The Corner

A Verboten, and Miraculous, Ave Maria

Earlier this week at The New Criterion, I had a review of Chanticleer, the singing group. They are giving their annual Christmas concert, hither and yon. (“Yon” is a Christmas word. Or is that “don”? Also, I may be thinking of the reindeer, Donner. Anyway …) Chanticleer has long had a signature encore: the Ave Maria of Franz Biebl. Schubert and Bach-Gounod are famous Ave Marias. The Biebl is a little less so, but still up there. This year, Chanticleer did something odd: They sang Biebl’s Ave Maria in the middle of their program, not as an encore. No matter: It was probably the highlight of the evening. This Ave Maria is a miraculously beautiful piece.

Which is why, in 2006, a wind ensemble at Henry M. Jackson High School in Everett, Wash., wanted to play it at graduation. No words, mind you: This is a wind ensemble, not a choir. They just wanted to play the music. And were blocked from doing so, on grounds that the Ave Maria is a religious song, and people might think about religion while the notes are being played, which is contrary to what Jefferson wanted, or something.

The case wound up in the courts: and I wrote about it for a 2009 issue of National Review. That essay — “An Unpretty Pass: What a song without words says about American life” — is part of a new book: Digging In: Further Collected Writings of Jay Nordlinger.

Pardon the plugola. But it’s kind of an interesting piece (both the essay and Biebl’s Ave Maria).