Tag Archive | Christmas Carols

Christmas in Jail

City-County Bldg from City Hall

The upper floors of the City-County Building in Madison, Wisconsin are part of the Dane County Jail

“This is the first time I’ll be in jail over Christmas. I’ve been in jail a couple times before, but never over Christmas. I feel so bad for my family. Being in jail hurts my family more than it hurts me. I feel so bad for my kids. I’m really hurting my family by not being home with them for Christmas. I can’t let this happen again. I’ve got to get my life back together.”

The young woman struggled to keep tears from seeping out of her eyes as we went around the circle in the jail chapel, talking about what the Christmas story that we had just read in Matthew and Luke meant to us today.

I tried to imagine what it would have been like for my mom to be in jail over Christmas when I was a little girl.  It’s hard to picture my mom being in jail. I think the most illegal thing she ever did in her life was speed up to 70 miles per hour to pass a car on curvy Highway 12, driving from Cambridge to Madison on her way to work in the morning. The speed limit was 65 back then, and she had a gadget in her car that buzzed when she reached 66 mph. That didn’t happen very often.

Family Portrait - about 1960

Family portrait, about 1960: Nancy, Dad, Mom, Danny, Marian

But supposing Mom was in jail, whether guilty of anything, or not… What would Christmas have been like for me?

  • No Christmas baking: No cut-outs to frost and decorate. No Norwegian cookies. No date bars. No new recipe experiments – Mom tried out one or more new recipes every year. No homemade peanut brittle. No Holiday Hill whipped cream cake…
  • No one to ensure the whole house was decorated for Christmas, not just the tree.
  • No one to help us memorize our parts for the Christmas program in church.
  • No perfect Christmas presents. Mom always figured out what we wanted most, and managed to do all the Christmas shopping during the lunch hours of her job in Madison.
  • No one patiently trying to teach us patience on Christmas Eve as we waited for Dad to finish milking the cows and then come back into the house so we could open our presents.
  • No Christmas stockings. Mom always gave each of us one of her old nylon stockings with runs to set out on Christmas Eve for Santa to fill with an orange, an apple, a candy cane, and a few small wrapped presents for us to open on Christmas morning.
  • No special dinner on Christmas Day. Pan-fried chicken was my favorite.
  • No one to play Scrabble with me on Christmas afternoon.

I understood the young mother’s point in the jail circle. Christmas is a very important time to be with family, not to be sitting in jail. But that’s the situation for her this year. The other inmates understood her point, too. They felt the same way.

As we continued around the circle, we got to me. I commented that hearing the whole Christmas story read in one sitting – the shepherds, Jesus’ birth in the stable, the wise men – reminded me of a question that’s printed in the bulletin of one of the churches I’m playing at this Sunday. “If you could play a part in the Nativity story, which role would you want: shepherd, inn keeper, wise man, angel, Mary, or Joseph?”  I said that I would either want to be an angel or a shepherd. It would be so much fun, so thrilling to be singing – or playing an instrument – to be welcoming Baby Jesus into the world. Several of the inmates explored this idea for themselves. One said, “Oh, I’d want to be a shepherd. It would be so exciting.”

Nativity images

When we all finished sharing our thoughts on what the Christmas Story meant to us this year, it was time for our annual Christmas carol sing. I went to the piano and Chaplain Julia handed out song sheets. She told the inmates they could keep the song sheets if they wanted, but she would have to remove the staples before they could take them out of the chapel. Most of them wanted to keep the song sheets.

Christmas carols

Chaplain Julia said they could request two things – the song to sing and which verses to sing. The first song requested, as soon as Chaplain Julia asked for requests, was the last song in the booklet, “Do You Hear What I Hear?” The requester asked for all verses. Actually, all verses were requested for every song we sang. And, boy, did we have fun singing! There was never a long, awkward pause waiting for a request. As soon as we finished one song, another request was immediately out there. The women sang every song with enthusiasm, as a truly special women’s choir. I think we all identified with the angels. We sang a lot of angel carols – “Angels from the Realms of Glory,” “Angels We Have Heard on High,” and “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” As usual, we ended with “Silent Night.”

When we finished singing, Chaplain Julia asked me, “Could we choose to be Baby Jesus in my question of who we would like to be in the Christmas Story?” She said, “It would be wonderful to be Baby Jesus and feel all the love of everyone singing to me.” The inmates agreed.

