The Joy of Music

One of the greatest joys in life is music.  Regular readers will know that I love musicplaying it, writing it, singing it, arranging it, analyzing it, launching it into space, etc.  As an art form, I believe music is uniquely suited to communicating ideas and beauty across time, space, and cultures.  It can be intensely nationalistic, yet still universal.

We’re back to distance learning today after a positive case of The Virus, and since it’s the day before Thanksgiving Break—historically the biggest blow-off day of the school year—my administration decided to play it safe and declare today a distance learning day.  As such, I took the assignment derived from The Story of 100 Great Composers and ported it to my high school music classes.  Those classes will share about their composers today.

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TBT: The Joy of Hymnals

It being October, I tend to focus on the spookiness of the season.  I love Halloween, ghost stories, and scary movies, but it’s important not to get too bogged down in the chills.

So as I was going through posts from October 2019, I stumbled upon one of my old favorites:  “The Joy of Hymnals.”  My small church roped me into playing piano for Sunday morning services maybe two years ago, and it quickly rekindled an old love of hymns and hymnals.

Hymnals are my favorite items to find in old second-hand shops and antique stores (the latter of which often selling them at an egregious markup).  It’s fun to see which hymns do—and, more importantly, don’t—show up in any given hymnal.  I particularly like slender volumes, the kind that were meant for carrying from service to service or camp meeting to camp meeting, and which tend to possess hymns from the canon, if such a thing exists, of hymnody.

I even recorded and released a very lo-fi EP, The Lo-Fi Hymnal, which consists of crude recordings of my Sunday morning playing.  That short collection also includes a PDF version of today’s TBT feature.

Here is “The Joy of Hymnals“:

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The Joy of Spring

Seasons in South Carolina are not the stately procession of one phase of life from one to another, with flowers poking through snow, or a crisp autumnal chill sneaking into the night air in late September.  Instead, it’s as hot on Halloween as it is on the Fourth of July (well, maybe just a tad cooler, but you’d never know from the humidity).  I often joke with out-of-Staters that we get about two weeks of spring and two weeks of fall, with about nine months of summer and two months of winter—and even the winter is interspersed with some summery days.

This year, South Carolina has been blessed with an unusually long and mild spring.  It’s 11 May, and I’m still wearing sweatshirts in the mornings.  We had a brief foretaste of the long summer a couple of nights last week, when the cloying thickness of summertime humidity hung menacingly in the air—the threat of summer’s oppression.  But God has seen fit to grant us at least a few more days of mild springtime.

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TBT: Reblog: Who doesn’t like Christmas? — Esther’s Petition

It’s been a wonderful Christmas season (especially after getting through the stress of staging a fun-filled school Christmas concert).  The day after Christmas—Boxing Day in Canada—is always a joyous day, as we head out to hit the after-Christmas sales and enjoy a little downtime (for those folks that have to work today, my thoughts are with you; if you’re in a certain kind of office job, though, it’s one of those gloriously still days, with nary a phone call for the duration of a shift).

Last Christmas, my real-life blogger friend Bette Cox re-posted one of her own poignant pieces, “Who doesn’t like Christmas?”  I’m one of those fortunate souls for whom Christmas doesn’t carry too heavily the memory of lost loved ones (other than my two wonderful paternal grandparents).  One of my great trepidations in life is that this season of mostly unmitigated Christmas cheer will not endure forever.

But the hands of time tick on—all the more reason to honor our ancestors in our Christmas observances.  As such, I thought it would be apropos to revisit Bette’s post—a reblog of a reblog.

Merry Christmas, and please spare a thought and some prayers for those struggling with loss this Christmas season.

—TPP

A poignant piece from Esther’s Petition, an excellent blog about faith.  It’s been a tough Christmas season for some friends of mine, with death and heartbreak hovering around and darkening the usual brightness of this season.  Ms. Cox writes beautifully—wrenchingly—about how the holidays can be difficult, and how we should strive to be understanding of that difficulty.  –TPP

This is a re-post from November 2010… still appropriate for many people, I think. That rhetorical question from a movie blurb has played over and over in the last week – Christmas movies have arrived on cable TV. But it’s not rhetorical for me. The answer is, “Me.” Christmas used to be a happy time […]

via Who doesn’t like Christmas? — Esther’s Petition

Lazy Sunday XL: Christmas Carols

No, it’s not an “extra large” edition of Lazy Sunday, dear reader:  it’s the fortieth edition of this hallowed tradition.  That’s forty Sundays of thematic reflections, gazing back at the output of fifty weeks of consecutive daily posts.  Yep—today marks the 350th consecutive day of posts here at The Portly Politico.  We’re just fifteen days away from reaching the one-year mark.

