I don’t know, is it too cliché to post a Christmas blog? Well… whatever.
It’s weird, but it’s taken me twenty five and a half years to figure out how powerful Christmas carols can be. I’ve always just sort of acknowledged their presence as a sign of the times and sung along with them without realising what’s actually happening.
It starts sometime in mid October when you first hear some old fashioned crooner singing Silent Night in a manner that suggests that he doesn’t actually know where the right note is, so he’ll just slide up and down the scale until he finds it. Shortly thereafter he’ll be joined by Boney M singing Mary’s Boy Child and then whichever pop diva happens to be hot this year murdering O Holy Night.
It’s a crazy time to be a church musician. I’ve played three carols services already, and we haven’t even got to Christmas Eve yet. If I wasn’t nicking off to Tassie for Christmas, I could probably rack up the half-dozen before the season is out without trying too hard.
Playing carols is very different to normal music. With normal music, you’re always looking for a way to spice things up and keep it interesting. With carols, it’s almost impossible to do them any way except the ‘traditional’ way without completely destroying them. It makes them very frustrating to play sometimes, but it is, I think, one of the sources of their great power. Everyone knows how they go, even if we don’t know what half the words mean anymore.
Shepherds, why this jubilee?
Why your glorious strains prolong?
What the gladsome tidings be
Which inspire your heavenly song?
Gloria in excelsis Deo!
We did one service in an old folks home just up the road from our church, and it didn’t seem to matter that some of the words were completely opaque (although, some of the residents looked like they might have been around when Latin was still in common use), because they knew the tunes and had a vague idea what they were about. And that was enough to get them all perked up and smiling. Either that, or someone had slipped something into their tea.
The most random service I’ve done this year was to help out a friend of a friend who was running a community church carols night in Wollstonecraft. All the musicians from that church had gone off on Christmas holidays, so we were the last minute ring-ins. We rocked up about and hour before the start, practised the songs once through and then did the service. Nothing to it, but the locals were so grateful that each of us left with a six-pack of locally produced beer and a giant toblerone bar. Church musicians aren’t usually looking to get paid, but somehow the term ‘precedent’ did come to mind.
But the best one this year was definitely last night. Our church puts on a big community event with a jazz concert followed by a carol and readings service on the north shore under the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Somewhere in the region of 700 people came down to join in. The set-up was great, with the harbour and the Opera House as a backdrop, lights, a big sound and a fresh breeze to blow your sheet music everywhere. When our minister got up to give his Christmas message, I reckon they could hear him saying “God is with us” from North Sydney train station.
I don’t think you could get 700 Australian randoms together for a religious sing along at any other time of the year. But chuck in Oh Little Town of Bethlehem and find some sopranos to do the descanty bit of O Come All Ye Faithful and it’s on for young and old. That’s powerful.
So from all of us here at Far From Home, here’s hoping you have a very merry Christmas, and a safe and prosperous new year.
Far From Home
Garry with 2 Rs