STJ#1022, Open the Window

For about a dozen years, my mother lived on the Outer Banks of North Carolina – it’s how I got to the state too. Every Thanksgiving and Christmas, I would come in from the Raleigh-Durham area, and the rest of my family would come down from New York to celebrate the holidays. And on Thanksgiving weekend, to help Mom out, we’d decorate the tree.

One year in particular, we wound up listening to some old Allan Sherman records while we decorated – finding branches for Santas and snowmen, while singing “Hello Muddah” and marching around laying the garland to “The Ballad of Harry Lewis.” And adding the finishing touches to a conga line while singing “My Zelda” – a parody of Harry Belefonte’s “Matilda.” Every year since, whether decorating with family or alone, at some point the Allan Sherman shows up, and I usually find myself singing a calypso parody before the final ornament is placed.

It’s not surprising, then, to find myself singing this Sea Islands-inspired calypso-esque piece, on this day when the tree will be decorated.

Here’s what the UUA’s Song Information page has to say:

Composed in 1997 in Cuzzago, Italy, this is the title song of Elise Witt’s 8th recording on the EMWorld Records label. Open the Window was inspired by a Spiritual from the Georgia Sea Islands called Heist the Window, Noah. Though Elise’s version uses only one phrase from the original Spiritual, it keeps the intention of naming situations in our lives, personal and global, that need opening for the dove to fly in, for us to find peace.

Here are the lyrics:

Chorus:
Open the window children,
Open the window now.
Open the window children.
Open the window let the dove fly in.
Open the window let the dove fly in.

Mama and Papa are fighting like snakes
Open the window let the dove fly in.
Baby is a cry in’ like her heart will break
Open the window let the dove fly in.

Chorus

Neighbors lock their doors, Build fences so high.
Open the window let the dove fly in.
Don’t see what’s to discover on the other side.
Open the window let the dove fly in.

Chorus

Borders ‘round countries, borders ‘round the sky.
Open the window let the dove fly in.
The only border close you is the border ‘round your mind.
Open the window let the dove fly in.

Chorus:
Abran la ventana niños,
Abran la ventana ya,
Abran la ventana niños.
Abran la ventana que entre la paloma.
Abran la ventana que entre la paloma.

And here is where I’m supposed to offer some deep thoughts about the music, or the lyrics, or the theology, or even about fair use, appropriation, or singability.

Yet I don’t know what to say. It’s not a song I’ve ever used. And I’m not entirely sure about it. It’s entirely possible that this practice has made me gunshy and oversensitive… or it’s possible that this practice has honed my spidey senses and I’m appropriately more sensitive to subtle issues of appropriation and wonky theologies.

All I know is that on this day, with an unadorned tree awaiting our attention, my sister and I will enjoy both the old Christmas favorites – Ed Ames, The Carpenters, John Denver and the Muppets – and a little Borscht Belt humor.

One Comment

  1. I’ve always been a little confused about this song in STJ, why it’s in in there, with those strange lyrics, and whether its calypso style makes it do-able as a congregational hymn. Apparently, there have been various iterations of the song over the years. The one I’ve been most familiar with was done in a folk/bluegrass style by Phil Rosenthal — he presented it as a children’s song and its lyrics basically told the Bible story. I’ve always loved that one and in fact, the children’s choir at my previous UU church did it once, many moons ago. Here’s a recording if anyone is interested: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=evQt0iHClH0

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