Just as yesterday’s SubscribeStar Saturday post on “O Holy Night” (subscribe today for just $1 a month to read it and dozens of other pieces) should have come as no surprise to readers, this Lazy Sunday continues with that theme.  Indeed, we’re looking back at the posts this week (and from last December) about Christmas music:

  • ‘Silent Night’ turns 200” (and “TBT: ‘Silent Night’ turns 200“) – I wrote this post on Christmas 2018.  At the time, the world was celebrating the 200th anniversary of a sweet, simple Christmas carol, and one of my all-time favorites.
  • The Joy of Christmas Carols” – This piece is a reflection on the sheer joy of playing and singing Christmas carols.  Like traditional hymns, carols possess wonderful staying power, and they stick with you powerfully.  I’ve often caught myself singing “Joy to the World” (more below) in the middle of July.  They also beautifully and simply tell the story of Christ.
  • Joy to the World” – “Joy to the World” is somewhere in my Top 5 Favorite Christmas Carols (if such a list actually existed).  The Number One slot goes to our next entry, but “Joy” is up there, for sure.  In this post I analyze the simple but effective use of a descending D major scale to kick off the melody of a song that leaps and bounds across those eight notes, much like the soaring tones of the angels that appeared over Bethlehem that night some 2000 years ago.
  • SubscribeStar Saturday: O Holy Night” – I believe that, objectively, “O Holy Night” is the greatest Christmas song ever.  I used to say the “objectively” part as a joke—how can an opinion be objective reality?—but now I’ve come to believe it.  It’s powerful.  It’s operatic.  And for $1 a month, you can find out why.

That’s it!  We’re closing in on Christmas, rapidly.  Enjoy your Sunday, and Merry Christmas!

—TPP

Other Lazy Sunday Installments:

SubscribeStar Saturday: O Holy Night

Today’s post is a SubscribeStar Saturday exclusive.  To read the full post, subscribe to my SubscribeStar page for $1 a month or more.  For a full rundown of everything your subscription gets, click here.

The unofficial theme of the blog this week has been Christmas music.  What better way to cap off the week than with a post about the best Christmas song ever written, Adolphe Adam’s “O Holy Night“?

Like its cousin “Silent Night,” the story of “O Holy Night” involves a village’s church organ.  In 1843, the church organ of the French village of Roquemaure had recently been renovated, so the parish priest asked a local wine merchant and poet, Placide Cappeau, to write a poem to commemorate the occasion.  That poem, “Cantique de Noël,” would be set to music a short time later by composer and music critic Adolphe Adam—and Christmas history would be made.

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TBT: “Silent Night” turns 200

The Christmas season—and a pending Christmas concert—has seen me waxing melodic on the holiday’s wonderful music.  As such, today’s TBT is predictable (if anyone were interested in predicting such a thing):  it’s a look back at a short post about the 200th anniversary of the classic carolSilent Night.”

Like “Joy to the World,” “Silent Night” is one of my favorite carols.  It’s sweet and simple, but can also be rocked up (the 6/8 time signature and three-chord structure lend the tune to bluesy interpretations, and I’ll occasionally slide in some blue notes when playing the song instrumentally).

It looks like it won’t make it into our Christmas program this year—a rarity—but I’ll be sure to make room for it next year.  Its more operatic cousin, “O Holy Night,” will be our finale, though.  I’ve always linked the two tunes mentally because of their similar names and themes (and they’re both in 6/8).  “O Holy Night” really lends itself to a hard rock interpretation, as my annual “O Holy (To)Night” cover version attests.

Without further adieu, here is Christmas 2019’s “‘Silent Night’ turns 200” (now closing in on 201):

One of my favorite Christmas carols, “Silent Night,” turns 200 this Christmas season.

The carol was originally written as a poem in the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars by a village priest, Joseph Mohr, in the village of Oberndorf, Austria, in 1816. Two years later, Mohr approached the town’s choirmaster and organist, Franz Xaver Gruber, to set the poem to music. Gruber agreed, and the carol enjoyed its first performance to a small congregation, which universally enjoyed its simple sweetness.

Since then, the humble hymn has spread far and wide, and is probably the most recognizable Christmas carol globally today. It’s been covered (likely) thousands of times; it’s certainly become a staple of my various Christmas performances.

This simple, sweet, powerful carol beautifully tells the story of Christ’s birth, as well as the import of that transformative moment in history, that point at which God became Flesh, and sent His Son to live among us.

As much as I enjoy classic hard rock and heavy metal, nothing can beat the tenderness of “Silent Night”—except the operatic majesty of “O, Holy Night,” objectively the best Christmas song ever written.

Merry Christmas, and thank God for sending us His Son, Jesus Christ.

Midweek Update

It’s crunch time here at Portly HQ.  As such, today’s post will be very brief.

I’ve been writing a lot about Christmas and music lately—’tis the season, after all.  You can catch up on yesterday’s post about “Joy to the World,” as well as Sunday’s look back at my Dokken album reviews from Christmas 2018.

One reason for the Christmas music focus is that my students have their big Christmas Concert this Friday.  It’s always a great deal of fun, and we try to go for a homemade Trans-Siberian Orchestra vibe (if only I could get the administration to spring for some laser lights and pyrotechnics).

As an independent musician and a music teacher (I also teach history), I find myself playing the role of concert impresario quite a bit.  One lesson I’ve learned is that the money people—the producers—will always have their notes and revisions, often last-minute.  Your well-oiled, tried-and-true concert formula can often get totally upended with changes.  Learning to roll with the punches is hard, but necessary.

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Joy to the World

The musical mood continues here at The Portly Politico—as does the joy (check out my “Joy of” posts here, here, and here).  The Christmas season always lifts my spirits, and the boost from my piece on Milo and Romantic music has further buoyed them (if you’d like to elevate my mood to transcendent heights, consider purchasing some of my music).

With yesterday’s post on Christmas carols, I thought it might be interesting to look deeper into the most joyous of them all:  Isaac Watts‘s “Joy to the World.”

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