The “official” start of the Christmas Season in the Philippines is the “Simbang Gabi” or “Misa de Gallo.” This also signals the start of caroling for the kids with their familiar “Sa maybahay ang aming bati, Merry Christmas na maluwalhati . . .” They sing all-time favorites like Silent Night, Jingle Bells, O Holy Night, O Come All Ye Faithful, Whispering Hope and many others. Their songs also include popular Tagalog himig Pasko like; Maligayang Pasko at Maningong Bagong Taon, Pasko na Sinta Ko, and many others of recent compositions.
But wait, there’s that song entitled Whispering Hope which ruled the airwaves for many Christmases but its inclusion in the songs associated with the Season still remains a mystery. It is only in the Philippines that it is sung as a Christmas song and nowhere else.
As a young boy in the elementary grades, I remember one Music and Arts teacher whose name I can no longer recall having said that “Whispering Hope” is a funeral song, not a Christmas carol. Whenever she hears children singing the song, she interrupts them and tells the “fact.” She was one of our teachers who spent her life teaching and exploring the world of music. As a spinster, she is said to have spent all her money for music books and instruments, and was among the first perhaps in our city to have earned a Masteral degree in the field of music at the time when very few could afford or dream of attending Graduate School programs.
Her explanation about four (4) decades ago on how “Whispering Hope” became a funeral song was clear and convincing but the period elapsed was too long for me to recall her words. I, however, believed her and did not join the bandwagon in singing that dirge.
Recently, I encountered an article posted in the internet entitled, “Dacawi: Whispering hope” by Sun Star-Baguio journalist Ramon Dacawi on April 6, 2004. His opening statement now reminded me of my music teacher’s line when she made what we considered in the 1960s as a startling revelation. Dacawi thus stated:
It escapes me how Whispering Hope found its way to our repertoire of Christmas carols. It's not a yuletide song but it must have been mistaken for one because of its other title and opening line: Soft as the voice of an angel.
The song’s lyrics were written in 1868 by Septimus Winner of Philadelphia, U.S.A. using the pseudonym Alice Hawthorne. "Whispering Hope" was published on the same year and was inspired by Biblical passages taken from Hebrews 6:19: "This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which enters the Presence behind the veil." and from Romans 15:13: “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope, in the power of the Holy Spirit.” During his lifetime, Winner had written or composed over 100 songs and over 100 instrumental pieces that became popular worldwide.
Dacawi narrated how the song was sung in a funeral mass and ended his news feature with a message to the readers on the wordings of the rest of the song that belonged rather to the long list of inspirational hymns that make grief over the loss of a loved one more bearable, than to the category of the solemn Christmas carols.
Not being able to sing, let me just reprint the succeeding stanzas of the funeral song:
If in the dusk of the twilight dim be the region afar,
Will not the deepening darkness brighten the glimmering star?
Then when the night is upon us, why should the hearty sink away?
When the dark midnight is over watch for the breaking of day.
Hope, as an anchor so steadfast, rends the dark veil of the soul,
Whither the Master has entered robbing the grave of its goal
Come then, O come, glad fruition, come in my sad weary heart,
Come, O Thou blest hope of glory Never, O never depart.
With Dacawi’s commentary, the words of my teacher suddenly came back. “Whispering Hope” is a song about a man’s soul that has just left the mortal body, awaiting his time to be led to the afterlife, the Eternal Life. The song in its entirety talks about darkness, twilight, tempest, shower, night, midnight, sadness and gloom but speaks of the “hope for the sunshine tomorrow,” the desired destination. It did not talk how long the process would take in reaching the “breaking of day” but hope is the main theme of the song. Surprisingly, even as the song is widely sang during the Yuletide Season, not a single line or idea talks about Christmas.
My teacher had since left this material world and the profession she loved. Maybe only a few believed her thesis then that “Whispering Hope” was originally intended to be a song for the dead. Many have scoffed at her logic but it was surely based on her competence and extensive knowledge on the world of music. I believe that despite the long period of ridicule even at her grave, she has been vindicated and indeed “Whispering Hope” is a funeral song. (MindaViews is the opinion Section of MindaNews. Col. Restituto L. Aguilar, deputy commander of the Army’s 604th Infantry Brigade, is the vice chair of the government’s Ad Hoc Joint Action Group in the peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front).