Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Holiday Music Memories

Along with all the things that have become traditional in my home, each year, my husband and I try to get a new Christmas CD to add to our Christmas music collection. This year, it was Pink Martini's "Joy to the World", which really is a wonderful collection of some standards and some not-so-standard songs of the holidays.  Several pieces are sung in languages I don't speak or understand (hooray for great liner notes!), but the spirit and emotion of Christmas joy are evident in each selection.

Growing up, my traditional Christmas expectations were a bit different than they are today.  We always went to my mother's parents home, where, along with my aunt and the cousins, we started our celebration by singing Christmas carols together.  My mother played the piano, and we all made requests to sing our favorites.  If I close my eyes, I can see the wood of the old upright piano, smell the scent of the fresh pine from the tree cut from my grandparent's farm, adorned with handmade ornaments cut from old Christmas cards, and hear the blend of the cousin's voices as they harmonized with my lead.  Today, both grandparents are in heaven along with my aunt, the cousins have scattered to other places, and we don't see each other anymore. 

My best memory is more closely held, and only involved my parents and my brother.  Every Christmas Eve, dad got out the film strip machine and mom pulled out a special record from the Hi-Fi storage box.  Then we turned off the lights, and we had our own multi-media presentation of the Christmas story.  The record was the reading of the scripture from Luke, dubbed over some very dramatic organ music.  The little "bong" sound that indicated when to flip the film strip to the next picture didn't match any of the rest of the music, and my brother and I would giggle hysterically if mom missed one of the cues and the story got a bit out of sync.  We looked forward to it every year, and the comfort of hearing the same sounds and seeing those same pictures stays with me today as I sit in the dark, squinting at my tree, remembering.

No matter if the traditions are time-worn or brand new, the music of the Season brings us true comfort and joy.  I will have to play a few of my favorite CDs one more time before they get put away until the next year.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Musicians Christmas

The holiday season is so frantic these days.  There's shopping to do, parties to attend and host, school and church programs, family get togethers, and so much more!  Add to all of that, for a musician, all the extra rehearsals and performances, and you have one overwhelming Season.  It's no surprise that January is the month that a musician is most likely to come down with a cold or the flu. 
I love Christmas music, don't get me wrong. What other holiday is so immersed in musical traditions, new and old?  And there aren't a lot of Flag Day or Labor Day albums, are there? Yes, Christmas is a time of musical celebration.  However, as musicians, we don't get to sit back and soak up all of the beautiful sights and sounds of a Christmas concert or program.  We are performing; concentrating on breathing, singing or playing, standing or sitting at the correct time, preparing mentally for the next piece, watching the director, and most of all on not making any noticeable errors.  With all that going on, it's easy to see how one forgets to enjoy what one is doing.  It is a unique rush to perform well, especially with an overtly receptive audience.  But it is over so quickly, and the satisfied relish from that last high note fades almost at the speed of sound. 
Recently, I have begun to remind myself why I sing.  I want to be part of something more, that leads others to the wonder and delight of the music I sing.  I want to teach myself the blessings of music, to understand that this gift is much more than intonation, pitch, melody, and harmony; it is the joy that comes when these things are done well.  It is in the message received when heart and intellect are poured into the effort of music.  It is knowing that no one can take this gift of music from me, but I am willing to give it away every time I sing. 
The big music program at my church is next week.  It will be glorious, and I will sing with open ears and heart, breathing out the music of Christmas, and breathing in the wonder of it all.