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WorksChoral MusicBurt Family Carol SeriesThe Mirthful Heart

The Mirthful Heart       * NEW! *

Voicing: SAA with frame drum
Text: Grace Fallow Norton (1914)
Duration: 2:50 min.
Premiere: The MPR Carolers, Minnesota Public Radio - Dec. 21, 2012
See the score: PREVIEW THE SCORE (pdf)
Published by: Abbie Betinis Music Co., AB-073-C12 (released: Oct 2013)
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Featured on Classical Minnesota Public Radio

[0:00] Let's Have a Merry Song Tonight (by Bates Burt)
[0:45] Interview on the Burt Family Carol tradition
[3:08] While All the Earth Was Dark and Dreary (B. Burt)
[5:30] Interview with Abbie Betinis on The Mirthful Heart
[9:05] The Mirthful Heart (by Abbie Burt Betinis)
Performed by Vicki Peters (soloist on Let's Have a Merry Song Tonight), Laura Krider (soloist on While All the Earth Was Dark and Dreary), Abbie Betinis, and J. David Moore (bodhran)


Since 2001, I've been writing an annual carol to send in my family's Christmas card -- a family tradition begun by my great-grandfather Bates Burt in 1922, and passed through my great uncle Alfred Burt.

This year, I surely read over a hundred Christmas and winter poems looking for just the thing I wanted to say to friends and family in 2012 -- a year which, for the United States, brought divisive politics, devastating natural disasters, and tragic shootings. On a personal note, I lost three influential women and role-models in my life: my grandmother, my great-aunt, and my godmother.

These hardships make me wonder how we -- the living -- make sense of life, despite this tragic world. What propels us, indeed, compels us to keep going, even when it's so hard to make sense of loss?

I think Grace Fallow Norton, born in Northfield, Minnesota in 1876, provides an answer in this poem from 1914. Her words inspire me to believe that, even in a dreary world, it's possible -- if indeed also absurd -- to hold this "strange carnival" of joy in our hearts.

And just now -- as I write this -- I realize I've composed this music for a trio of strong, lusty women. I love you Nonna, Aunt Harriet, and Aunt Anita. You each showed me, in your own way, how to keep a "mirthful heart," and to take delight in each new day. I will never forget our wonderful times together.

The Mirthful Heart Modified by A.B. from Grace Fallow Norton's "Heart's Holiday" (1914)
Without, a city's whirling dust,
      A city's alley-wall;
Without, a bleak, pale strip of sky.
      Within, high festival.

Without, no greeting on the street,
      From the hurrying crowd no smile.
Within, my heart's bold pageant moves
      In glorious solemn file.

Chorus: Noel, noel, noel, noel...

There was no call for revel. Day,
      Who summons us each morn,
Came forth in dreariest garb and blew
      No gala herald-horn.

But slave of day I am not -- nay,
      Her mistress still, I wield
The crystal sceptre of my mood,
      Bearing my dream's white shield.

Exultant, rapture-flooded, mad
      With mystic inner mirth,
My heart holds her strange carnival
      Unseen of all the earth.

Chorus: Noel, noel, noel, noel...

Adapted by Abbie Betinis from "Heart's Holiday" by Grace Fallow Norton. (From Poetry: A Magazine of Verse. January 1914.) The poem is in the public domain and may be reprinted from this webpage with proper attribution to the author(s).

Performed by:

MPR Carolers

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