catholic choir protestant choir
The Catholic choir of St Elisabeth (left) and the German Gospel Choir (right) performing at the Church of St Teresa.

Bernadette Lee

A hush fell over the crowd as young and old listened to “Silent Night” sung in Singapore’s four official languages.
The 120-strong crowd was listening to German-speaking Catholics and Protestants celebrating the popular carol’s 200th anniversary at the Church of St Teresa on Dec 2, the start of the Advent season.

“Stille Nacht! Heilige Nacht! – 200 years of a Christmas carol on world tour” was an initiative by the Austrian Embassy, and co-organised by both the Protestant and Catholic German-speaking congregations in Singapore and the German Embassy.

It saw the Catholic choir of St Elisabeth and the German Gospel Choir taking turns to sing various German hymns such as “Christmas Praise”, and then singing “Silent Night” in its original German, followed by English, Mandarin, Malay and Tamil to an audience made up of locals and foreigners.

Said Ms Karin Fichtinger-Grohe, the Austrian Ambassador to Singapore: “Given that the song celebrates its 200th birthday this year, we wanted to seize the opportunity and invite Singaporeans to make their start into the Advent season in German. What could be better than sharing tranquillity and peace through ‘Stille Nacht! Heilige Nacht!’” (The carol’s title in German).

The event also saw Father Hans-Joachim Fogl, chaplain of the German Catholic community in Singapore, together with Reverend Daniel Happel, pastor of the German Protestant community, conducting prayers and reflections as well as joining in the singing with the choirs.

Their reflections emphasised how amidst the hustle and bustle of the season, Christmas is a time to go back to the basic universal wish of humankind, that of peace.

The audience also learnt how “Silent Night” originated. It was composed by a 26-year-old assistant parish priest, Fr Josef Mohr, and his church organist, Franz Gruber. Fr Mohr had presented Gruber with the words of his poem on Dec 24, 1818, and Gruber had set them to melody within a day.

The song was performed in their parish church of Oberndorf in Salzburg, Austria, at the end of Christmas Mass the next day.

Many who attended the recent hour-and-a-half event found it inspiring.

Mr Nicolai Goeke, a Protestant, felt that the thought-provoking reflections, prayers and the beautiful music “helped me to discover the meaning of Christmas”.

The Apostolic Nuncio to Singapore and the Ambassadors of Austria, Germany and Switzerland also attended the event.