It always amazes me how many Christmas songs have been and continue to be made. Do we sing ourselves out of the dark and cold? Perhaps.
The emotions evoked from music combined with the abundant sensations of the time of year seem to leave an imprint on me that goes beyond my understanding. It is deeper than what my mind can untwist.
Like, why do I categorize the Crash Test Dummies album “God Shuffled His Feet” with Christmas? It was the soundtrack of my December in 1993, and will always be in my holiday playlist.
Music as mystery
Music can bring understanding that is far beyond what the mind can offer. A few years ago, I listened to a version of “O Come, Emmanuel” by Dan Cleary and heard the old familiar song in a brand new way. Sometime we sing the song focusing on the REJOICE! REJOICE! chorus. But this drew me in deeper. This version has a dissonance and tribal-like calls that bring up a sensation of dark, gray, cold times and a People who cry out for someone, something to bring them together in unity.
This affected me deeply in my understanding of the season. Calling out into the darkness for light, unity, warmth, community. Hope.
There are few versions that have one of the seven original verses of the early-century hymn that especially affected me. Dan Cleary’s version has it, as does Kate O’Callaghan’s. Here it is:
Oh come, Desire of Nations,
bind — in one — the hearts of all mankind.
Bid thou our sad division cease
and be thyself our King of Peace.
Within the songs ancient lyrics is the same yearning that I have today — to bring together all that has become separated, within and without. In those broken pieces, the darkness lies. Bringing them together holds the promise of light and wholeness.
Maybe this is Christmas?
One of the best Christmas days I’ve had was in my junior year of college. I was singing with a quartet for the 12 days of Christmas at the Publick House in Sturbridge, Mass.
The four of us were Westfield State students from the college chorale. We sang traditional Christmas carols and madrigals, a capella, in four-part harmony. It was such a great paying gig for me at that time that I didn’t have to work for the rest of Christmas break.
That year, my best friend Greg sang tenor, I sang soprano, and our friends Josh and Jen sang bass and alto respectively. Sometimes Jen would take the soprano part.
We strolled through the restaurant, from dining room to dining room, and sang a song or two for the room, depending on how many people were there and how receptive they were.
It was hard work, being on our feet for a few hours and singing with few breaks. On about the 8th day, I got sick with a cold. But the show had to go on, despite a killer sore throat.
When we weren’t singing together, Greg was staying at my mom’s house with me, since Mom lived a half hour away from Sturbridge, and Greg and I were inseparable.
We sang on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. I left family celebrations to work. But it didn’t seem to matter. I loved the music and singing it. It wasn’t work.
I was ready to take a break at the end of the 12 days, though. My voice was tired and so were my feet. The cold hadn’t gotten any better.
But I look back on that Christmas as one of the best. I couldn’t ever recreate it.
We sang well together, blending beautifully. It wasn’t even about the songs, but about the interplay of our voices — four sounds coming together to create MUSIC. When my voice sings out, reverberates in my head and through my body, then intertwines with other notes and other voices in harmony, it is bliss. It is alchemy.
It takes all kinds
Here are some of my favorites, both irreverent and sacred:
- The Waitresses – Christmas Wrapping: Someday, hope that you are in a car next to mine at a stoplight when this song is on the radio. It’s a show you’ll want to see. I promise.
- Chanticleer – In the Bleak Midwinter
- Vince Guaraldi’s “A Charlie Brown Christmas”
- Crash Test Dummies – God Shuffled His Feet: Like I mentioned, I listened to this album incessantly during the December of 1993. I couldn’t get enough. Therefore, it’s become unofficial Christmas music.
- Fay McKay – The Twelve Daze of Christmas: This is so wrong. But, this woman slays (or should I say SLEIGHS…har har har ho ho ho) me, especially the part where it sounds like she’s heaving all she’s got.
Merry Christmas to all!