Tomorrow is December 1st which means that my family and I may now commence listening to and singing Christmas carols. I imposed this December 1st rule (or seen another way, the ban on Christmas music prior to December) many, many years ago when I actually burned out on Christmas music. How did such a terrible thing happen, you may ask? Well, I’ll tell you.
It all began when I was in the San Francisco Girls Chorus and we started learning our Christmas concert music in August, at camp, if you can believe it. Yes, in the middle of the California pines, dry, golden hills, 100 degree heat, and log cabins, we began to learn our Christmas repertoire. We learned it so early because it was often very difficult music, in multiple languages, with multiple verses and there was so much of it that if we didn’t start early, it would never have gotten learned, memorized, and polished to perfection if put off until, say, September. We started our Christmas concert season in late November and ended a few days before Christmas with our huge Christmas caroling extravaganza at Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco. I had always loved Christmas music prior to my tenure with the SFGC, but the rigors of the Chorus and our evil maniacal director (definitely a post for another time!) tested my adoration for the entire Christmas carol genre. I never anticipated that “Stille Nacht” would strike such terror in my young teenage heart. (Come to think of it, “Silent Night” in either its German or English versions should only ever yield loving, peaceful feelings, don’t ya think?)
And then came my sophomore year of high school when I was in both the Girls Chorus and my high school chamber choir, which of course had its share of holiday concerts to do as well. In 1985, I sang in at least one Christmas concert every single day between the day after Thanksgiving and three days before Christmas. When it was all over, silver and gold were my least favorite colors, there was nothing jolly about holly, and this angel needed to rest her voice!
By the end of college, I knew practically every carol and Christmas song known to man; every verse, in every language, every arrangement, every descant, every harmony, and almost every part from soprano to tenor! (Strangely, the one carol I always wanted to sing, “Carol of the Bells”, I never sang!) And I did love singing the Christmas music, performing in the concerts, the caroling, the Renaissance madrigal dinners… I loved discovering a new classic carol, a new 1940s tune by Bing Crosby, learning yet arrangement of Jingle Bells. (“Jingle Bells in 7/8 time” is one of my particular favorites.) The repertoire made me happy all by itself and sharing it with others made me even happier.
But then I started to grow weary of it; burned out from the arduous rehearsals, the demands on my voice and memory, the exhortations to look cheerful. I started to lose the joy that should always come with singing Christmas music. Even my favorite recordings stopped thrilling me like they used to. And I knew this was a problem because I did love it and I needed to find a way to preserve my excitement for the genre. And thus the rule/ban was born. This way, limited to just a few weeks, the music I loved became special again. Now, I eagerly look forward to December, pulling out my CDs, dusting off the sheet music, awaiting the day when Christmas carols can burst forth with their beautiful sounds and joyous words!
And I am so happy to report that after far too long a time, I am going to sing in a Christmas concert at a retirement home here in Salem in a few weeks! I’ve started choosing my repertoire and it’s hard to decide what NOT to include, it is all so wonderful! Joy to the World!