Monday, December 28, 2015

Ghosts of Christmases (slightly) past, part one

Will you indulge me a little while I walk down memory lane?

Folks who come here looking for musical content must find this somewhat strange, but as I mentioned at the top of the year, although this blog is not a diary, it does try to see things in a larger context. Music is a part of life, and the author's own life is the one on which he can speak with the most authority. Also, as the second semester rolls on, there will be more of this memory sharing, as a major transition awaits us. A new city, a new job...a presently uncertain future. But I'll get to that later. Before Christmas goes back to the attic I wanted to visit a few of my favorites from Christmases past in Champaign, Illinois, at the church I've served for over ten years. This was probably my last one. I'll start with it. And, it looks like I'll conclude with it, too. But more on that later. For now, Advent....

Probably my favorite moment came at rehearsals for the Christmas pageant. We had one of those, this year. The All-Church Christmas Drama came to an end (or a haitus) with the departure of our Associate pastor, who ran it, and in its place we resurrected a program for the children in the afternoon. It had all the hallmarks of a typical pageant: kids dressed as angels, shepherds, one dressed as a sheep (very cute); one, I think, was a cow. One of the angels was very young and very unhappy, which is quite a sight (and a major blow to one's theology). During the rehearsal, the children took turns reading scriptures, sometimes in a tag-team fashion. One of the girls apparently kept finding the pages messed up when it was her turn, so when the young man at the opposite lecture read "this is what the prophet said" she returned "Everything's out of order!"

Which is exactly what the prophets said, if you want to know. Of course, many churches like to forget about all that and just read the handful of verses that set up the coming of Jesus. Prophetic greatest hits, you know. But this little girl had it right on. Everything WAS a mess. Still is. Of course, what distinguished the prophets from uncle Phil at the dining room table was that they wrote it all down, often in exquisite poetry, and they specifically targeted corruption of the people in power. Not those other people--our people. Which didn't make them all that popular. But I digress.

Besides the children as sheep there was a bird in a T-shirt shop that was very entertaining. It bopped to the music, when it wasn't squawking away. I went there to get my wife a T-shirt for Christmas. What? Don't look at me like that. It was a very cool shirt. Custom made. And relevant. I sure she will have loved it by the time this goes to press.

Then there was the fun of jamming on a few Christmas carols with our "resident" jazz saxophonist Robert Brooks, which you can find on last Monday's blog. I don't officially speak jazz, or maybe I have an accent (!) but I can improvise and I know a few extended chords--since we didn't have a lead sheet (we were going out of the hymnal) I made up the chords on the fly and we listened to each other and made it work. A cool experience, and probably something you weren't expecting if you've been listening to all the baroque organ music I've been posting on my website. But Christmas is always full of varied experiences.

Children singing, that's another one. I got to watch the CU-symphony rehearse with the Central Illinois Children's Chorus. That's conductor Stephen Alltop cueing them in. He rehearsed with us alone an hour earlier, jammed into one of the Krannert Center's glorified shoe closets (somehow we got all 50 kids in there, plus a few adults, a conductor, and a piano.) I'm used to being in tight corners, anyway. It's been part of the season since I arrived in 2005. So has the Children's concert the previous week. I couldn't take a picture during the concert, so you'll have to imagine kids on the risers, but I did get one of the setup because I couldn't resist the hilarity of where I would be sitting--directly behind the tree, with the occasional arm sticking out, perhaps.

Pianists always show their best side to the audience!

The church choir always performs a variety of interesting things at Christmas, and the community Chorale has a big New Year's Eve concert, which keeps the rehearsals (extra long) going during the busy season. We'll hit the stage at the Virginia at 7pm on Dec. 31 for what will probably be my last time. I'll miss the Mighty Wurlitzer. (remember, Michael: don't look down!)

 It doesn't look like much of a drop from here, but if you look down into the pit you'll see what I mean.

I got a chance to play a gig with our funk band, "Timezone" for a benefit concert during the month of December, as well as making merry with our "Fusion" band over the weeks of Advent. There has been a little Christmas Chaos at our "contemporary" services this year, courtesy of a defective soundboard. Look for a Christmas special to come out in a few years called "The Soundman who saved Christmas." It will be based on a true story. We've lived it. 

I'm sure I'm leaving things out, but the season isn't over as I write this, and besides, you and I both have some things to do so I'll leave you to yours. Have a happy holiday season and a wonderful New Year.

That holiday music program at is still up, in case you missed it.

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