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Old Tunes in a Changing City

Lecce has changed. No sooner have we stopped hiding from the sun than we have to dodge Black Friday. That ordeal survived with leftover Thanksgiving turkey still in the fridge, the build-up to Christmas assaults us. The Centro Storico has also changed. Some of the venerable dust has been swept up. Bars and restaurants appear in odd niches that used to belong to drowsy cats. Skirmishes over parking places rumble amid old stone. Even the Piazzetta Chiesa Greca has changed. Grinning tourists now peek around the corners cameras at the ready. Arty shops have moved in. But, keep your fingers crossed, the Greek Church itself has not changed. Nor has the seasonal concert that the Berkeley Circle never fails to hold there, a moment of calm in the storm of Santa Claus shenanigans. Sleek and trim, the December 13th edition unfolded thanks to the organizational savvy of Nicoletta James and Susan Arculus.

After our host, Papas Nick, extended the warm hand of his greetings, the words of Isaiah IX in archaic English set the tone:

“For to us a child Is born. There will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone”.

Amy Gravili at the piano lit the fire under the Christmas pot, Jingling those familiar Bells. The timid singalong huffed and puffed its way to boiling point. Three Ships came Sailing into Royal David's City as we Harked and rocked to the Herald Angels wishing Peace and Mercy Mild. Then came this year’s innovation, more a chorus line than a choir, composed of distaff university Lettori in blinking Santa caps. Humorous harmony gave way to appropriate dignity when the Byzantine Choir of the Greek Church, five women, three men, sang two venerable Christmas hymns in Greek.

Then came a reading from Luke 2 in Italian:

“In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be accounted for. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth.  And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.”

After a hearty rendition by all of Tu scendi dalle Stelle rose to the ceiling of the tiny church, it was time for the delicate Gregoriana of Salento’s Viri Cantores choir, eleven men and one woman. It was a splendid sound to mark our transition to the rectory beside the church where we enjoyed more of Papas Nicks hospitality and buried 2019 in good fellowship.

Peter Byrne

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