Monday, November 29, 2010

Let the Traditions Begin!

There are Christmas traditions with which I grew up that have not translated well into adulthood. The cardboard fireplace, for example. Absolutely the hokiest decoration ever. I have no idea where on earth Mom picked it up, and after the first year I suspect I was the primary reason it got assembled every subsequent year until the poor thing itself became a fire hazard. But I loved it. Since I was the one to assemble it, I guess I took on a pride of ownership sentiment; it was one of the few things that I could actually build year after year that didn't look like a really bad shop project in junior high. I can remember sitting for hours and staring at the cheap little tin propeller that spun over the red light bulb and simulated "fire" glowing in the fireplace. Growing up in Simi Valley it was the closest to a real fireplace that I'd ever seen. Not much call for them except for two or three weeks out of the year, really.

By the time the fireplace became fodder for the recycling bin, I'd moved on to bigger and, arguably, better traditions.

Most of those traditions revolved around Christmas music. Not any particular song, necessarily. Just the joy of singing wonderful music centered around this unique blend of the spiritual and the secular that result in just about the most fun a musician can have and still be considered legal.

By the time I'd entered high school, my internal calendar pretty much revolved around a standard concert season. Most concert seasons seem to be based on the standard school calendar, beginning in fall and ending either in spring or early summer. After an all-too brief hiatus in the summer, it's back to the rehearsal grind and the arrival of the first octavos of...


In high school we occasionally had a reprieve of a few weeks before the good stuff showed up, whilst our director dithered over whether to bother with a fall concert. When working with kids, that's not a lot of time to slam together a concert of any length with two or more of your active groups, only to turn around and have them begin to memorize the Christmas repertoire. More typically we'd keep a few generic pieces that could be performed at the drop of a hat at, say, the Knights of Columbus hall, or the VFW, and spend most of our fall rehearsal time working on the holiday tunes.

My life has chugged along in this pattern, year after year, whenever I've been fortunate enough to work in an active choir.

For the last seven years, though, our actual holiday "season" hasn't officially gotten underway until our annual Messiah Sing-Along. The Yorba Linda Arts Alliance was looking for a really, really cheap tenor soloists that first year who would work for the right price (FREE) and I was recommended by a mutual acquaintance. I've been the tenor soloist for this event every year since. (Proof here.)

So there are two things that make this a wonderful way to begin our season. First, the family gets to listen to Daddy do a not-bad job on a mildly challenging solo ("Every valley shall be exalted"). Even better, we begin our celebrations with a recitation of some of the more significant prophecies surrounding the birth and mission of the Savior by listening to a setting that comes nearer to celestial music (in my mind) than practically anything written before or since.

Musically, "Messiah" (I will NOT entertain the whole "The Messiah" vs. "Messiah" debate here... Schirmer wrote "THE MESSIAH" bold as brass on my 1912 edition of the score that I use every year, and I have to continually remind myself that many music snobs get VERY UPSET when you use "The" in front of "Messiah." Phooey, I say!) may quote extensively from Handel's earlier works, but what musician doesn't borrow from their own work when they live and die by the commission? We love the music, and find it a perfect companion to our festive spirit.

All this by way of saying that our traditional holiday season has begun here at Hacienda Woody. May yours be every bit as celestial as you can possibly make it this year.

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