A Poem and Pop Up Musical Introduction to 2022

Guy Lombardo introduced America to Robert Burn’s poem Auld Land Syne  in his New Year’s eve show broadcast annually from 1929 through 1977.

The phrase “auld lang syne” translates from the Scots language to modern English as “old long since.”  It can be interpreted as “old times, especially times fondly remembered” or an “old or long friendship.”  It readily conjures up feelings of nostalgia.

Auld Lang Syne 

Robert Burns – 1759-1796

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,

And never brought to mind?

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And auld lang syne!

For auld lang syne, my dear,
     For auld lang syne.
     We’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
     For auld lang syne.

And surely ye’ll be your pint stowp!
And surely I’ll be mine!
And we’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
For auld lang syne.  Chorus

We twa hae run about the braes,
And pou’d the gowans fine;
But we’ve wander’d mony a weary fit,
Sin’ auld lang syne.  Chorus

We twa hae paidl’d in the burn,
Frae morning sun till dine;
But seas between us braid hae roar’d
Sin’ auld lang syne.  Chorus

And there’s a hand, my trusty fere!
And gie’s a hand o’ thine!
And we’ll tak a right gude-willie waught,
For auld lang syne.

The English Translation

Should old acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind?

Should old acquaintance be forgot, and old lang syne?

For auld lang syne, my dear, for auld lang syne,

we’ll take a cup of kindness yet, for auld lang syne.

And surely you’ll buy your pint cup! and surely I’ll buy mine!

And we’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet, for auld lang syne.

We two have run about the slopes, and picked the daisies fine;

But we’ve wandered many a weary foot, since auld lang syne.

We two have paddled in the stream, from morning sun till dine;

But seas between us broad have roared since auld lang syne.

And there’s a hand my trusty friend! And give us a hand o’ thine!

And we’ll take a right good-will draught, for auld lang syne.

The Musical Version

 Here’s a musical rendition by  the US Air Force Band in a “flash” concert at Union Station in Washington DC during the holiday season.

The 8:50 minute video opens and closes with a jazz arrangement of Jingle Bells.  Auld An Syne becomes a group sing-along at 4:28.  But stay around till the end to see some of the most exciting hip-hop dancing to get your party juices flowing.  All this WW II flash back era sound is pre-covid, of course.  


A happy, and entertaining way, to start the New Year.



Life’s Continuing Challenge

Investing More in Yourself-a retired CEO’s observation

“What you should never shy from is the effort you put forward for your achievements.  That includes even connecting the dots between achievement and effort to inspire those around you to reach for more.  Properly showing off your efforts is a good way to encourage others to invest in themselves.

Right now we live in a world in which many too readily  expect achievement without the need or expectation of investing more.

There is an  irony about “more”  for those who do not  examine different levels of  professional effort.  They over estimate the cost of their investment versus its rewards, and their time of opportunity runs out.”

It’s a Wonderful Life and a Question for Credit Unions?

A great movie becomes a classic because it informs and inspires not only when released, but also for generations to come.  Frank Capra’s film has been a part of every Christmas season since its release at the end of WWII.

The story resonates because it portrays an individual and a community coming together to create a better life for all.  Because of its  popularity there are continuing efforts to address the film’s relevance today.

The Real Hero: Mary Bailey

Washington Post columnist Monica Hesse argues that Mary Bailey not George, is the actual hero of the story.

Mary deals with the same leaky roof and small-town limitations as her husband with one major difference: She never complains. She doesn’t need an angel named Clarence to descend from heaven and inform her that she’s actually led a wonderful life.

She knows intuitively that wonderful lives are not made by collecting passport stamps or military honors; they are made by investing in the community around you and wallpapering the bejesus out of an old Victorian.

“Why must you torture the children?” she asks George when he takes out his foul work-mood on the family. Why indeed? She’s the one who’s been home all day with a sick toddler and a clanging piano. . .

Once you see it, you can’t unsee it: The entire movie celebrates the personal sacrifices of a nice man while ignoring the identical sacrifices of a nice woman. Why? Because “It’s a Wonderful Life” assumes something that society assumed in the 1940s and sometimes continues to assume to this day: A wife is supposed to sacrifice, buck up, make do, slog through. But when the husband does it, the whole town must take note.