I guess a little miracle happened in jail last Thursday. The women who came to the chapel to worship God and sing Christmas Carols, walked in feeling the weight of being in jail over Christmas, away from their family and loved ones. When they walked out of the chapel and were escorted back to their cell blocks, their spirits were lifted. I’m sure some of their spirits were still praising God, singing “Glo-ri-a in ex-cel-sis De-o.” God’s love was being experienced right there in jail.

angels and Mary and Jesus

This picture may be bleached a little too white, but it still shows love – wondrous heavenly love and peace present on Earth.

 

 

Living inside a Broadway Musical

Last weekend was like living inside a Broadway musical – like “The Sound of Music.” Life wasn’t an opera – our conversations were spoken, not sung – but the whole weekend seemed to flow from one musical moment to the next. It’s almost like we were taking the message of the Psalms – to sing to the Lord – very literally.

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth;
break forth into joyous song and sing praises.
Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre,
with the lyre and the sound of melody.
With trumpets and the sound of the horn
make a joyful noise before the King, the Lord.
[Psalm 98:4-6 NRSV]

Overture Organ w Sam

Sam Hutchison at the Overture Center organ.

Saturday started with a magnificent Christmas Carol Sing at the Overture Center in Madison. By the time we arrived for the free sing-along (about 15 minutes early for the 11:00 a.m. event), the main floor was already filled and we were directed to the circle (lowest balcony), which was already filling up quickly. About a thousand people had gathered to sing Christmas carols under the direction of organist Sam Hutchison and the powerful Overture Center organ. What a sound we made – from the mighty organ leading us in “O Come, All Ye Faithful” to the gentle “Away in a Manger.” Hutchison introduced each carol with a brief explanation of its origin, and then directed us to sing with all our heart and soul.  Hutchison also played two organ solos. For the first one, “Chorale-Improvisation on In Dulci Jubilo,” he promised he would sound every one of the 4,000-plus pipes of the organ so that we could hear all the sounds possible from this amazing instrument. The Carol Sing ended with “The First Nowell.” Dozens of sopranos (including Mim standing next to me) sang the beautiful soaring descant on the refrain. What an inspiring way to end the morning!

After singing our hearts out, we went to a neighborhood bakery for lunch, and then home to rest up a little to be ready for more music. While at home, I practiced the music I would be playing for the Saturday evening worship service at Messiah. Then we turned around and went back to Madison for church.

Marian at organ-MessiahI played my favorite Advent prelude, an organ arrangement of “Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus.” Mim sang “Light One Candle to Watch for Messiah” as the Advent candles were lit. As usual, Jeff delivered an inspiring homily, one that included the song, “I thank you, Lord, for each new day.” The service ended with a new favorite piano postlude, an arrangement of “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence.” This is the time of year for great church music!

Caroling in Overture Center

Caroling with the Madison Symphony Chorus in the Lobby of Overture Hall.

After church we ate a quick supper at Culver’s and drove to the Overture Center again for the Madison Symphony Orchestra Christmas concert. But the real highlight of the whole weekend came before this concert began. The three-level Overture Hall Lobby served as an incredible space for another Christmas Carol Sing-along. The Madison Symphony Chorus lined the second-level railing to sing carols a capella with their director Beverly Taylor on the lower level, where concert-goers gathered to join in the singing. Our voices filled the three-level space with the most beautiful sound imaginable. I think it was a preview of the sounds we’ll hear in heaven when we sing with the angels.

For the concert, the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Madison Symphony Chorus were joined by the Madison Youth Choirs, the Mt. Zion Gospel Choir, and two soloists – a soprano and a tenor. The music was as varied as could be – classical, black gospel, traditional Christmas, and contemporary holiday music. It was a fun concert. My favorite piece came just before the intermission – the “Hallelujah Chorus” with the symphony, all the choirs, and the audience making wonderful music together.

Madison Symphony Christmas Concert in Overture Hall

My view Saturday night from the top balcony in Overture Hall. The Madison Symphony Orchestra, Madison Symphony Choir, guest choirs, and a few extra heads in my line of vision.

