is the grass any bluer...

is the grass any bluer...
on the other side?

Monday, December 26, 2011

Never Mind Me, I'm Just Trying to Be Merry

Yesterday I experienced another glorious Sunday in worship, in music, in fellowship, eating and making merry.  

Oh, what did I just say?  Merry?  Oh yeah, it was Christmas Sunday, of all things.  We're supposed to be merry during Christmas.  Why do we never use the word merry any other time of the year, I wonder...and how can we score some of this elusive Merry that only seems, like mistletoe, to be visible when all else around it is bare and cold? 

Well now, lambchops, I of course don't know the secret to merriness, but I do have a secret weapon against hum-buggery, and that is putting the positive spin into words and action, like singing...and playing.  I confess I'm annoying about it, rather a Spongebob-like optimism, but sometimes I just have to throw my head back and keep playing.  I pour all my free time into the arts that thrive so well this time of year.  I enjoy the relentless attack of joy and love on spite and angst.  Most of all, though, I love hearing the Christmas music on the radio and in the stores, and in all the local productions.  [There are only two I really don't like all that much, the one about the little boy buying shoes for his mama who's ready to meet Jesus tonight; and the other one is about grandma gettin run over by a reindeer.  Both times, the chicks are the ones dying.  I don't like 'em. I like merry songs, not heart plucking with a hunting knife kinda Christmas songs.  Oy veh, Maria.]  

Back to finding Christmas cheer and all that, the older I get, the more I make myself merry by pouring my time into the music that is so freely sprinkled like peppermint flakes on the fudge brownies of life during this time of year. I eat the brownies, I drink the nog, and I seek out the merry with more gusto during the last few months of the year, as the liturgical calendar winds its way to Christmas because something transforming happens in the time between August and December in my faith and in my choral life.  My Chancel Choir begins preparing the flame in our liturgical candle that culminates in an observance of the birth of Jesus.  We sing songs that Mary sang, we come to know the Latin translation for the story of the Mary and Joseph and their journey that led them to Bethlehem.  We learn how to sing the Latin words for Light and Eternal and Poor and Needy and Blessing.  It is the discovery made in rehearsal, the "getting-ready," the preparation and fellowship that process highlights that has had me held spellbound, the discipline of learning difficult passages, the joy when we get it right the first time. From there until performance, our progress grows exponentially until we are amazed with our own bad selves.   It's very cool to imagine what the composers may have been thinking as they wrote the various parts.  So we sing, we eat, we drink, and we sing some more. Christmas is good!  We are merry.

Like a roast beast feast, I loaded up my musical plate this year, indulging in solo ukulele gigs, heading out to hear some hillbilly jazz whenever possible, obliging to a song with my dream duet partner and getting a rave review, and of course, rehearsing with my beloved choir.  My choir is made of some of God's purest souls. These are people in whom I place my complete and utter trust. They are a family to me, and they consider me their sister, daughter, mother, grandmother, too, and that's perfectly fine with me.  We wait every year to hear what songs MichaelR gives us to sing -- well, we wait every week, actually, that's his not-so-secret delight, to make us anticipate what we'll be singing next -- and when the Christmas work or Easter work is announced, we are put through the paces by some very fine musical clinicians and by MR himself.  

Accordingly, first and foremost, I've been captive of late of my Messiah, i.e., learning the score on the piano, rehearsal cd and singing with my choir selected pieces from Handel's classic.  [There a goodly 50 pieces and more written for this work of completely incomprehensible genius from which choral conductors choose to present, depending on the time of the church year that this work is presented.  For example, Hallelujia Chorus oftentimes is usually sung for Christmas presentations.]  So we sang selected pieces, and the alto parts are tricky -- we actually have the lead melody for a few measures, almost a whole page sometimes (lol) -- there are articulations known as melismas [the singing of a single syllable of text while moving between several different notes in succession] that are mind boggling runs that seem impossible to sing until we practice with MR and sectionals are held - the women's parts are honed by (fellow alto) Dr. Kate Covington, and she brings us altos together with the sopranos so that we finally are, like Handel's score, meticulously yet orderly chaotic in a musically wonderful way.  Sigh.  

Singing in choir is fascinating in so many ways, it's impossible to describe, but it sure is fun trying :)  Since Music is my merry-maker during the Season, though, I also love to hear UK's choral presentations, the kid busking on his guitar before WoodSongs, my friend Tom Bragg singing O Holy Night, or performing for as guest vocalist/ukulelist at a theatre or different church than Central.   I love the uke even more than ever (am trying to learn the 9th chords as a gift to my friend -- yipes) and find great joy teaching ukulele songs to my willing student and hairdresser Julie, or any friend who might dare pick up another and try to learn a song.

I guess I'm yammering on about all of that to say that, in the midst of all worrying about Christmas, I finally realized when I became rather poor a few years ago that it truly is better to buy what I can as far as gifts, but it's far more important to do what I must to make my friends and family know I love them.   I'm not perfect, but the reminder that I am a redeemed and forgiven child of God renews my spirit during Advent and Christmas. I've learned to love the celebration of God coming to us as a child, a baby in which there was and is hope, a child to redeem us of our dust and sin.  

When I think about my dust and sin, it makes me sad...and that is also part of the journey I take every year when Advent approaches.  I begin to think of how I am not worthy of that sort of Love, for an innocent Christchild to enter in.  My shame wants to overcome me, but the songs we sing, especially with messages in the folk hymn Who At My Door Is Standing? remind me -- in a wonderfully musical way -- that I simply need to let Him in.  Such an easy thing to do, it seems, but the doubts are there, disappointments happen, illnesses rear their ugly head, and it is then when I am at my weakest.  It is when I am knocked down, though, that God lifts me up.  He lifts me up with every chorus of every carol and every viewing of White Christmas or prayer said in the name of Christ the Savior...and so it is that my faith is bolstered during the Holidays because of the gracious highway where text meets tone ... and equals Music.  Music is something upon which I can always find joy.  Music never lets me down.  Music always answers when I call.  Music knows exactly what sort of mood I am in.  Music is the one constant that can help me hold on when memories hurt instead of heal.  Music makes me remember what is good in life.  It also makes me stretch my parameters and squeeze my type so I can fit the rhythm into the words and paint the text as it should be shaped, shouted or whispered.  So I tell myself when things are going very Grinch-y, Scrooge-y, a/k/a "when the bee stings,"  to hold on, keep listening, and keep trying to sing and make my own Holiday music, because eventually, I'll be merry, too.  

:) :):) :):) :):) :):) :):) :):) :):) :):) :):) :):) :):) :):) :):) :):) :):) :):) :):) :):) :)

Here is a prayer we said today in worship. 
It was written by Robert Louis Stephenson:

"Loving God, help us remember the birth of Jesus,
that we may share in the song of the angels,
and the gladness of the shepherds.
Close the door of hate
and open the door of love all over the world.
Let kindness come with every gift and good desires with every greeting.  May the Christmas morning make us happy to be your children,
and Christmas evening bring us to our beds with grateful thoughts, forgiving and forgiven, for Jesus' sake.  Amen."

I wish all my Lambchops a very, merry Christmas!
peace on earth,

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