Communities With Pottersvilles

Writer Jared Block suggests the theme of home ownership is a critical area on which America is falling short.  Here is his interpretation: We’re driving full-speed into Pottersville.

George Bailey’s day-to-day goal is simple:

To help every working family own their own home.

“Just remember this, Mr. Potter: That this rabble you’re talking about, they do most of the working and paying and living and dying in this community. Well, is it too much to have them work and pay and live and die in a couple of decent rooms and a bath?”

 We desperately need more George and Mary Baileys — people of goodwill who serve instead of siphon, who are pro-human instead of market-driven, who knit together the fabric of society instead of tearing it apart.

We also need more people to build Bailey businesses — companies that give instead of take, that contribute instead of extract, that cement communal stability instead of undermining its foundations.

Sadly, homeownership will soon be as out of reach for the middle class as it already is for the working poor.  America is not heading toward an idyllic Bailey Park.  

I note one organization estimates America needs at least 7 million additional affordable housing units. At the current pace of 110,000 per year, supply will never meet demand.

The Moral Lesson: One Life Makes a Difference

Another observer asserts we need more of George Bailey’s “ministry” in today’s society.  The film from his perspective:

George Bailey who dreams of leaving his small town of Bedford Falls, traveling the world, and building bridges and airfields and skyscrapers a hundred stories high. But he never does those things because his father dies, he takes over the Building and Loan, and marries the girl next door.

George carries on a one-man crusade against Potter, a cruel, joyless miser who has milked the townspeople dry, forcing them to pay exorbitant rents to live lives of quiet despair in his broken-down tenements

Eight-thousand dollars meant to square the books of the Building and Loan accidentally end up in the clutches of Potter, causing George to fall foul of the bank examiner.

Only the intervention of a bumbling angel named Clarence saves George from taking his own life. To prove to George the value of his life, Clarence allows him to see what the world would have been like had he never been born.

Without the ministry of the Building and Loan, Bedford Falls becomes the twisted creation of slumlord Potter, a dark, hopeless, soul-crushing world of smoky bars and seedy dance halls, pawn shops and peep shows. As for George’s family, without him there, his mother becomes a bitter old woman, his wife an old maid, his uncle an inmate in an asylum, and his brother, whom George had saved from drowning when he was a boy, a corpse.

One life, George learns, touches so many other lives. Far from a failure, his life was the glue that held together his family, his business, and his community. 

The Film and Credit Unions

Some have opined that credit unions are today’s embodiment of  Bailey Savings and Loan.   Led by idealistic, hard working men and women and overseen by volunteers, all of whom are committed to uplifting their members and communities.

The film’s message shows success earned by overcoming personal, financial, economic and competitive challenges. Every credit union still confronts these today.   Including uncaring bank examiners.

The comparison feels relevant for another reason.  It celebrates the role of individuals have within a community.

Credit union’s common bond requirement is simply the identification of an existing group which hopes to improve its well-being by working together.

The feeling of “local” is created when users believe something is theirs.  It is not just a geographic concept, but also a sense of shared purpose.  And there is no more powerful sense of place than when members can own their home.

What makes the film timely is that the same challenges from 1946 exist still for members.  The film’s promise has yet to be realized by many.

The spirit of shared effort is still the most powerful coop advantage in a marketplace where competitive dominance is everyone else’s goal.

In the final scene, the people of Bedford Falls gather around Bailey and his family, donating the money to restore the Building and Loan which helped them achieve their own dreams of freedom, independence, and dignity.

The film poses an ongoing question being asked  today: It’s a Wonderful Life, but for whom? How credit unions respond to that challenge will determine if they are the true heirs of the film’s spirit.









The Power of Local-Where People Meet Face to Face

The number of Christmas cards I received in the mail this year was overwhelmed by solicitations for yearend donations.   They came from near and far: Chevy Chase Rescue Squad (volunteers), theater and dance groups, churches, hospitals and many national organizations from Doctors without Borders, the Salvation Army and Planned Parenthood.

What each tried to do in their appeals was to stress their local consequences. Here is one request from a supporter of our local live theater:

Dear Charles,

I know you have many options for charitable donations during this year’s holiday season. By now, you’ve been flooded with emails, texts, and phone messages asking for your generosity. 

Instead of getting lost in the shuffle, I’d like to tell you why I’ve been giving to Round House for more than two decades and will continue to do so.

