"This Little Babe"

by Susanne Potts

My parents, immigrants fleeing the onset of World War II, came to the United States with their young family as refugees in 1940 -the year I was born. They were grateful and proud to be welcomed in America. As assimilated German Jews, their religion was German art and culture, mainly music. Christmas was celebrated in the German style, with candles (lit !) on the tree, and much music. Beginning with the First Sunday of Advent and daily in the week before Christmas, we gathered around the piano with my father atthe keyboard to sing traditional carols from the book by Henri Van Loon and Grace Castagnetti.

Someone had given us a vinyl set of recordings of Benjamin Britten’s A Ceremony of Carols, and my father - and all of us- became enormous and lifelong fans of Britten. I am so grateful that Donald Teeters shared that enthusiasm. Cecilia repeated that song cycle frequently, as well as many other of Britten's masterpieces.

Of all the carols, in their origins and variety, I am most deeply moved by Britten’s setting of Southwell’s text, 'This LittleBabe'. The image of the 'silly tender babe' shivering on a haystack, the infant Messiah clothed in rags “in freezing winter night”, is uniquely poignant.

For me, the story of the “freezing winter night” brings to mind not only the small babe in the manger, not long before his parents will have to flee Herod, but also my own parents flight from Germany and Hitler, and the current refugees fleeing Assad and the conflict and terror in Syria. Britten wrote A Ceremony of Carols as he returned to England in the midst of World War II. He had fled England at the start of the war, but felt he needed to return. It was a dangerous journey through a U-boat and submarine infested Atlantic. He had decided he needed to be back home. It is a gift for me to share this work and these memories with Barbara Bruns and Nicholas White and our audience.