Tag Archive | Joy to the World

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]

 

 

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.