But the music of the weekend wasn’t over yet. On Sunday afternoon, the Monona Senior Choir – a group of about 50 singers – performed a delightful Christmas concert in the community room of our church in Madison. This was one of those concerts where my mouth just froze into a smile because I was having so much fun listening to the music. The concert opened with an arrangement that blended “Joy to the World” with the “Hallelujah Chorus.” A few songs later, a good friend of mine, dressed in a red union suit, sang “Winter Underwear” to the tune of “Winter Wonderland.” The concert ended with two little girls, granddaughters of the director, signing “Silent Night” while the violinist played the melody. What a wonderful ending to my weekend of living inside a Christmas musical.

Monona Senior Choir cropped

Some of the members of the Monona Senior Choir, with director Jan Piddington – taking a break during their concert.

Music truly is one of the greatest gifts God has given us. Advent and Christmas are special times to be reminded of this gift.

Sing praises to the Lord, for he has done gloriously;
let this be known in all the earth.
Shout aloud and sing for joy, O royal Zion,
for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.
[Isaiah 12:5-6 NRSV]

 

 

Top 10 Christmas Carols and my new favorite

1965 Singing Christmas Tree

1965 – The first Singing Christmas Tree in the Methodist Church in Cambridge. That’s me – the short one with glasses in the middle of the front row.

What are your favorites – your top 10 Christmas carols?

I made a list of mine. It was hard to stop at ten, but I did it. Then I went on the Internet to see if I could find a list of the most popular Christmas carols. Chris Wilson compiled a list of favorites for the TIME NewsFeed. His basis for identifying the favorites was the number of times the carol has been commercially recorded since 1978. (The article was dated December 18, 2013.) Here’s the list, along with the number of times the carol has been recorded:

  1. Silent Night (733)
  2. Joy to the World (391)
  3. O Holy Night (374)
  4. What Child Is This? (329)
  5. Away in a Manger (300)
  6. O Come, All Ye Faithful (296)
  7. Ave Maria (270)
  8. God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen (236)
  9. The First Noel (234)
  10. Angels We Have Heard on High (220)
Aunt Edith at the piano.

Aunt Edith at the piano.

The list is very similar to my own list – only a few differences. I included “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” “Go, Tell It on the Mountain,” and “There’s a Song in the Air.” (This last one is on my list because I can still hear my late Aunt Edith singing it. I’ve always loved that song, especially the way she sang it with her beautiful, clear, high soprano voice.)

Last week, at the women’s worship service in the county jail, we had a Christmas Carol sing. The chaplain provided a fairly extensive song sheet, and invited the inmates to choose the songs to sing. The first carol requested was “Silent Night.” The chaplain said we would save that for the last song to sing at the end of the service. The next song requested was “Joy to the World.” Then, “O Holy Night.” We sang most of the songs on the “Top 10” list, plus several others. It was so much fun to sing all those old Christmas carols together!

Mim directing the family Christmas program on Christmas Eve.

Mim directing the family Christmas program on Christmas Eve.

What’s so special about singing Christmas carols? I think many of us have a shared childhood experience of singing these songs with friends and family, at home, school and church. We also associate these songs with all the excitement of Christmas, including school programs and church pageants. Many of the songs have words that tell the story of the birth of Jesus. Some of the images are quite vivid – like

Away in a manger, no crib for a bed,
the little Lord Jesus laid down His sweet head;
the stars in the sky looked down where He lay,
the little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay.

Other songs are just fun to sing – like the “Glo—–ri-a” in “Angels We Have Heard on High.”

One of my new favorite Christmas Carols is “Before the Marvel of This Night.” The image is so fresh and exciting. The setting of the song is the angels in heaven getting ready to go to earth to sing to the shepherds to announce the birth of Jesus. They are as excited as can be about what they are getting ready to do. Here are the words:

Before the Marvel of this night,
adoring, fold your wings and bow,
then tear the sky apart with light
and with your news the world endow.
Proclaim the birth of Christ and peace,
that fear and death and sorrow cease:
Sing peace, sing peace, sing gift of peace,
sing peace, sing gift of peace!

Awake the sleeping world with song,
this is the day the Lord has made.
assemble here, celestial throng,
in royal splendor come arrayed.
Give earth a glimpse of heav’nly bliss,
a teasing taste of what they miss:
sing bliss, sing bliss, sing endless bliss,
sing bliss, sing endless bliss!

The love that we have always known,
our constant joy and endless light,
now to the loveless world be shown,
now break upon its deathly night.
Into one song compress the love
that rules our universe above:
sing love, sing love, sing God is love,
sing love, sing God is love!