For my wife Lorraine and me, it started out quite simply: we wanted to support a local theatre serving our community both artistically and educationally. Round House stood out because it was right in our backyard, doing quality work, and truly impacting the community. 

Through our giving we have been able to help not only in Round House’s growth but also in enhancing Bethesda and the greater DC area—a place we have loved and been a part of for so long.

I am incredibly proud of how Round House has confronted the many challenges of the pandemic—from being one of the first theatres in the country to pivot to virtual productions and continuing education programs online to safely returning to live performances and in-person classes with robust covid protocols and viewing options in place to protect artists, patrons, and staff.  

Despite all that has happened in the world over the last two years, Round House has remained resilient and continued to be an asset to this community by offering bold, outstanding theatrical and educational experiences both virtually and in-person.

Your contribution helps Round House be a theatre for everyone and continue making an impact in the community. 

The Advantages of Local

Local is about connections, being involved with people where they live, work and play.   The impact is not limited by geography, but is rooted in people’s ability to see their organization at work.

Writer Nick Wolny who promotes online business effectiveness, has written about the lessons from brick and mortar, what he calls the entrepreneurial efforts of the “Original Gangster” (OG) firms.

My first job when I was 16 years old was working at a bakery. I was slingin’ scones and washing dishes until my fingers were pruned.

The owners were a husband and wife. The husband baked all the bread. 

We lovingly called him “Bread God”.

This guy was at the shop at 3:00am to start the breads… seven freaking days a week. 🥖

And he did it with a smile. 

In the years that followed – and eventually when I came to have my own business as well – 

Reminding myself of the brick-and-mortar hustle kept me honest and focused.

It’s easy to cut corners as an online entrepreneur.

In his article Four Insights Creators Should Steal from Offline Business Owners, he describes the advantages of local presence for which there is no on-line counterpart.  He closes the article:

In its current iteration, the creator economy has existed for about ten-ish years. Meanwhile, brick-and-mortar business owners have been grappling with the fundamentals of business for centuries. We could learn something from what they prioritize.

Credit unions have existed for 112 years.  Their virtual strategies for two decades.   How credit unions sustain the advantages of local while expanding online transaction capabilities is the critical investment decision all will continue to confront.

60 Degrees on Boxing Day

Yesterday was bright, sunny.   Nature smelled fresh from overnight rain.

Today morning snow flurries.  Grey and somber.

Time for more Christmas songs and winter poems.

Velvet Shoes

by Elinor Wylie (1921)


Let us walk in the white snow
In a soundless space;
With footsteps quiet and slow,
At a tranquil pace,
Under veils of white lace.


I shall go shod in silk,
And you in wool,
White as white cow’s milk,
More beautiful
Than the breast of a gull.

We shall walk through the still town
In a windless peace;
We shall step upon white down,
Upon silver fleece,
Upon softer than these.

We shall walk in velvet shoes:
Wherever we go
Silence will fall like dews
On white silence below.
We shall walk in the snow.

Singing From on High

The traditional Christmas story feels somewhat out of touch in our current stage of economic progress. Very much apart from present everyday experiences.

Except for a few countries, there are no shepherds tending their sheep by night.  No one to see angels announcing news of great joy.  Nor an angelic host praising God with song.

Or might there be a modern day version of this event?

Not of shepherds tending flocks, but shoppers reviewing  lists.   A very busy, packed department store of last minute consumers seeking just the right gifts.

Not voices from afar but the growing impression of a musical sound.  And then suddenly an angelic choir, seemingly everywhere and nowhere, surrounding the crowd with exultation.

Yes, it did happen.  Really.  And with modern iPhones, the whole event was captured for all to witness.   Some were stunned with awe.  Others sang along with the joyful noise.  Some hugged their neighbors.

No one continued shopping.   It was too powerful an experience to continue with everyday tasks.  It interrupted immediate intentions and changed the sense of where everyone was at that time.

All  shared this rejoicing in the midst of a very busy time.

You can feel the  emotion in the event.   And experience it,  as the glory of Christmas captures everyone, at least for a moment.  The smiles, the sense of  exultation.   The wonderment !

Merry Christmas on this and every day.


A Season Uniting Two Cooperative Virtues

Christmas in all its joyous celebrations seems to walk an awkward line between secular, commercial activities at their frenzied peak and the religious meaning of the Advent season.

