Christmas time is here. Happiness and cheer. Time for all that children call… I could go on.
I know people who firmly believe Christmas is just one day or that Christmas is a series of days following a strict Christian tradition of festival observances that have been made up and modified over the centuries. But to me, it’s Christmas Time. It lasts for weeks, and it begins and ends when I feel like it. I’ve been feeling like it for a couple of weeks, with a tree and cookies and Charles Shultz characters swirling on ice and singing “Snowflakes in the air. Carols everywhere. Olden times and ancient rhymes of love and dreams to share.”
With all of this nostalgic tradition I have collected, though, I must say the highlight so far has been last night’s orchestra concert, our annual Christmas concert we call “Yuletide Celebration.” We have created our own tradition for this thing—a community children’s chorus and the Tom Paxton song, “The Marvelous Toy.” Last night, we also performed some sweet tunes from Home Alone—seriously, the movies might be silly, but the music is gorgeous—and two scenes from Nutcracker with a local dance studio providing the Snow Queen and snowflakes and Claira.
We also brought in a high school women’s choir to sing “In the Bleak Midwinter,” with such a sweet orchestration of the Holst tune, you had to wipe your eyes when they were finished. They also sang a Vivaldi tune and joined the little kids.
And we performed “Music for A December Day,” a piece composed by Conductor Eric that is larger than life. It’s personal for him and opens with scenes from a snowy New England wood, and then it quickly jumps to the sound of his boys running down the stairs on Christmas morning to pillage Santa’s gifts under the tree. There are carols and “Hey ho, nobody home, meat nor drink nor money have we none” with a brass bass line that changes your heart beat for a minute (one of my favorite moments), and fierce becoming delicate becoming powerful. And it all ends piled on—this particular December Day is the result of two thousand years of history mixed with speculation mixed with myth mixed with tradition mixed with personal nostalgia mixed with the gifts we give to children and the hopes we have for future December Days. This particular December Day, both the holiday and the music, is larger than life as I said, and when you’ve finished playing it (and living it), you feel as though you need to flop down on the sofa and catch your breath, the played notes and spent wrapping paper and leftover turkey laying crumpled at your feet.
A small brass ensemble began on the proscenium (a word I’ve learned—it’s the part of the stage in front of the curtain), and we played antiphonally against the onstage brass. Then we headed back stage for a distant call and then joined the rest for the piling on as I’ve described. The whole thing is exhilarating and so full of anticipation. Eric is a self-confessed ADD personality, and his meters change without warning and frequently. There is no resting in this piece, and you don’t know what’s just around the corner—is it a steady 4/4 or is it a moment of 5/4 that leads to 6/8 that leads to a 4/4? You anticipate the next moment just as you anticipate the best moments of the holiday, that December Day, just as a child running down the stairs can’t wait to see what’s under the tree or in the stocking, and what’s that in the oven that smells so wonderful, and where are my favorite cookies we have every year and only at Christmas, only on this one December Day that ends too soon?
On the heels of the unspeakable massacre in Connecticut that makes you doubt the future of Mankind, being on stage with singing children, whose parents have packed the hall, and playing music like “In the Bleak Midwinter” and “Music for A December Day,” I left the stage at the end filled with hopes for great things for our species. We can be knocked flat by the acts of the worst of us, or the most damaged of us, but we know how to get back up, and we know how to make things right.
For those parents in Connecticut who have lost their children—no, whose children were taken from them—things will never be right again, so I won’t pretend making music for one evening can fix all things.
But I will say this—tragedy humbles us and reminds us we are merely human. Making music may seem a humble response, like throwing a thimbleful of water on a raging flame, but it is one of the greatest forms of communication we humans have, and its effect is so powerful that it has the ability to lift us up above the worst of ourselves and show us our best, to remind each other what goodness we are capable of.
Christmas time is here. We’ll be drawing near. Oh, that we could always see such spirit through the year. Oh, that we could always see such spirit through the year.