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Where the love light gleams

December 24, 2012

A couple of weeks ago we started writing about music.

I got the ball rolling by writing about ”Veni, veni, Emmanuel” and the relationship between musical meaningfulness and imperfection.

Hugh wrote about Jingle Bells and how good taste is sometimes the very last thing we want in a meaningful holiday song.

Jeanne discussed ”Baby it’s cold outside” and the way repetition across years creates musical meaningfulness.

Cranky talked about several songs and introduced me to Barbara Streisand’s version of ”Avinu Malkenu” while emphasizing the challenges of sharing music with a bossy toddler (hint: it is best to follow instructions).

Dr. Geek offered up a whole playlist worth of songs and talked about the way Christmas music reminds him of his origins.

Lemming had the great challenge of writing a post on the day we were mourning the tragedy at Sandy Hook elementary school and wrote about “The Coventry Carol” and its telling of the Slaughter of the Innocents.

Readersguide wrote about”Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and the season’s essential tension between sadness, hope and joy.

Freshhell told us about her secret past as a church chorister and the way songs of Christmases past aren’t always so lovely in the present.

edj3 wrote about ”I Know that my Redeemer Liveth” and the way Christmas music takes on a different spin when you’re a working musician.

My Kids’ Mom talked about ”You’re a Mean One Mr. Grinch” and the participatory nature of holiday music.

joyhowie reminded us of the way our favorite holiday songs resonate and reflect everyday life, making the ordinary special and the special wonderfully ordinary.

Magpie wrote of ”O Holy Night” and “The Holy City” and the way holiday music brings friends and family together.

Dave also wrote about <a href="”O Holy Night” and a musical gift he once tried to give his mother.

Throughout this chain there are some common threads: the music that’s important is less about the music itself and more about the place you hear or sing it and the people you are with.

I do a lot of thinking about music and community – about the way music defines communities by joining some things and separating from others. There’s a reason, I think, that Christmas music tends to be made in large ensembles. Sure, there are solos, but they tend to be bolstered by a choir. When that lone voice breaks the silence at the beginning of King’s College Cambridge’s annual service of lessons and carols for the first verse of “Once in Royal David’s City,” the audience collectively holds its breath until the whole body of the choir comes in for verse two, in wonderful harmony that takes a group to perform. Christmas music is defined by multitudes. Yom Kippur’s “Avinu Malkenu” is traditionally a solo. Yom Kippur is a different kind of holiday, one that requires individual reflection rather than group adoration. The music bolster’s that holiday’s needs.

In our house, music becomes a touchstone, a way to turn the holidays on and off. We have several genres we call on. One is classical and our recordings include a number in which I’ve participated in one way or another (and therefore can’t divulge them here). Our usual fare includes a bunch of jazz and blues — several compilations, an Ella Fitzgerald CD, the soundtrack to A Charlie Brown Christmas, and a CD by Lou Rawls. But we also have a penchant for the tacky and irreverent. In that camp, here’s one of this year’s favorites:

This year, we’re on the road for the holidays for the first time, well, ever. And none of us is totally happy about it. It doesn’t quite feel like Christmas if we’re not in our own home. And our home doesn’t quite feel like home if we don’t spend Christmas in it. But we’re looking forward to spending time with family. That’s something that seems more important to us with each passing year.

We flew to Chicago yesterday morning. As we waited for Mr. Spy’s brother to pick us up at the airport, I watched a car pull up and a father leap out and yell, probably a little louder than he meant, “Honey!” A girl standing near us turned and smiled. Her father wrapped her in a huge bear hug. Her mother got out and gave her a big hug too, then they bundled her into the back seat and drove away smiling. That “honey” was so heartfelt that it nearly brought tears to my eyes. That “honey” is Christmas all wrapped up in a simple package. It reminded me of every Christmas I ever went home, every time my parents picked me up at the train station or the airport.

A minute or two later, Mr. Spy’s brother picked us up. As we climbed into the car, the radio was playing “Home for the Holidays.”

I hope whatever you’re celebrating this week and wherever and however you’re celebrating it, that you are spending it with someone who’s as happy to see you as you are to see them. And a very special thanks to all of you who participated in this blog chain. You’ve made my holiday a little richer and a little more musical. I look forward to reading lots more in the coming year.


3 Comments leave one →
  1. December 24, 2012 8:37 pm

    When we were at the airport on Friday waiting for our “honey!” we saw a lot of other families being reunited. It was like the beginning of Love, Actually. Now we are home and happy to be together, observing all our silly traditions.

  2. drgeek permalink
    December 27, 2012 4:46 pm

    Before the season ends, here’s probably the greatest deal I’ve ever seen on Christmas music — 99 MP3 tracks for $1.99 at Amazon:
    While I would call few tracks outstanding, none are bad. I use them when I need background music for a holiday mood, such as holiday parties and gift unwrapping on Christmas day.

  3. magpiemusing permalink
    December 28, 2012 9:35 pm

    Merry christmas, belatedly, and thank you for spearheading this project. It was nice to do.

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