© 1981 Jaroslav J. Vajda

It’s Christmas Eve today. Can’t you just imagine what it was like for the angels getting ready to announce Jesus’ birth to the shepherds? Don’t you wish you were there? Over the centuries since then, composers have written plenty of angel carols that describe the angels brightening the sky and singing “Glo——ri-a” but this is the first carol I’ve heard that captures the excitement the angels felt.

Hope you feel some of that excitement today as you sing or listen to your favorite Christmas carols.

Merry Christmas!

"Awake the sleeping world with song"

“Awake the sleeping world with song”

A Christmas Letter from Abbey

Abbey-Marian

This morning as I was sitting at my desk Abbey came over to me and sat down. “Mom,” she said. “I have a favor to ask.”

“What’s that?” I responded.

“Will you help me write a Christmas letter to send to all my friends? I don’t have fingers like you have, and it’s really hard for me to type.”

“I guess I can help you, Abbey, but why do you want to write a Christmas letter?”

Edith and Abbey sharing a special moment together on the couch.

Edith and Abbey sharing a special moment together on the couch a few years ago.

“I want to keep in touch with my friends. I have some really good friends that I don’t see very often any more, and I want to let them know I still think about them, that I miss them, and that I’m thankful that they have been part of my life. You know, sometimes we see people all the time, and we become really close. And then, something changes, and we don’t see them very much any more. Remember when Edith used to live with us? Margaret and Don and Holly, Cammi and Lizzy came to see us a lot during those four years. When Mary lived with us, we saw a lot of Laura and Steve and some other wonderful relatives. I really want to keep in touch with all these friends and many more. Sending them a Christmas letter is a good way to do it – that is if you will help me.”

Abbey Snowman and Tree 2“Okay, Abbey. I’ll help you. How should we do this?”

“I’ll dictate, and you type. You can be my secretary, Mom.”

“Okay. Dictate away…”

Dear Friends,

It’s here! Time to get ready for Christmas! On Thanksgiving I spent the morning going through my mom’s address book, thinking about each one of my friends, and thanking God for bringing each dog, person, and even cat friend into my life. On Friday, I jumped into the Christmas Spirit along with everyone else.I didn’t go out shopping, but I studied my favorite catalogs over and over again – the World Vision and Heifer International catalogs. I’d love to pick out ducks and chicks and rabbits and goats and even cows to give to people who need them, and buy these gifts in the names of each of my friends. But unfortunately, I’m mostly dreaming about it. My allowance doesn’t add up fast enough to be as generous as I’d like.

Christmas music is filling the house, and I love it. When my moms aren’t singing and playing the piano, the seasonal music channel on TV is on to be sure we don’t forget that Christmas is coming. Our Christmas tree isn’t up yet, but I heard my moms talking about when to decorate. AND they also talked about baking cookies! I can hardly wait for those smells to begin!

Abbey Profile 2As I look back over last year to bring you all up to date on my life, I think my biggest news is that my moms got married. That may not seem like a big deal to most of you, but to me, and to them, it’s important. Some of the other dogs in the neighborhood make fun of me for not having a real family. I know that’s not true. My family is just as real as their family, and it always has been. Now I can prove it. I can show my moms’ marriage certificate to the other dogs. I know it’s all about love, but it’s nice to have proof that our family is just as legal as theirs.

The other big news is that I am finally starting to look like an older dog. My hair is graying, and getting thinner, and I stumble sometimes when I walk. If I had only two legs, like some of you, I’d probably use a cane, but with four legs I do pretty well. Whenever I lay down, I move slowly so I don’t jar my hips too much. It hurts to get old, no matter what your species. But the good part of aging is making good use of all the wisdom I’ve learned from my life experiences. I try to act humbly, but I know I’m the wisest dog in the neighborhood.

Some of my wisdom comes from music, and thinking about the words of some beautiful songs. My mom got another new hymnal this year, and I discovered this song in it. I just love the images. It’s such a comforting song. That’s why I want to share it with you. It’s my Christmas present to you (along with perhaps a couple ducks given in your name to World Vision.) Merry Christmas!

IF I FLY AS BIRDS AT DAWNING

If I fly as birds at dawning, travel to the farthest sea,
You are there, my God, my Refuge, there to hold me lovingly.
In my time of desolation help me feel Your presence near.
Send a light amid the darkness, bringing hope to calm my fear.

