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The KPAC Blog features classical music news, reviews, and analysis from South Texas and around the world.

The Carols Of Alfred Burt On KPAC

Oh my! The tears still flow, tears of joy tinged with sadness, as I prepare for yet another broadcast of "The Carols of Alfred Burt: A Legacy of Love." I first produced this program in 1997, prompted by my good friend Bill Ginn, who had been familiar with the 15 contemporary carols by Alfred Burt for a number of years. Bill had arranged several of these precious carols for both brass and woodwind quintets that I played with. "Tell me more about this music," I asked of Bill. Better than that, Bill connected with Anne Burt, the widow of Alfred Burt, then shared that friendship with me.

I remember as yesterday the wonderful phone conversation I had with Anne. I remember too sitting here in my little production studio, as I am now, with Bill sitting to my right, curious to watch me work and to lend his ears when I needed advice. When I came to the carol "Some Children See Him," I asked Bill to recite with me the opening lines of the lyric. I still get chills when I hear this.

These are poignant songs of the season, half of them reflecting the religious textures of Christmas, and half written in a more secular manner. The harmonies are rich. They are fresh. These are contemporary songs for the season, but never commercial. Anne's voice quavered as she spoke of how difficult it was to share the carols with the public. After all, they had been intended as Christmas cards for friends of the Burt Family, unique from one year to the next. But when she and Al realized how close he was to death (he succumbed to lung cancer at the age of 33), Anne agreed to a recording of the carols and then to publication of the music and lyrics.

Burt finished the last of his carols, "The Star Carol", on February 5, 1954. Less than 24 hours later, he died. "The Star Carol" would be used on the final Burt family Christmas card that holiday season. Anne calls it the "purest" of Al's carols, "for he knew the end was near."

So here I sit, anxious to again share Anne Burt's optimistic but poignant narration of the making of the carols of Alfred Burt. She told the story often, and she always told it well. I consider myself fortunate to have engaged in conversation with this charming woman whom I always wanted to actually meet but never did. She passed in 2000. My dear friend Bill Ginn passed in 2004. I have this program by which I measure my own good fortune to have been blessed with the opportunity to craft this show. May Alfred and Anne Burt continue to rest in peace. May Bill continue to bring good cheer to those around him, wherever he might be. Rest well, dear Bill.

"The Carols of Alfred Burt: A Legacy of Love" airs on KPAC and KTXI Friday evening, December 19th, at 7 o'clock.

Nigh Bethlehem (carol of 1947)

James first introduced himself to KPAC listeners at midnight on April 8, 1993, presenting Dvorak's 7th Symphony played by the Cleveland Orchestra. Soon after, he became the regular overnight announcer on KPAC.