Wednesday, March 31, 2010


The magical guitar work of Michael Dowdle lays the foundation of music on both my Christmas albums, Sleepy Little Town and One Small Boy. He also plays on Pontiac Rocket. I absolutely adore working with Mike, not only because I think he interprets my songs exquisitely and accurately, but he is such a great guy whether or not there is a guitar in his hands. Ask me whether I would prefer to spend a day at a luxury spa or in Mark Stephenson’s studio with Mark and Mike, and …well, you get my drift.

Mike is very thorough about his work. He is nearly perfectionist in his self expectations, which could be a problem if he were not so capable and so fast. His expediency allows us to enjoy other aspects of a day in the studio; like discussing matters from the latest American Idol episodes to near death experiences.

The day we recorded the guitar tracks for Noel I was teaching Mike my arrangement. I generally play the song for him and he sits with a legal pad on his lap and charts the song. We’ll play it together, then he’ll go record it with the clarity and balance only a seasoned studio musician can get on a first take. When I record my own guitar it takes so many swipes to get it accurate that it costs me more in just studio time…and then the product is inferior after all that. I’m fine to play live on stage, because you will not have to hear the mistakes over and over again, but in the studio I almost always prefer using Michael.

So we were working on my altered version of The First Noel and Michael mentions that he recorded this song on one of his Christmas albums ( and we got to talking about the meaning of the word Noel.

“Did you know,” Mike says, “That there is no absolute definition of the word Noel?”

He had researched it and found that it was a French term, (from the French part of France…you’ll get that statement if you were at our first album release concert in SLC last November) and it is used in relation to Christmas, but it is unclear who came up with the term or why. The closest they can get to the etymology is the Latin natalis, meaning a birthday.

The meaning and the history of the word are surely debatable, and the discussion got me to thinking about it. My strange sleep patterns cause me to awaken and fixate, and one night the topic of my night-time brain activity was Noel. I visualized the spelling of the word in its various manifestations: Noel – noël (with the two little dots above the o) – Nowell. And then, in a half sleeping/half awake state I had a little flickering epiphany: Know Well. And there my brain remained for the next few days; pondering the extra meaning the lyrics took on for me when I considered the term Noel clarified to Know Well. It was as if I could hear the angels whisper when they floated down beside him on that Holy night, “Here he is. He does not look different than any of you, does he? He is wholly needy and requires your care. But watch. Watch him. He will one day teach you. And what he teaches, you will need. But remember…watch…because more than knowing his teachings you will need to know Him, because one day you will need Him, like this baby needs his mother.” The angels tell us this not only in my imaginings, but in the holy books, and in the holy heart. Beginning with his innocent entry, all the way to the dreadful, glorious, innocent exit; he came to teach through his own life. He was God! He is God! The living son of a living god. He could have chosen to teach us from afar; to send mentors only, like our prophets and saints. But he allowed himself instead to condescend and walk with us, to interact with us, to share our laughter and our tears, our fears and questions, our passions and temptations. What he gave us in that willingness is a perfect pattern. We can only follow it if we know it. We can only follow Him if we know Him. May we know Him well.

Feb 2009

The first Noel the angel did say
Unto certain shepherds in fields as they lay
In fields where they lay keeping their sheep
On a winter night that was so deep

Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel
Born is the King of Israel

They looked up high and saw a star
Shining in the east beyond them far
And to the earth it gave great light
This is how it went through the day and the night

Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel
Born is the King of Israel

May we know well this child who came
He who knows us all by heart and by name
And love His word and trust His grace
So that when we see Him face to face

We’ll know Him well, Know well, Noel. Noel
Born is the King of Israel

Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel
Born is the King
Born is the King
Born is the King of Israel

One summer day, when our children were young and we had gone to Pittsburgh for summer vacation, we were sitting in a booth at the Baskin Robbins Ice Cream shop in Bethel Park. I was sitting on the outside edge, licking away at my cone. The glass door opened and a couple customers walked in, headed to the counter to order. One of my kids said something funny and I started laughing. From the corner of my eye I saw the woman at the counter, who had just walked in, turn toward me and exclaim; “Cori Hansen?” I looked at her, squinted my eyes for just a moment to query my lethargic brain, and then called out “Erica Saylor!”

One of my dearest friends from Jr High and High School, we had not seen each other for decades. I looked markedly different. So did she. I had gained all the weight she had lost and more, and there was no way she would have recognized me when she saw me at first glance. But she knew me by my laughter. It was such a joy to reconnect. We have remained in contact since, with much love crossing the miles between us.

We get to knowing someone so intimately when we share moments together. This is the kind of knowing not available in book learning alone. It requires personal interaction.

I know - in the internal place where meaningful knowing is warmed and safely kept – that I will one day see my Lord and Savior face to face. I pray I will recognize Him. And I pray He will also know me, by my laughter as much as my tears.


  1. I just shake my head. To me, writing is breathing. Sometimes I do it beautifully. Sometimes not. I don't find this remarkable. In fact, I expect it from other people - like breathing. I expect to read them and find in the flow of words the ease and color I expect of my own (when I'm not awful). I was an English teacher. I know better. Writing is not like breathing. It's a complex, almost miraculous - no - miraculous thing. And when most people try it, they approach it with fear.

    I read these things you write at these magic, mind dislocated hours of the night, and when I come to the end of each one, I sit back and take a breath. At first, I don't recognize the gift, because you write (sound) the way I expect writing to sound. And then - and then you do something that just leaves me feeling like I have seen something perfect in grace, and I am left amazed at the skill of it.

    But it isn't skill, really. It's just you. This is your voice. As beautiful a voice as any I have ever heard at any time. The Mike Dowdle of voices. I want you to read Elizabeth Gouge. The Dean's Watch. Her voice is different than yours, but not by much. Beautiful. Beautiful. Balanced, with an ease of arc that is peculiar and deeply right.

    And that, I know well.

  2. Cori- you write so beautifully. It is a gift. I wish I could make my words flow with ease like you do.

    I was excited to read this post because I was so touched when you sang this at your annual concert. You talked about knowing Christ personally. Interestingly as you sang I heard the word differently thank I ever had before.

    As you sang noel- I thought that you were saying know- EL. EL being the hewbrew name for God. (maybe you meant this- and I am just pointing out the obvious.)

    so either know (Him) well, or know EL, it brought beautiful meaning to this song that I had never before appreciated.

    I think it is my new favorite Christmas song (right behind Heavenly Choirs and Wise Men Seek Him Still.)

    Love you.