Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Christmas Music

Tonight was our school's Christmas concert, with an array of instrumental and choral groups, some dancers, and even a guest artist, a professional singer (alumna). It was nice, but I'm not going to say much more about it. Instead, I wanted to use it as a springboard to talk about some of my favorite memories of music and Christmas.

1) Vinyl. Growing up, our Christmas music in the home was on vinyl, and it was just about the only time of the year that we listened to music, aside from some patriotic stuff (Dad love Kate Smith's "God Bless America") around the 4th. The music I remember most was Mitch Miller's Christmas Sing-a-long with Mitch, which I think I loved as much as anything for the included singalong sheets. Also firmly lodged in memory were the Bing Crosby Christmas albums, particularly White Christmas and some record that had "The Little Drummer Boy," which was quite possibly my favorite Christmas song.

2) One year, right before Christmas, my parents bought a new car. From my young perspective, the most amazing feature of this vehicle was that it had a tape deck. I think we literally bought the car on Christmas Eve. On the way home, we stopped at a gas station and bought two tapes, both filled with Christmas music. That night, after an early Christmas Eve service at church, we spent a couple hours driving around looking at lights and listening to the two tapes we'd bought.

3) From my youngest days right up 'til now, I've always had a soft spot for Christmas Eve services, because they were almost exclusively made up of the singing of carols. That plus the solemnity of an evening service by candlelight equaled magic.

4) In high school, I was in our show choir, the Choraliers. I was in it three years, and with the director we had my last two years, it was awesome. We performed a lot of Christmas shows, and I loved it. Our director put together a good show and emphasized professionalism to us. It was so much fun to put on a good show, to bask in the appreciation of the audiences. I don't remember all the songs we sang, but two of the most fun were "Fruitcake" and "The Monotone Angel."

5) Also in high school, one year I had a solo at the Christmas concert. There's a tenor solo in "Twas the Night Before Christmas," and I had it. It was a real confidence-booster to be chosen for the solo. It was also a big dose of reality when I messed up at the concert. It would hardly be the last solo I would fail to carry off perfectly, but I survived the experience relatively unscathed.

6) My freshman year of college, I got pulled in to be the tenor in a barbershop quartet. It pulled me out of my comfort zone and gave me plenty more opportunities to botch music (the karaoke contest we entered was a particularly embarrassing example). One of the things we did, though, was to go around to the freshmen dorms and sing Christmas carols in 4-part harmony. It was so cool. Even after our lead--the guy who put the whole thing together--failed out of school, we got together a group the next three years to continue (and expand) the tradition. It was such a cool experience.

7) In graduate school, we did a Madrigal Feaste. So much work, so much fun!

8) As a young choral director at an all-boys school, I drew on my college experience and had our Double Quartet (which, sadly, rarely seemed to have 8 members) go around campus caroling every year. It would take us 2-3 hours on a night that was cold in a time of the year that was incredibly busy, but I don't think any of the guys ever regretted the time spent doing it. Their fellow students were appreciative (for the most part) and the faculty whose homes we went to were positively adoring. We could usually consume our weight in cookies and hot chocolate if they knew we were coming.

9) During one of the two years I lived in Rhode Island, I was pulled into a Victorian Carolers group called VOX (Voices of X-mas). We performed probably 2-3 times each week during the month of December, with gigs split charity work--hospitals, nursing homes, and the like--and swanky, exclusive events that paid well. Even the latter was ultimately charity work, because all the money we raised beyond operating costs were donated to charity. I loved that experience, and I've been meaning to recreate it where I am now, but it's just so hard to find the time when you're starting a family. One of these years...

10) The final spot is reserved for whatever it is I'm going to think of tomorrow, because right now I'm just rushing to get this thing written before the day's over! I'm sure I've forgetting at least one incredible experience with Christmas music. And if I'm not, well, then consider slot number 10 to be reserved for your own use, to share a story!

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