In my mother’s womb You formed me, piece by piece with tender care.
Secretly You placed within me words of life for me to share.
God, Your thoughts for me are boundless, more than I can ever know.
They will comfort me forever. What a debt to You I owe!

Keep me faithful, full of wonder, as my days on earth unroll.
Walk beside me, and protect me from those who would wound my soul.
Search me, test my inmost being, Root out all my selfish ways.
Lead me on to life eternal. I will praise you all my days.

Words by Edith Sinclair Downing. ©2009 Wayne Leupold Editions, Inc.

Merry Christmas and Lots of Love and Joy!

Abbey

P.S.  On a somewhat lighter note, one of my God-given responsibilities as a canine is to be a guardian of comfort and joy. With that in mind, I also want to share another hymn. This is from my own hymnal, HOLIDAY HOUNDS by Laurie Loughlin, © 1996.

Thanks, Mom!

Thanks, Mom!

DOG, REST YE MERRY, GENTLE ONE

Dog, rest ye merry, gentle one,
And when you wake, we’ll play.
Then you can jump on all the guests
Who come for Christmas Day,
And save us all from feeling sad
If our thoughts go astray,
Oooh, guardian of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy,
Oooh, guardian of comfort and joy.

(Tune: “ God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen”)

Reflections on Christmas from a Church Organist

It’s over. The busiest time of the year for everyone, but especially for church organists, is over. As I look back over this holy season, what were the highlights for me?

  1. Marian playing the tracker pipe organ at Messiah Lutheran Church in Madison.

    Marian playing the tracker pipe organ at Messiah Lutheran Church in Madison.

    Celebrating Christmas together with our church family at Messiah Lutheran Church. I played the organ for the 10:00 service on Christmas Eve. This is the fifth year I’ve played for one of the Christmas Eve services. (I’m a half-time organist at Messiah.) The late service on Christmas Eve is my favorite. Even though the church is full, and there’s excitement in the air, it’s a peaceful time, a time to reflect on Jesus being born and what that means to us today.

  2. Celebrating Christmas together with the people of East Koshkonong Lutheran Church. I played at four services – a Norwegian Christmas Carol Sing earlier in the month, the 3:00 p.m. Christmas Eve service, the 9:00 a.m. Christmas Day service, and a special service of lessons and carols on the Sunday after Christmas. I’ve been playing at East half-time since September. This was my first Christmas with them. They provided as many opportunities for their members to sing Christmas carols as they possibly could. Music is a very big part of Christmas for this church. I liked that.
  3. Hosting a Christmas Carol Sing at Whispering Winds. This was especially meaningful because it was the last event at our retreat center before it went on hiatus. We sang for a couple hours. Then we ate Christmas cookies and talked for another hour. It was a fun evening for a great group of friends.
  4. Playing the piano for two Worship Services/Christmas Carol Sings for women in the County Jail. The women really enjoyed being able to choose what carols to sing, and they sang enthusiastically. But what was the most special to me about these services was the testimony time that came just before the singing. A common theme expressed by many of the women inmates was their thankfulness for being able to experience Christmas in jail – far away from all the commercialism of Christmas. They had time to think about the true meaning of Christ being born into the world. They felt closer to God. Some of them also saw this as an opportunity to share the true meaning of Christmas with their children during the limited time they had for conversations with them.
  5. Accompanying Mim as she sings at home. Mim didn’t do as much singing this year as she usually does, partly because her voice has been strained by a long string of colds last year, and partly because we thought we were too busy. But, this is absolutely my favorite way to spend an evening during the Christmas season.

I love being able to play the piano and organ, especially throughout the Christmas season. Nothing is more inspiring to me than to lead a group of people from the organ or piano as they sing “Joy to the World” or “Silent Night,” and to feel the love of God filling the room. It’s the same feeling – the love of God transforming the space – whether it’s a couple hundred people filling the church with their voices singing in beautiful harmony, or a dozen inmates filling the jail chapel with beautiful melodies as an impromptu women’s choir, or Mim singing alone at home. In all cases, God is with us.

Last Saturday morning when I was at church practicing the music for Sunday’s service, the pastor came into the sanctuary to chat for a few minutes. He commented that this Sunday (yesterday) was the last Sunday for singing Christmas carols. It was the last Sunday of the Christmas season. “Joy to the World” was the recessional we sang.

Now I can put the Christmas music away till next year. I’m ready. But I’m sure I’ll be just as ready to bring it out again as we approach Christmas 2013.

