Sunday, December 23, 2012

Advent and Christmas Music

As a Catholic who occasionally sings in the choir, Advent and Christmas are almost as important as Lent and Easter, and the music is better too!

Advent is a sober, quiet time in many ways. The modern focus on getting ready is mostly about getting presents bought, wrapped and shipped, and binges on candy, baked goods, booze, and a good ham.

Advent helps remind me to prepare spiritually, too. In modern America we tend to ignore the spirit, and our lives suffer for it. Fasting, taking time to pray and seek absolution, finding opportunities to volunteer, dropping some of our burden of sin and the elements of this world as we focus on the things that feed our spirit - it all serves to clarify what really matters and to helps us prepare to be the best person we're able to be.

During the Advent season we sing a cappella in the church choir, and songs like "O Come Emmanuel" are lovely. Careful 4 part harmonies, slow stately phrasing, the sound blending and echoing off the walls of the church in the dimness as mass proceeds, it instantly changes my state of mind, pulling me out of my day to day concerns and helping me not just think penitent thoughts, but actually feel sorry for my failings and sins and errors - and I've got plenty. This version is nice, although there's no harmonies.
The vows to do better, to sin no more, are more powerful in that emotionally connected state, and it helps me do a slightly better job living up to my expectations. Like all imperfect humans, I'll miss, but I know I can be forgiven and I have to keep trying and striving to do as well as I can. Anything that helps is appreciated!

We light an additional candle at each of the 4 Advent masses, and the one purple candle is lit for the first time on "Gaudette" Sunday. We sing "Gaudette" at that Advent mass, and that's always fun.
This is a barbershop version, well done with good dynamics, limited to 4 parts and can't quite wail like a full choir but you get the idea.

Advent and Christmas are a bit intense in the St. Marks choir, with pre-mass songs and songs during mass and the recessionals at the end, different songs each week, many in 4 part (and occasionally more) harmony, all a cappella for 4 weeks so errors are very noticeable.

At the same time we have some major long complex numbers to nail down for Christmas mass, which is done with musical instruments - brass. With the Church filled to overflowing and communion taking way longer than normal and instruments added to the mix, we'll be doing 400 year old songs in foreign languages in 4 part harmonies - and loving it. I have many favorites, like "Joy to the World" with brass and hand bells, and more obscure ones like "Wonderful Peace"

It's appreciated if you can sing Midnight mass and one or more of the morning masses so that there's enough voices to pull it all off.

Christmas lasts for 12 days, so we get to sing the joyful Christmas carols beyond Christmas day, too! The joyful carols tend to be the hardest on my throat, they're always forte or louder and the air is filled with smoke from the incense in the censors, and with the pre- and during and post-mass singing we end up singing for well over an hour for each mass. By the end my throat is pretty sore, but it's a good sore.

If I'm lucky I'll also get to sing carols and maybe fake it on the guitar with some family and friends sometime over the holidays, too. I think our culture has largely forgotten how fun it is to get together and perform music, and we've lost something that most don't even notice is missing.

Christmas is the one time of the year when it's not that hard to get people to sing together, and I can pull out the guitar and ask people to sing with me and they don't look at me weird. I appreciate that, and I've always associated Christmas and it's joys with music.

Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, and a Joyous New Year! May your life be filled with love, family, friends, music, light, health and joy all year.

1 comment:

  1. what a great insight into your feelings about singing. The music in church takes me to different place too. I look forward to it. AND YOUR FAKING ON GUITAR.