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“Some Children See Him”

TITLE: "Some Children See Him"
AUTHOR: Wihla Hutson
TUNE: SOME CHILDREN
COMPOSER: Alfred Burt
SOURCE: Worship & Song, no. 3065
SCRIPTURE: Matthew 5:8; Luke 2:15-20
TOPIC: children; Christmas; difference; discernment; diversity; king; light; love for Jesus; purity; see/seeing; understanding

Background

Alfred Shaddick Burt (April 22, 1920--February 7, 1954) was born in Marquette, Michigan, the son of an Episcopal pastor, Bates Burt. Alfred studied the cornet, trumpet, and piano; and he played in bands and orchestras throughout his life. He earned a bachelor of music degree from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, in 1942. During World War II, Burt was an Army officer stationed in San Angelo, Texas, where he played in the Army Air Force Band, sometimes also substituting in the Houston Symphony. Following his father’s death in 1948, Burt pursued a career in New York as a performer, teacher, arranger, and composer and continued his life-long interest in jazz.

The tradition of an original musical Christmas card sent to family, friends, and parishioners was begun in 1922 by Burt’s father. The Rev. Bates Burt wrote both words and music until he asked Alfred to contribute the music for the 1942 card, "Christmas Cometh Caroling," which became the first of the Alfred Burt Carols. Alfred continued to write the music for his father’s remaining years and thereafter. There were fifteen Burt Carols between 1942-1954. Alfred Burt died of lung cancer in February 1954, less than twenty-four hours after completing the final Burt Carol, "The Star Carol," sent out as the final family Christmas card that year. "Some Children See Him" was composed in 1951.

Wihla Hutson (1901-2002) was a church organist for much of her life. She became organist at All Saints Episcopal Church in Pontiac, Michigan, in 1929, the church pastored by the Rev. Bates Burt, Alfred’s father. She became a close family friend, even being called "Aunt Wihla." Following the death of the elder Burt in 1948, Hutson contributed original lyrics to the Burt Carols from 1949-1954. Following Alfred’s death in 1954, Hutson continued the tradition of a yearly Christmas carol, for which she composed both lyrics and music. Eighteen of the carols were printed in 1982. She died on March 24, 2002, a few days short of her 101st birthday.

Music

The musical style of "Some Children See Him" is nearly one of spontaneous improvisation, or perhaps one of conversation. The text is most effectively expressed with liberal use of rubato and changes in volume. The 5/4 time signature, 86.86D meter, and the rather short note values should not be taken as an encouragement of exact time or tempo. Each phrase has its own text that needs to be delivered with adequate time to be absorbed and understood by singers and listeners, almost with the freedom of a recitative.

The opening phrase, "Some children see him …," is used with the same melody at three important structural points in each stanza. The melody is pentatonic, except for the use of the seventh scale degree twice, as an upper neighbor in the second phrase and as a lower neighbor in the fifth phrase. Set in F major, the song seems almost modal at times, like an Appalachian folk song, moving between major and minor tonalities and cadences.

Words

"Some Children See Him" dates from 1951, at the height of the Korean War and only six years following World War II. The appeal of the text is in its simplicity and universality, a message that children of all races and nations can understand and imagine – can SEE – Jesus to be like them. In successive verses the new-born Jesus is seen as:

  • "lily white, with tresses soft and fair" and "bronzed and brown with dark and heavy hair"
  • "almond eyed with skin of yellow hue" and "dark as they"

It affirms that love, as seen in the birth of the baby Jesus, is more important than and transcends matters of race and nationality.

Sources

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