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It’s that time of year when Christmas music dominates the airwaves and our collective consciousness. It’s always a tad irksome to me how folks will complain about Christmas music during the Christmas season. Of course you’re going to hear Mariah Carey every fifteen minutes—it comes with the territory. Naturally, let’s at least get through Halloween (and, preferably, Thanksgiving Day), but at least make an attempt at getting into the Christmas spirit.
Last year I wrote extensively about Christmas carols. Indeed, one of my many unfinished projects is to compile a small book containing the stories of some of our most cherished carols (I want to write a similar book about hymns, too). I play and sing a lot of carols this time of year: I’m a music teacher. Perennial favorites—and the selections my classes are currently playing—are “Silent Night,” “Joy to the World,” and “O Holy Night.”
Needless to say, it’s been a fun week, as we’ve been singing these classics daily. Normally we’d be prepping for a big (and stressful!) Christmas concert, but with The Age of The Virus, we’re foregoing the usual festivities. That’s bittersweet—it’s my favorite concert of the year, and the students enjoy it, too—but we’re opting for a “virtual concert” format with recordings strung together in a video editor.
We’re mostly playing the carols straight this year—no seguing into “Holy Diver” or the like—but we’re still having fun with them. On “Joy to the World,” we do have a “heavy metal” verse, where we take the key from C major to its relative minor, A minor. My high school guitarist kicks in the humbucker pickup on his guitar and the drummer gets a-crashin’, and it sounds awesome.
Otherwise, I’m focusing on sweetness and simplicity this year. One of my favorite techniques is to have all the students sing an a capella verse at the end. It’s especially effective on “Silent Night.” Imagine a room full of apple-cheeked middle schoolers singing “Silent Night”—it’s the definition of sweetness and light. The contrast from dropping out the instrumentation really enhances the impact, too.
I’ve groused about work and the state of education many times on this blog. But I am thankful for the opportunity to sing Christmas carols with students—and to share some of the meaning behind the songs. Without the looming stress of a concert, we’re really able to enjoy the pieces, and I think the performances are better and more natural because of it.
God is good. He sent His Son to die for our sins. That’s worth singing about.
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