 Christmas Music

The Price of Kindness and Gas

Christmas Mountain Village in Wisconsin Dells

Christmas Mountain Village in Wisconsin Dells

About noon on Friday I left Christmas Mountain in Wisconsin Dells to drive home for the weekend. I’ll return today (Monday) for three more days of my 10-day writing retreat. I’d made the reservations for this writing retreat a couple months ago. Since then a few things have come up for the weekend that required me to go back home. Fortunately, the drive is only a little over an hour. But on Friday, it was closer to two hours.

After I’d been on the road about twenty minutes my cellphone rang. It was Mim. She wanted to know if I remembered where I had put the music for “Mary Had a Baby.” One of my reasons for going home for the weekend was to play the piano to accompany Mim. She was going to sing “Mary Had a Baby” for a Scandinavian Christmas Hymn Sing at East Koshkonong Lutheran Church on Saturday afternoon. (“East” is one of two churches where I’m half-time organist.) I told Mim where I thought the music should be, but it wasn’t there. I suggested a few other places she could look – but the music wasn’t in any of those places either. Finally I thought, maybe I had taken it to Christmas Mountain with me to practice on my keyboard. I decided to take the next exit off I-90. I pulled into a McDonald’s parking lot to check my briefcase in the back seat of my car, just to be sure the music wasn’t there, before driving back to Christmas Mountain to look for it in the timeshare condo I was using for ten days.

As I got out of my car a man, probably in his thirties, walked up to me. He said he hated to ask, but he didn’t have quite enough gas to get where he was going. Could I give him a dollar or two to help him buy more gas.

US Currency - small bills 2The situation took me by surprise. When I lived in Chicago and worked in the Loop, people on the street asked me for money almost every day. I usually ignored the requests. Back then I rationalized that giving generously to churches and social service agencies instead would help more people. Today, I’m not so sure I made the right decision about that. I wasn’t being kind to the person in need right in front of me.

I moved to Wisconsin twenty years ago, and a stranger asking me for money here is a rare occurrence. On Friday, the guy sounded sincere. He was driving an old white Chevy with plenty of rust. There were a couple other men waiting inside his car. Maybe I was being conned, but I really didn’t think I was. I pulled out my wallet to see what I had – a twenty, a couple tens, a five, and several ones. I gave him the five. He was very appreciative, said “Thank you, Ma’am” several times, flashed a big smile, and walked back to his car.

A beautiful arrangement of "Mary Had a Baby" is in this songbook.

This is the lost (and found) songbook. A beautiful arrangement of “Mary Had a Baby” is in it.

I went back to looking for “Mary Had a Baby” in the back seat of my car. The music wasn’t in my briefcase, so I got back on I-90, headed toward the Dells instead of home. A few minutes later Mim called again. She had found the music. It had been mixed in with the non-Christmas music on the shelf. So, I took the next exit to get headed back home again.

As I was driving, I thought about this little incident. Maybe it was meant to be that I should meet that guy and give him a few bucks. I was feeling good about that rather than being upset by the roundabout route I was taking to get home. But then I thought, how much gas can the poor guy buy with the measly five dollar bill I gave him. Why didn’t I give him the twenty so he could buy almost half a tank?  Why wasn’t I more generous? That bothered me.

Then my thoughts turned to wondering why this whole incident happened. Sure, Mim needed to find the music, and the guy needed gas money. But I also needed to learn more about being generous to someone in need. I must listen a little more closely to what the need is before I figure out how I can help.

I’m glad God’s still trying to teach me lessons!

 

Christmas Cookies 2ON ANOTHER NOTE: Next Sunday, December 16, 2012, is the last hymn sing currently scheduled at Whispering Winds. We’ll sing lots of Christmas carols, eat lots of Christmas cookies, and simply enjoy having a good time together. Everyone is welcome. It’s free. Just show up at 3:00 Sunday afternoon prepared to have a good time. Whispering Winds Retreat Haven, 201 Highland Road, Cambridge, Wisconsin. Call me at 608-212-6197, or email me at MarianKorth&Gmail.com if you have any questions.

Whispering Winds Retreat Haven - 201 Highland Road, Cambridge, Wisconsin

Whispering Winds Retreat Haven – 201 Highland Road, Cambridge, Wisconsin

Enjoying Christmas Music to the Fullest

Mim directing her family Christmas program on Christmas Eve.

