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A Silent Night

The Spirit of Tehachapi

Father Joseph Mohr had journeyed to Oberndorf , a small town in Austria. It was his new assignment at St. Nicholas Church. He was a quiet, meditative man and a deep thinker. He could better put his thoughts down on paper than to express them orally. Still his sermons, carefully given and simply spoken, always had been quite acceptable by the congregation. As he walked over a recently fallen snow, he prayed his new parish would be a good one and he would serve the people well.

He entered the church to the sound of an organ, not being played but someone making sounds and giving off certain pitches. He was to meet Herr Karl Mauracher, from Ziller Valley who identified himself as a builder of organs and also one who repaired the instruments. He was known as a Master Organ Builder. Herr Mauracher said that the ailing organ should last "a while" longer, with the help of God!

Another man with thick, dark hair and sideburns wearing equally dark clothing, came forward to greet him. He introduced himself as Franz Gruber, the local schoolmaster as well as the parish organist and choir director. Herr Gruber tested the organ and Father Mohr realized he was listening to a master musician.

The pair got along well and his duties with the congregation were going smoothly. He had once mentioned to Franz Gruber that he liked to write little poems. Herr Gruber noted the information and nothing more was said. Then, late in December, Father Mohr asked him if he would compose a melody for a little poem he had written a couple of years past, in 1816. Gruber took the verses home with him and the next day brought back a short, prayerful melody. The two worked out a few rough spots and were happy and even inspired by the lovely little song. They called it "Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht" (Silent Night, Holy Night). Tradition tells us that the ailing organ once again gave out. Father Mohr and Franz Gruber presented the new little song during Midnight Mass on the Christmas Eve of 1818, Father Mohr played the beautiful, simple melody on his guitar and Franz Gruber sang in his rich baritone voice.

The little Christmas carol has been carried around the world and has been translated into 140 languages. It sets a scene and the most beautiful of Christmas cantatas cannot compete with its wish and prayer for God's love and peace .

Bringing that wish home, I think of a Midnight Mass at the church I attend. The memories of the past years find themselves combining into pleasant recollections of other years celebrating the birth of Our Lord. Our organ, at St. Malachy's in Tehachapi, has a chime within its makeup. My friend, Lillian LaGaly, recently deceased, used to play meditative music before Mass began. One last song heard, always just before Christmas Mass began, with the single chime ringing into the cold midnight eve: "Silent Night, Holy Night...."