Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Rounding the last turn and heading for home

So how was your Christmas?

Mine was the usual blend of wonderful and stressful, with some bleh thrown in for good measure.

I use the past tense even though it really isn't over yet.

For me, the Christmas season is the most intense, exhausting, demanding time of year. Every organization I work for puts on a great big Christmas show (or two) and every night for at least three weeks I have either a dress rehearsal for something or a concert (or both). There are days when I am supposed to be in two places at once (sometimes three) and have to negotiate who needs me more and how I'm going to manage both (or all three) obligations.

Eventually, things slow down a bit, but even then the marathon aspect of the season can make things especially hard. From the last week of November through early January, life is not normal. It is overdrive all the way.

This year I discovered the importance of the afternoon nap, every day of the week. I'd be embarrassed to say so but if you were me and noticed how much energy I was able to put out every evening, and then again when I practiced in the morning, you'd have to conclude that there is much wisdom in splitting each day into two parts with a rest period between. I can do that because I am rarely required to work in the afternoon. Most of my jobs take place in the evenings and on weekends. So periods of intense concentration and physical energy alternated with absolute stillness and unconsciousness. A bit manic, but it all worked pretty well.

The flaw in the plan became apparent on Christmas Eve, though, when the first service and the preceding two hours of rehearsal were all scheduled at the time my body was used to sleeping every day for the past month--Also, toward the end of the Christmas season in general, when I started getting gigs in the afternoon as well, or various other obligations prevented me from avoiding long periods of unconsciousness.

The Christmas Season for a musician can be thought of like a game show where the stakes get higher and the competition gets harder as you graduate from level to level. It has a marathon aspect to it, which is perhaps the greatest demand. The first two weeks of December--when our church choir and the children's chorus have their big Christmas shows one weekend and the band and choir and drama team at our church have their big hooha the next, surrounded by the Children's concert with the symphony, a few assorted gigs and parties for good measure, and the Chorale has stepped up rehearsals (three hours, usually, plus extras) for their New Year's Eve concert--are followed by decreasing amounts of time before the next gig with a completely different program, a flagging energy level, fewer ways to get rest, and so on. The ability to fake all kinds of things you haven't practiced is one way to survive it all, but it takes every talent a musician can have to negotiate all the various demands of the season.

I still haven't counted up how many pieces of music we had on Christmas Eve. I haven't found time.
Some of these required sight-reading or near sight-reading skills, some playing from lead sheets, on the spot transposition, improvisation, stage managing skills, going from style to style and instrument to instrument---but you know what, this is all making me tired. I'll elaborate on this over the next year and those of you who are musicians yourselves may find it useful for surviving your own whirlwind.

It's the usual assortment, really, just more of it every year in December. I try to remember what a privilege it is to be able to bring a bit of Christmas to so many so often. And it really is a wonderful time of year. But as a child I was taught to consume it's magic just like the rest of you, so I supposed I get a bit jealous when it turns out to be so much work. And exhaustion affects anybody's mood.

The crazy thing is that, anymore, I can't have Christmas without the insanity it's become. The joy of the season won't happen except in the midst of all the rush. I don't get one without the other. That seems like it ought to be some kind of zen koan.

And each year, I try to be a bit more "zen" about Christmas. Figure that out.

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