There is a minor echo of this tension in credit union history.  As the decade of the 1950’s evolved there was increasing friction between two priorities.  One group wanted to promote the business potential of the cooperative system versus the expansion minded pioneers whose primary intent was forming more credit unions.

Today these differing views might be categorized by those who focus on purpose as the driving force,  versus those who belief that growth through acquisitions of their peers and bank purchases are the way to secure the future.

How One Company Combines the Season’s Messages

Occasionally a firm will try to unite the business and religious aspects of this special season.   The UK grocery chain, Sainsbury, has created a unique “commercial” each Christmas for over a decade.   Each new effort commemorates an important value of the season while reference to the company’s business is at best tangential.

In 2014 their “offering” lasted over three minutes.  As described by Stephen Masty:

“it recreated the informal Christmas Truce that spread among soldiers in the trenches near Ypres in 1914, one hundred years earlier. Instigated by a British officer writing to his German counterpart across No Man’s Land, it spread up and down the battle lines as, for a few hours, the guns stopped firing. Yesterday‘s and tomorrow’s combatants sang hymns together and celebrated the birth of the Prince of Peace.

The 2014 ad was the first to mark the Christianity of Christmas. German and British soldiers start to sing “Silent Night” almost spontaneously; while the only visible product is a WW1-era chocolate bar. I find it emotionally powerful.”


The story of the ad’s creation is in an accompanying video of just over three minutes.  It demonstrates why and how a very large for-profit firm honors lasting human values while supporting their business.


The videos’ message is that in the worst of times there can be humanity.  And this impulse is to be honored in better times.

Peace, for a moment, broke out in the midst of war.   Individuals overcame the ever-present demands of military imperatives and the survival instincts created by trench warfare.

The Blessings of this Season

I am pleased to have shared my observations about credit unions with you this past year.  

Cooperatives are a special way to combine our resources to help with everyday individual needs.  This is a practical necessity that has existed since humankind first gathered in groups.  Whatever the state of the economy.

This season reminds that sharing is an essential human value that is uniquely enabled by cooperative design.  Whatever the difference in operational priorities, our unity arises from the belief that the needs of others will be met with common, not just individual, effort.

 Merry Christmas.   Peace.  Goodwill.  

Words of Hope in this Season

Words often feel special this time of year.   The following poems were written during tragic personal circumstances of both authors.   Each still affirms hope.

The first was converted to a popular Christmas carol, sung often today. The other, translated from Russian, celebrates life’s fullness even as it is near ending.

An American Poet Writes in the Face of Personal Tragedy

The circumstances of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s writing I heard the bells on Christmas Day, are clothed in tragedy and personal depression.   His wife, Fanny, had been killed two years earlier in a fire started as she was sealing envelopes with hot wax when a flame caught her clothes.

He was too badly burned to attend her funeral, and wore a beard for the rest of his life to disguise the scars on his face from trying to put out the flames.

As a 29 year old widower, he had courted Fanny for seven years before they were married.  In their 18 years together, they had six children. For Longfellow, they were the happiest time of his life.

Two years later, in 1863, his oldest son Charlie enlisted in the Union army against Longfellow’s wishes. The poet was a strong abolitionist, but also a pacifist.  Charlie  wrote his father from DC where he had joined the 1st Massachusetts Artillery:

I have tried hard to resist the temptation of going without your leave but I cannot any longer, I feel it to be my first duty to do what I can for my country and I would willingly lay down my life for it if it would be of any good God Bless you all.  

He caught fever in June and took leave that summer to heal at home.  He rejoined the fight.  In November At New Hope, Va., he was shot, the bullet went through him from back to shoulder, just nicking his spine.

Longfellow brought his son back from DC to their home in Cambridge to convalesce, arriving on December 8th.  Listening to church bells ringing at that time of year he was moved to write his poem (original words below) combing his anguish of war and hope for peace.

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
and wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;
“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men.”

The carol version often omits the middle stances about the war in which “hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth, good will to men”.

But despondency is overcome with the affirmation that “God is not dead, nor doth He sleep” and that ultimately there will be “…peace on earth, good will to men”.

The Burl Ives recording of the carol from 1966 is the shortened version omitting the Civil War context.

