Day: December 1, 2012

Songs of Christmas

This morning I turned on “You’re a Mean One Mr. Grinch” as background while I did the dishes. Except that song never stays as background. Within moments I was singing along. Howard wandered up the stairs and joined the chorus. Then he plugged in his iPad to play an alternate version. We sang to that one too. After the music stopped, Howard pointed out that it really is an odd addition to the canon of Christmas music. It is a song about a truly terrible person sung by a narrator who is trying really hard to be thoroughly insulting. Yet it is unequivocally Christmas music for me. This is because every time I hear the song, I remember the rest of the story. I remember that Christmas came without packages, boxes, or tags. I remember the whos hand in hand singing. Most of all I remember the Grinch’s heart, his triumphant return, and the carving of the roast beast. None of this is in the song, yet all of it is there. This is the power of story.

I started to think about it, and realized that this is true of many of my favorite Christmas songs, though for some it is not the story their writers may have intended. I remember the other times of singing a particular song. Memories return of singing when I was 10, 12, 15, 25, 38. Year after year the songs do not change, but they accumulate more meaning with every memory which is attached to them. Ten years from now this morning’s impromptu concert will be part of the grinch song. It reminds me of an essay I wrote long ago about composite memories. Love in the Cookie Dough.

Attending a Concert

It was an excuse to dress in fancy clothes, which concert we picked was an after thought to that original purpose. My friend and I both lamented that our lives did not have enough reasons to be pretty, so we created one. That decided, we selected a Utah Symphony concert. We left early so that we had plenty of time to travel and find parking. We talked of various things on the way there, but our discussion turned to umbrellas when the first fat drops of rain hit the windshield. Neither of us had one, but we agreed that a little rain would not hurt us. We parked the car and still had an hour until concert time, so we walked to Temple Square.

The Christmas lights on temple square are a popular destination in December. The rain had cleared out the crowds some, which meant that we were able to see the lights reflected on wet pavements as well as shining over our heads. We stepped inside the Tabernacle because I love historic buildings. A man was playing songs at the organ, but we did not stay long. Our evening would have music later. We wanted someone to take a picture of us together in our lovely clothes, so we walked over to the visitors center.

I heard the sounds rising from a floor below. It was obviously a choir, but there were multiple tempos and discordant notes involved. Some of the voices sang away making up words as they went. I cringed inside. Who on earth selected such a choir to sing on Temple Square during the holiday season? I stepped down the stairs, and breathed “Oh.” I never knew before how much a sight could change a sound so completely. The faces of the choir were beautiful, happy, Down’s Syndrome, differently abled, did I say beautiful? The music they made brought tears to my eyes because by seeing them I remembered to listen to the joy instead of the notes.

We arrived at the concert hall wet, and a little footsore. Abravanel Hall was designed as a concert space. The whole thing is built like the cone of a speaker and everywhere I looked there was wood. I loved the feel of it. Once I came home I learned trivia like the fact that cello and base players are encouraged to make holes in the stage so that their instruments will resonate through the wood of the stage.

I watched the conductor as he gestured with his entire body. I watched the musicians as they responded in unison. All of them joined together, so practiced that they become one until the music ends. The conductor was emphatic, gentle, vigorous, smooth, sharp, and soft. I watched his hands and back, realizing that every motion was speaking to the orchestra in a language I do not speak. Sometimes I could discern meanings, but mostly I could just tell that communication was taking place.

I know the terms fugue, cantata, symphony, chorale, I can even look up the definitions, but I have not studied the forms. I can not listen to the first few minutes of music and know which themes will come back. I felt the beauty of the music, but I missed so much nuance. Without advance preparation, I did not understand the stories of the pieces. All I was left with is knowing I’d been in the presence of something remarkable, but not being able to explain what or why. I know the violin soloist was virtuoso, particularly for one so young, but I did not have the appreciation of my friend who grew up with music and played the violin as a girl.

We talked about music on the way home. My friend feels music inside and doesn’t need it to have words. I appreciate music most when it exists in support of stories, whether those stories be in dance, song, or acting. I learned songs at an alarming rate during my growing years. I loved the blending of sound and story to create something lovely. Music without story is more difficult for me to comprehend and appreciate. This is not something I knew about myself until tonight.

All the kids were still awake when I arrived home, but they vanished into sleep soon after. I got to sit in the kitchen and tell my visiting sister about the fun time I had with my friend. The concert was scheduled long before I knew my sister would be in town this weekend. Also there were brownies. I always recommend coming home to a plate of brownies after a concert.

The dangerous thing about going to a concert is that now I want to go to many more of them. I want to see live performances, dance, plays. I shall have to pick and choose, the tickets are not cheap. I also want to make another trip to Temple Square. Gleek has been really wanting to see the Christmas lights. I should learn how to ride the Trax train and make a day of going to see Temple Square with her. She would love it. There is a special feel the moment I enter.

It is now long past late and headed toward early, but I did not want to let my concert thoughts escape me. I know they will synthesize and change during sleep. This is good, perhaps tomorrow I’ll have even more things to say about the lovely evening I just had.