Let the Heavens Ring

What is it?

Let the Heavens Ring a Christmas carol for unaccompanied voices. It is based upon the Romanian carol Daţi drumul la cer by Ovidiu Vasilescu, who was arrested in 1956 at the age of 17, becoming one of the youngest political prisoners in Romania. Think of it as the kind of prayer that a political prisoner, naked and hungry in the cold of a Romanian winter, might offer at Christmas. In other words, it offers a perspective on Christmas that contrasts starkly with traditional western carols. I have retained the melody and musical style of the original. The English lyrics are my own and translate the sense rather than the actual Romanian words of Daţi drumul la cer.

Lyrics

Hallelu, Hallelu, yea and Hallelu
Lord, in this dark night I thought I'd ask of you
Send a youthful angel beauteous, bright and good
With the scent of incense and of cypress wood

Thus to sanctify, Lord, me, a prisoner lost
And extract a blessing from beneath the frost.
Bringing more, dear Lord, with peace and comfort found
For these inmates starving, naked, cold and bound,

Blessing us with bread baked fresh of which we dream,
Warming all who taste it by its golden gleam.
Holy bread, your broken body, Lord, such grace,
And the holy tears that glisten on your face.

From the guiding star, Lord, strike with steel a spark
To bring warmth to chains that bind us in the dark.
From the swaddling bands, your cradle from of old,
Bring a bundle, Lord, to shield us from the cold.

Hallelu, Hallelu, yea and Hallelu
Please forgive me, Lord, for what I ask of you,
But you know the deep despair from which I plead
For the saints themselves, Lord, in their hour of need.

May it be to you, Most High, our secret prayer,
Through the precious baby, holy gift so rare.
Hallelujah, Lord, let angel voices sing:
We will join their praises, let the heavens ring.

Listen

I first heard Daţi drumul la cer at a carol concert in the city centre square of Suceava, Romania held the evening of Wednesday 11th December 2019, performed by Clara Ioana Hurjui, herself from Suceava. I was coming to the end of a seven-week period of self-imposed exile (the mycitizenship.eu website provides an interesting commentary here and the effect of the music hanging in the freezing winter air was magical. You can hear here the exact same performance, in Romanian. The musical effect of my own arrangement would not be significantly different.

Learn

From time to time a piece of music gets into my head and that's what happened with Daţi drumul la cer. I know the Romanian language well enough to have followed the lyrics when I first heard them and I was immediately struck by how alien the sentiments expressed might seem to somebody from western Europe or the USA. Clearly folks back home were not going to be singing it in Romanian, so I decided to make my own translation. That was easier said than done. Ovidiu Vasilescu's verses are in highly idiomatic Romanian and it takes quite some effort to produce a version in a different language that is both poetic, has the correct syllable stresses and communicates the spirit of the original. Nevertheless I succeeded and the result is Let the Heavens Ring.

Suceava

Suceava carol concert, 11th December 2019