A Poem of Hope from Russia

Osip Mandelstam was a Russian poet and essayist who lived there during and after the revolution and the rise of the Soviet Union. Born in 1891 he was educated in St. Petersburg, France and Germany.   In 1937 Mandelstam was arrested and sentenced to five years in a corrective-labour camp in the Soviet Far East. He died that year at a transit camp near Vladivostok.

He is considered one of the most significant Russian poets of the 20th century. This poem was written in the camp shortly before he died.

And I Was Alive

Written by Osip Mandelstam

Translated by Christian Wiman

And I was alive in the blizzard of the blossoming pear,
Myself I stood in the storm of the bird–cherry tree.
It was all leaflife and starshower, unerring, self–shattering power,
And it was all aimed at me.

What is this dire delight flowering fleeing always earth?
What is being? What is truth?

Blossoms rupture and rapture the air,
All hover and hammer,
Time intensified and time intolerable, sweetness raveling rot.

It is now. It is not.

(May 4, 1937)

A Season for Work Appraisals

Bosses Struggle to Respond to Burned Out Workers (Wall Street Journal, December 21, 2021)

“Workplace stress is rampant and resignations have risen; employers are trying four-day workweeks, mandatory vacation days and other new ways of working.

In the first 10 months of this year, America’s workers handed in nearly 39 million resignations, the highest number since tracking began in 2000.

Some want better jobs. Others, a better work-life balance. Still others want a complete break from the corporate grind. Almost two years into the pandemic that left millions doing their jobs from home, many Americans are rethinking their relationship with work.”

A Season of Remembering and Joyous Sounds

One the joys of our annual cycle of religious and secular observances is how past memories are often rekindled.  They arise in personal stories and from music primarily played at this time of year.

Last Friday my wife and had dinner with a 90-year-old couple, still living in their home.   The husband is still active in the credit union community.   He was 11 years old when WW II broke out.

As we finished the meal with Greek cookies bathed in powdered sugar, they recalled a time as children when war cake was served for dessert. The ingredients include little or no milk, sugar, butter, or eggs, because they were rationed, expensive or hard to obtain. When his father received a 5-pound bag of sugar as a gift for Christmas one year, he immediately turned it over to his church lest he be accused of violating ration limits.

Remembering times past makes them special, no matter what our worries were then.

Musical Joys with New Words

Music is especially potent in calling up special moments. I remember the first time I heard a live performance of the Handel’s Messiah.  During the Christmas season I was at Boston Symphony Hall, senior year in college, on a date with a young lady whom I would later marry.

Years later I heard the familiar sounds, but with different words.   The oratorio was being sung in Russian, a banned work during the Soviet era.  This was one of the first recordings in that language.   Listening to words, unknown to me,  made it a wholly new experience.

En route to a holiday dinner years later while listening to the local classical music station, I heard a new CD that was also not in English.  But it was so buoyant, melodic, and festive that I looked up the station’s playlist to find the title of the CD, Karolju.

It is a suite of original Christmas carols for choir and orchestra by the America composer Christopher Rouse. The work was commissioned and first performed on November 7, 1991 by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra

The composer modeled the work and its rhythmic variations after Carl Off’s Carmina Burana.   Here is how the composer explained his unusual choice of language.

As I wished to compose the music first, the problem of texts presented itself. Finding appropriate existing texts to fit already composed music would have been virtually impossible, and as I did not trust my own ability to devise a poetically satisfying text, I decided to compose my own texts in a variety of languages (Latin, Swedish, French, Spanish, Russian, Czech, German, and Italian) which, although making reference to words and phrases appropriate to the Christmas season, would not be intelligibly translatable as complete entities. It was rather my intent to match the sound of the language to the musical style of the carol to which it was applied. I resultantly selected words often more for the quality of their sound and the extent to which such sound typified the language of their origin than for their cognitive “meaning” per se.

Though the music of Karolju is original, the first and tenth movements of the work paraphrase the coda of “O Fortuna” from Carmina Burana. The third movement also quotes a four-measure phrase from The Nutcracker by the Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, which itself dates back to an 18th-century minuet.

This is the link to all of the individual carols on the album.   Many languages are used but to capture the spirit of the season you might open with the Swedish carol #2, for 1:45 minutes.

Enjoy these original sounds of the season’s spirit. Listen as the words, even when not understood, create texture for each musical movement.

Please add your favorite choral sounds at the end of the blog.