Three Generations of Burt Family Carols
In 1922, Rev. Bates G. Burt, my great-grandfather and a self-taught musician, began composing annual Christmas carols. He wrote both the text and music and sent them as Christmas greeting cards to his parishioners in Marquette -- and later in Pontiac -- Michigan.
Bates has 19 published carols collected as "The Family Carols of Bates Burt" (Fred Bock Music Co.):
Come, Youths and Maidens
Gloria tibi domine
Good News Breaks from on High
Happy Voices Sweetly Singing
In a Far Judean City
Let Christmas Be Merry
Let's Have a Merry Song Tonight
Little Child Jesus, Tender and Fair
Lying in Thy Manger Lowly
Now Lightly Falls the Christmas Snow
On Christmas Eve, When Fields Are White
Soft Sings the Mother
Tell Me, Tell Me, Shepherd, Pray
What Wonder Is Hid in the Heart
When Christ Was Born of Mary Free
When I View the Mother Holding
When All the Earth Was Dark and Dreary
In 1942, Bates passed the job of composing the music for the annual Christmas carol to his son, Alfred S. Burt, a jazz trumpeter who had just received his music degree from the University of Michigan. Alfred Burt's 15 carols were originally made famous by the Voices of Jimmy Joyce and are now recorded by artists all over the world.
Alfred Burt died in 1954, leaving behind his wife and young daughter. He was 33.
1. Christmas Cometh Caroling (1942)
2. Jesu Parvule (1943)
3. What Are the Signs (1944)
4. Ah, Bleak and Chill the Wintry Wind (1945)
5. All on A Christmas Morning (1946)
6. Nigh Bethlehem (1947)
7. Christ in the Stranger's Guise (1948)
8. Carol of the Mother (Sleep Baby Mine) (1949)
9. Bright Bright the Holly Berries (This Is Christmas) (1950)
10. Some Children See Him (1951)
11. Come, Dear Children (1952)
12. O, Hearken Ye (1953)
13. Caroling Caroling (1954)
14. We'll Dress the House (1954)
15. The Star Carol (1954)
In 2001, fresh out of St. Olaf College with a degree in music composition, I decided to try my own hand at this family tradition. My first carol, a re-setting of Bates Burt's "In a Far Judean City," was given its first reading at a pre-concert talk for a Dale Warland Singers holiday concert. Within days I received a call from Minnesota Public Radio, who was interested in running a feature about the renewed family tradition. Now, each annual carol premieres to a regional listening audience on Minnesota Public Radio.
Each year, my mom and I collaborate to produce the new Christmas card, which, like Bates and Uncle Al, we send out to family and friends. She creates the design and does all the production, which often includes hand-stamping, pasting, and glittering each card.
Click the titles below to hear and read more about each carol.
1. In a Far Judean City (2001)
2. He Might Have Come on Clouds of Heaven (2002)
3. Hail, Christmas Day! (2003)
4. Prayer for Peace (2004)
5. Song of the Pines (2005)
6. Shem Speaks (2006)
7. Run, Toboggan, Run(2007)
8. Behind the Clouds (2008)
9. Be Like the Bird (2009)
10. Carol of the Snow (2010)
11. Come In! Come In! (2011)
12. The Mirthful Heart (2012)
Below is the Burt family lineage as it relates to the Christmas carol tradition.
Rev. John H. Burt (1918-2009): Bates's son, Al's brother, Abbie's grandfather
Grandpa wrote a few annual Christmas poems, sending them to his parishioners throughout his years as minister of All Saints Church in Pasadena, California, and then as Bishop of Ohio.
Emily Burt Betinis (b. 1950): John's daughter, Abbie's mother
An artist, my mom designs the cards for our family each year. She creates an image for the cover and does all the production, which often includes hand-stamping, pasting, and glittering.
Diane Bates Burt (b. 1950): Alfred Burt's daughter, Abbie's mom's cousin
Founder of “The Caroling Company” in California, Diane and her husband Nick D'Amico have released a CD entitled "A Christmas Present from The Caroling Company," which includes 8 carols by Alfred Burt (www.alfredburtcarols.com).