feeling associated with the seasonal music of
Christmas. It adds a new dimension to this Christmas release, in which Paul
Plishka celebrates the holiday season in a church to which he has developed a
very special attachment.
Camellia Johnson's connection with Marble Collegiate
Church began when she joined the alto section of the professional choir. Since
then she has emerged as a soprano of distinction, making her debut at the
Metropolitan Opera in 1985 in Gershwin's Porgy and Bess. Her career has
taken her to major opera-houses from the Met to San Francisco, as well as to
Glyndebourne and to the world's concert halls.
Richard Erickson, who served as interim Music
Director at Marble Collegiate Church for part of the 1995 season and arranged
many of the carols heard on this record, is director of music at Holy Trinity
Lutheran Church in New York City and Artistic Director of Bach Works, a New
York ensemble that specialises in eighteenth-century music.