“Opening to Joy” is the theme of worship for December. Music does fit right into this! What is more wonderful than music? Some of my most memorable oboe playing is at the holiday season. There are pieces by Bach (Christmas Oratorio) and Handel (The Messiah), many arrangements of seasonal carols, pieces that tell the Christmas story—for example, there is a performance next weekend of The Brown King, an oratorio by Margaret Bonds, that tells the story of Balthazar, one of the wise men. Margaret Bonds was an African-American composer we discovered last year in our choir studies during the pandemic. (The lyrics to this piece are by Langston Hughes. ) There is jazz with a holiday flair—my favorite is The Nutcracker Suite by Duke Ellington that “jazzifies” the Nutcracker, originally by Tschaikovsky. There are wonderful old-timey pieces, country music, pop songs, music by Renaissance composers. These sounds create such a happy, warm/fuzzy feeling that makes us just want to keep Christmas for the whole year. Music recreates the comforts of past traditions. We can fixate on the old joys and familiar pieces of music to make us feel alive. This is all SO good!
Yet, as we all know, connecting nostalgically with past memories can sometimes also amplify fears and unhappiness of the present and the future. We can feel alone in a room full of friends and family. Memories of holidays can remind us of friends and family members who are no longer with us. And especially in times like the current post-pandemic, our eagerness to return to what we might think of as happier times may also feed our doubts and anxieties.
What we need in times like these is an openness to joyful memories, an openness to sadness and loss, and also an openness to facing the future with positivity. How can we stay “open to joy” and feel sad, too? I say, we use nostalgic music as a foundation to reach beyond and explore something new. We can embrace our curiosity and find a new joy.
What we can learn from the holidays that lingers into January, February, and beyond might be finding a new normal. I am most open to joy when embracing something new. It is true that you might hear something and not like it. But what if you admitted to knowing nothing about something and trying it out anyway? Our openness to newness is an invitation to opening ourselves to joy.
What do we do at church that is new?
Vespers is new.
Reverend Sophia is new.
Having a Time for All Ages in most services is new.
Having the choir sing a mediation for worship services is new.
With current vaccinations, soon children will be safely back in our midst!
Having quiet time every day could be new for you.
Listening to music, much as you would be reading, could be new. Words and music utilize different parts of your brain, and using both are ideal.
I challenge you to take your future into your hands and enjoy the music you love while you also reach toward something new. Know that joy is in relation to sadness and we are most whole when we embrace them both. Stay connected to our church community, as we are with you in darkness and light. Joy is always possible as we are able to stay open. It may be where we least expect it. We’ll find it together. May it be so!
Music at First Parish in December:
Dec. 12th Worship Service—You will hear Jean Gauthier sing a wonderful Joni Mitchell song, and Michael Collins will sing and play O Come, O Come Emmanuel at our Blue Christmas service
Tuesday, Dec. 14th—Our second Vespers will include candlelight, music, readings, and silence. The musicians participating are Djalai Babazadeh, Michael Collins, Charlyn Bethell, and choir singers for the Singing Meditation
Dec. 19th Worship Service—You will see “sheep” and delight in the annual Christmas pageant led by Lauren Strauss and the children of our RE program. I think there will be a sword dance, too!
Dec. 21st Winter Solstice—this annual service that ushers in more light will be led by Beth and Izzy Tappan deFrees. Expect beautiful music!
Friday, Dec. 24th Worship Service, Christmas eve will feature the First Parish choir singing two anthems. More music TBA.
Dec. 26th Worship Service will likely feature music from the UUA, always lovely.
Charlyn’s professional training has followed two paths: as a professional oboist and as a music teacher and conductor. As Music Director at First Parish, she joins these two paths of her musical life, conducting the choir, coordinating guest musicians, and performing on oboe.