December 26, 2002

A Few More Words About Christmas

For the past couple of years, I've been singing with the praise team at our Church on Sunday mornings.

Looking back at it, I see that that statement doesn't have the air of absurdity on the screen that it has in my mind. Let me explain: I love to sing. I sing wandering about the house, I sing to the kids, I sing to Jane (usually silly made up lyrics to tunes I know). But as it happens, I have very little musical training. I sang in the Glee Club for part of a year when I was in third or fourth grade; I've taken a piano lesson or two; I've taught myself to read music and play the recorder middling well. I've had no training in choral singing whatsoever beyond singing in the congregation on Sundays. I might add, Jane was in choir all the way through Junior College--her best and oldest friends are mostly from those days--so I have some notion of what I'm lacking.

Now, our praise team. Our music director has sung with the a capella group Chanticleer; he also plays a mean piano. Among the other volunteers are folks who play flute, saxophone, cello, and bass professionally. The musicianship of these folks makes my mind boggle--or, more precisely, boggle is just what my mind would do if I had to deal with the changes and complications they take in stride. And then most (probably all) of the other singers have considerably more choral experience than I do.

And I get to sing with these folks! I feel rather like the smoldering wick of Matthew 12:20.

Now, I don't mean to say that I sing badly, so that it's an act of mercy to allow me to sing with the praise team; nor do I mean to say that somehow, miraculously, I sing with such natural talent that I can perform at their level. Frankly, I have no real idea how well I sing. Adequately, apparently. But it's a real blessing for me to be able to sing in church in this way, worshipping God, and nowhere has this been more apparent than this Christmas.

This is the first year since I--

A digression: Jane, David, and James are next door in the bedroom, singing, "No, no, no, no, yes yes, yes yes," to the tune of the Blue Danube Waltz. It's a moment I thought should be remembered.

This is the first time since I began singing with the team that I was available to sing at the Christmas service. It was a big time commitment, as there were lots of rehearsals, but when the service came around, we were good. Our service music is always a mixture of traditional and contemporary styles, and so we began with a traditional reading of "Joy to the World". We followed that with one of my favorites, a song called "The Hands That First Held Mary's Child". It's our music director's arrangement (and I think maybe his words too), to what he calls a "traditional Scottish tune" but which I know as the melody to the Irish song "Star of the County Down". It's got a rhythm that just about picks you up out of your chair. Then we did a rocking, swinging version of "Go Tell It On The Mountain" that begins quietly with a sax solo and grows until by the end the roof is practically coming down. And then a modern arrangement of "Angels We Have Heard On High" with that beautiful "gloria in excelsis". Later we did "What Child Is This", "Silent Night" (never my favorite, but it was still soft and lovely) and then the amazing piece of the night, a Latin seven-part Ave Maria. I sang bass, more or less. I don't know how we pulled it off, but we sounded really good, much better than we ever did in rehearsal. And finally, we ended with an arrangement of Mannheim Steamroller's version of "Deck the Halls".

In short, I spent more time preparing myself for Christmas this year than maybe I ever have; and more of that preparation time in plain worship than I would usually engage in either. And it shows. I can feel it. Christ is more present to me this Christmas than ever before.

Go, tell it on the mountain,
Over the hills and everywhere!
Go, tell it on the mountain,
That Jesus Christ is born!

Again, God bless you and your families during the coming year. Merry Christmas.

Posted by Will Duquette at December 26, 2002 07:11 PM

lheez said:

The first time i've heard the song "The Hands That First Held Mary's Child" i started to browse the net with its choral score but didn't find one. Can somebody share the score to me? Thanks in anticipation.