Thursday, December 09, 2004

Non-Rant Day Declared!

I've been on a somewhat short fuse the last few days, and I need a little soul-cleansing action today. I'm not honestly sure where the funk came from, but I'm hoping to dispel it. Could just be a combination of too little sleep coupled with too much holiday busy-ness, augmented by a glut of outrageous news items during what should be a festive time of year. Or, perhaps, I'm feeling hormonal all of a sudden.

Anyway, this time of year always presents a bit of a conundrum for me. I have been a choir boy since long before my high school days. In those days when choir directors could still get away with calling them Christmas concerts, Christmas was my favorite season for singing. There were two primary influences that helped me appreciate the beauty of Christmas music in my younger years. First and foremost were my parents. Both incredibly gifted musicians who instilled in their offspring a love of beautiful music. By merely opening my ears I was introduced to an ever-widening spectrum of inspiring songs, carols and anthems that went way beyond Rudolph, Frosty, or St. Nick. Beyond even Joys to the World, Midnights Clear, Towns of Bethlehem, or interminable iterations of Hallelujah.

My second best influence for music which still can send me into raptures unspoken was, interestingly enough, my agnostic, Jewish, and very gay high school choir director. He it was who first trained my voice enough to begin to express this wonderful music without sounding like a donkey with adenoid trouble.

The conundrum is how a season that inspires such beautiful sounds can send me into near-complete physical and emotional breakdowns because I'm so busy singing that I can't seem to get any rest.

I swore this year would be different.

I conducted what I had hoped would be my last Christmas concerts last year after having done so on and off for decades. Conducting is an even bigger energy consumer than singing and is, for me, more emotionally draining as well. As I looked ahead to this Christmas, I envisioned attending one or more concerts just to listen and appreciate, then go home. Oh, I figured Mom would hit me up for her concert this year. Mom's concerts are always fun and never over-taxing. But that would be it, and I could enjoy the rest of this glorious season.

About a month ago I received an invitation to be the tenor soloist for our community's first ever Messiah Sing-Along, an event held in (of all places!) the Nixon Library. Then another invitation to sing in a special devotional to be held in the Los Angeles Temple. Then Mom's standing invitation, and, of course, our own Ward choir which sings once for the Ward, and again for our entire Stake in a special fireside.

The bottom line here is that I will have sung every weekend this season since Thanksgiving. I lost the battle to stay healthy in between concerts. I came down with a particularly nasty head cold immediately following the Messiah performance. The good news is that it never hit my throat. Thank goodness for Zicam. I recovered just in time to do Mom's concert. The bad new is that I'm still sniffling, and I have two more weekends' worth of singing to go.

Really, this isn't a rant. I could just as easily have said, "No." But I didn't. I have a disease.

In any case, may I recommend something to anyone who would like to break out of the same-old Christmas music blahs this season?

I first became acquainted with the music of the Dale Warland Singers by a happy accident. Back in the early 80's I happened upon two of their Christmas recordings at a local Gemco (any locals still remember Gemco??). They were in the novelty section, and I think I paid, what, $5.00 each. I had looked at the playlists and saw a couple of things that I normally didn't see on Christmas recordings that featured Slim Whitman and Perry Como. When I took them home and played them, I immediately recognized a choral group to rival the best that Robert Shaw or Roger Wagner had ever put together. Near flawless execution, wonderful tonality, and boundless energy are the hallmarks of the Warland Singers.

The only drawback for me is Warland's devotion to modern composers, which means that you get one or two pieces on any given recording that would make cats willingly jump in the nearest lake. Otherwise, I can't recommend them enough.

Merry Christmas, and, assuming I survive the next two weekends, a Happy New Year!

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