I love Christmas music – listening to it, singing it, and playing it on the piano and organ. The Christmas music season for me begins the Monday after Thanksgiving (today!) and extends at least throughout the week of Epiphany (January 6), and sometimes longer.

I like playing Christmas carols from hymnals, but I also like playing fancy arrangements of carols and secular Christmas songs, too. Without counting them, I’m sure I have at least fifty books of piano arrangements of Christmas music, and at least 25 books of organ arrangements. I need a good six weeks to even play everything once.

Getting into the spirit of Christmas music, I asked Mim yesterday about her earliest memories of singing Christmas Carols. Her fondest memory is of the Christmas Eve programs she organized for her family every year when she was a child. Her grandmother and her two aunts joined Mim and her mom and dad for a lutefisk dinner on Christmas Eve. After the traditional Norwegian meal, Mim ushered everyone into the living room to begin the program.

Mim listening to her dad read the Christmas Story.

Mim handed out songbooks and selected the Christmas carols for the family to sing. They were all the traditional carols – O Come All Ye Faithful, Joy to the World, It Came Upon a Midnight Clear, Away in a Manger, Hark the Herald Angels Sing, O Little Town of Bethlehem, Silent Night, Jeg er sa glad hver julekveld (I Am So Glad Each Christmas Eve). The last one they sang in Norwegian.

After the carol sing, Mim’s dad, a Lutheran pastor, read the Christmas story from the second chapter of Luke. The program ended with opening presents. But the highlight of the evening wasn’t the presents. It was the program – the singing and reading the Christmas story. The lutefisk dinner was a close second. Really. Mim likes lutefisk!

One of my own memories of singing Christmas carols comes from my high school years. I was part of the church choir of about a dozen members. We ranged in age from 14 to 84. On Christmas morning, around 5:00, we gathered at our choir director’s house and then walked around Cambridge singing Christmas carols. We also drove to the homes of some church members who lived in the country to sing to them. Why we went caroling so early, and whether or not people enjoyed being awakened to our caroling, I don’t really know. But we had fun doing it. We ended up at our choir director’s house again for some hot chocolate and Christmas cookies.

Mim sang in the 2000 Singing Christmas Tree. She’s in the middle of the third row. Aunt Edith was the pianist in the red jacket in the front row.

That choir director was also our church organist, and my piano and organ teacher. She was very creative and started the annual tradition of the “Singing Christmas Tree” in 1965. Her husband built a Christmas tree-shaped set of risers that we assembled in the front of the church sanctuary. A chicken wire fence was mounted in front of each riser. We wired fresh evergreens to the fences. The end result was a fragrant but scratchy Christmas tree for the choir members to stand in while singing a Christmas Concert.

The “Singing Christmas Tree” tradition has outlived the choir director and many of its original choir members. For over forty years, this concert has been presented the first weekend in December, missing only a couple years throughout almost five decades. This year’s concert is scheduled for Saturday, December 1, at 4:30 p.m. and Sunday, December 2, at 10:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.

Last year, Whispering Winds started a new tradition for people who like to sing lots of Christmas carols just for fun – not as a concert, just to get together with friends to sing. That’s coming up on December 16 at 3:00 in the afternoon. I’ll let Mim hand out the songbooks, and then anyone can choose what carols (and even a few secular songs) they want to sing. We’ll sing about an hour, then take a break for coffee and Christmas cookies, and then get back to singing as long as our voices hold out. Feel free to join us at 3:00 p.m. Sunday, December 16. Call me (608.212.6197) if you have any questions.

Meanwhile, I hope your ears, voices, and fingers enjoy the next several weeks of Christmas music as much as mine will! The words of “Joy to the World” capture some of the wonder and excitement of Christmas music. Even heaven and nature are so excited about the coming of Christ to earth that they can’t keep from singing.

Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her king;
let every heart prepare him room
and heaven and nature sing
and heaven and nature sing
and heaven and heaven and nature sing.

Joy to the earth, the Savior reigns!
Let all their songs employ,
while fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains
repeat the sounding joy
repeat the sounding joy
repeat, repeat the sounding joy.

[“Joy to the World” by Isaac Watts, 1674-1748]

Whispering Winds Retreat Haven, 201 Highland Rd, Cambridge, WI.
The last of this year’s quarterly hymn sings is the Christmas Carol Sing at 3:00 Sunday afternoon, December 16. Everyone is welcome.