Notes From My Knapsack 12-15-16
What is it about music & Christmas?
There's just something about the Christmas season and music that doesn't work quite the same way any other time of year.
This December, once again from the night of the Candlelight Walking Tour through this past weekend, I've had to choose from an embarrassment of riches in our blessed village and vicinity.
Evening after evening, there have been multiple opportunities to hear instrumental and vocal music aplenty, too much for any one person to attend. Our middle and high school band and choir students, the college ensembles and soloists, the local symphonies and bands . . . and then on Sunday mornings, so many opportunities in area churches to hear, to experience, to sing along with choirs and quartets and musical groups of all sorts.
The Christmas season is summed up in music as other holidays are not. New Year's has "Auld Lang Syne," Valentine's Day has love songs but not the same close correspondence between the event and the activities, and Easter may be the more intended season for Handel's "Messiah," but there's a reason why Yuletide has swiped it clean away.
My wife likes to put Christmas music on around the house during these weeks, and some radio and satellite stations go to entirely seasonal music – that doesn't happen at Halloween or Fourth of July. I don't recall any format shifting to all John Philip Sousa during the last week of June and on into Independence Day.
We want choruses and harmony and pure, sweet expressions of the season in song because it speaks to longings we have every year at this time. Music is language that communicates without words, and helps the words that are sometimes set to it come across more clearly. Music speaks the way we wish we communicated all the time, with melody and harmony bringing speakers and listeners together into one voice.
Or maybe it just makes us feel better.
Just as much of the "traditional" seasonal décor reflects a hunger for the old-fashioned and quaint, with sleighs and bells and hearthside wrought iron, so does our taste in music. We seek out and enjoy genres and styles that we'd probably avoid the rest of the year; how often in summer do we think "I'd like to hear a madrigal"?
Music can, and probably should from time to time, jar us and disrupt our assumptions. A tune and words set to it are a good way to get inside our heads whether in a comforting or confuting fashion. Protest and resistance have their place. But at Christmastime, we're looking for a bit of reassurance, some connections to our past, and reaffirmation of our ties to one another. And nothing does that quite so well as music.
That's why it always cheers me to recall (usually with a little help from the Granville Historical Society) that the settlers who journeyed here in the fall of 1805 carried in their wagons over the Alleghenies not just seed and grain and anvils and bolts of cloth, but books for a library, a sermon for a church, and a set of musical instruments for a village band. The surviving bassoon from that original ensemble may not be the musical instrument that kids dream of playing in a rock and roll band, or that's played much in today's downloads, but it's one of the sorts of instruments that fits the Christmas season perfectly.
May your Christmas be filled with music, heard, played, performed, and enjoyed, from your ears to your heart, joining our hearts together in a harmony that lasts beyond the season itself.
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he played the 8-track in high school. Tell him how music makes your season sing at email@example.com, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.