Thursday, December 01, 2011
The Sounds of Christmas
As usual, I am immersed in the music of Christmas - preparing for the church presentations next Saturday night and Sunday morning, as well as the Loveland Choral Society concerts - the following Friday evening, Saturday afternoon and evening, and Sunday afternoon. It's a lot of work, but I enjoy it so much. All this involvement with the music has brought forth some long ago memories.
Wherever we lived when I was a child, we tried to get back to Monticello, Minnesota for Christmas with both sets of our grandparents. My Grandma Swanson's church was full of good friends and wonderful Christmas memories. The most prominent memory from those early years involved the pastor, whose name was Rev. Noel, appropriately enough. It was pronounced Noll, but it looked like Christmas. He had a wonderful singing voice, and every year would sing "O Holy Night." Oh, how we looked forward to that, even at such a young age. It remains one of my very favorite Christmas songs, and we're singing it in the Loveland Choral Society concert - a beautiful rendition arranged by Rene Claussen. My favorite recordings are by Sandy Patti and Josh Groban - both of them just soar at the end.
It was the 5th grade in Heber Springs, Arkansas. My dad had just accepted a new pastorate in northern Minnesota, and we were leaving before Christmas - right in the middle of our preparation for the school program. That year we were singing a Christmas carol I'd never heard before. I loved it - "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day." I was so incredibly sad when I had to leave a few days before the performance. I still love the lyrics, which were written during the Civil War by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. But I love even more the newer version of the music, which we sang in our church musical last year and are repeating this year. Take a few minutes to be blessed by Casting Crowns:
It was the 9th grade, at Edgewood Junior High School in a suburb of the Twin Cities in Minnesota. I was taking a typing class (which, by the way, would have a huge impact on my future in the workaday world). Our teacher was clever and devised a contest to spur us on. It was a trip from Minneapolis to Miami, with each step advanced by virtue of our speed and accuracy. A new friend named Kathy became my rival, and we really helped each other as we worked to be the first to arrive in Miami. Truthfully, I don't remember who won, but I know it was very close, and that we both benefited greatly from this class and the contest.
Ironically, Kathy and I also became rivals in another arena that required dexterity and speed of our fingers. We were both in the mixed choir and both played the piano. We were both privileged to be asked to accompany the choir. I was chosen to play for the Christmas concert, and she would accompany the spring show. I was so excited, and nervous, as I practiced on my own and with the group. It was heady stuff, because it was quite a large school. I must admit I do not remember a single song we were going to perform. Probably a week before the scheduled program, I got very sick. My glands were swollen, my throat was sore, I was totally fatigued, and I had a high temperature. I ended up not only missing the program, but the last two weeks of school before vacation - and I was sick the entire two weeks of vacation. It took the entire first two weeks to get the diagnosis of infectious mononucleosis. I had never heard of it before, and was appalled to learn that it is also called "the kissing disease." I was so sick - it made my eyes hurt, so I couldn't read or watch t.v. The only thing I could do was listen to the radio - and that's where I first heard "The Little Drummer Boy." I loved it - at least the first 300 times it played. The other one I remember was Frank Sinatra's "And this song of mine in three-quarter time wishes you and yours the same thing, too." I don't know why I remember that. I liked it better in later years with The Carpenters.
And then of course there was my first year of teaching in southwest Kansas when I heard "I'll be Home for Christmas" every time I turned on the radio and was very thankful that it was true. I've never been without family at Christmas in this long life. The only even close to bad memory was the first Christmas we were married. We were heading for my folks' place in Colorado Springs, a 2 1/2 hour drive on a good day. We had been hit with a storm during the night, but we headed out anyway. The interstate was treacherous, and it took us far too long to reach that first truck stop outside of Longmont, about 20 miles from home. The truckers all told us to turn around and go back home, that they'd never seen the roads so bad. That was enough for us! But, we had been prepared to be gone all week-end, were taking one dish to share at the feast, and had nothing to eat in the house - and in those days, no self-respecting store was open. So we foisted ourselves on my SIL, had a great time together, and headed down to the Springs for the rest of the week-end, and for our first anniversary on the 28th.
There are so many other wonderful songs that evoke other memories. But I must close for now. I trust you're truly enjoying this season of busyness, and remembering why we do it all. Happy Birthday, Jesus!