Saturday, December 31, 2016

Holiday Musical Traditions

We all have holiday traditions ranging from waking up Santa (who's sleeping under one's Christmas tree) and chasing him up the chimney before the children come racing down the stairs (we always heard his jingle bells, but never did catch a glimpse of him rushing up the flue, even though Dad insisted he had to chase him out of the house every year) to drinking egg nog on New Year's Eve... But what about musical traditions associated with the holidays?

Many families and individuals make a concerted (pun intended) effort to attend a Messiah sing-in, during which members of the audience bring or are given copies of Handel's famous score with which to sing along. I personally love this tradition, and lament the fact that in some areas of our country this tradition seems to be waning. Others participate in caroling expeditions through their neighborhoods and to nursing homes to spread good will and Christmas cheer. This year I coordinated a neighborhood caroling night and it served to introduce us to other music-loving families in our community, as well as bring both the singers and the recipients of an unexpected serenade a keen sense of love, local good will and purity in the midst of all else happening in the world. It was a sweet departure from reality into heaven for a few hours, albeit cold! This is a tradition that anyone can plan, and it brings a large return of friendship and joy on your relatively small investment of energy and time. Another tradition that I have established in my household is playing and singing carols at the piano at various times of the season. Now that I am a professional pianist as well as a professional vocalist, I find great pleasure in singing the songs of Christmas (and New Year's) for my family to enjoy. I think it is important that those who identify themselves as musicians find ways to share their music with others as often as possible--the world needs us! Still other musical traditions include putting Christmas albums on to listen to during gift exchanges, cooking and baking marathons, and breakfasts throughout the twelve (yes, TWELVE!) days of Christmas.

Since Christmas is a season in the Christian calendar and not just a single day, it is important to remember to honor the Christmas spirit, story, scriptures, songs, traditions and cheer throughout the period from Advent (when we await the coming of Christ and celebrate the anticipation of His blessed birth) through to Epiphany (January 6, the traditional day we acknowledge the visitation of the three wise men/kings/magi to the infant Messiah, and the revelation of God to mankind). Being a season of forty days (Advent) plus twelve days of Christmas, the possibilities for enjoying a long season of holiday music are many. I love the song "The Twelve Days of Christmas" because it reminds me to celebrate each day of the Christmas season.

Some members of my family get together and play music in what we call "the family band" featuring several brass players (french horns, trumpet, tuba, trombone, saxes, clarinet, flute and drum set). This is a wonderful tradition that I highly recommend for any musical families to start--it programs great memories of making music with your own family right into your holiday calendar each year (our family band also meets to play together on Independence Day!) A new tradition that I aim to start next year is to enjoy some kind of musical activity which celebrates the season every day of Advent and Christmas--whether being a different seasonal song I sing or play each day, or attending a Christmas concert by my local symphony or community choir, or writing a holiday song, or coordinating another caroling expedition, or playing a new album of Christmas big band arrangements... Again, the possibilities are endless. I look forward to the holidays each year and intend to continue enjoying this Christmas season (we are currently at the seventh day) with an emphasis on the music and how it contributes to our joy, peace and worship. I wish you all a happy, holy and safe remainder of the Christmas season and a 2017 that exceeds your wildest dreams! Thank you always for your support of live music and of those who create it. Blessings to all!