Last night we went to a Christmas Concert put on by a local smallish Christian College, which has a very dynamic music department. And not just for traditional stuff, either. Included in their program were both familiar and non-familiar Christmas offerings, done by saxophone quartets and sextets, brass quintets, brass ensembles, chamber singers, a group called “Bella Voce,” the University chorale and the University orchestra, and various soloists.
But most interesting of all, almost half of the musical presentations were unrecognizable as having a Christmas theme. If you are singing in a choir and have the sheet music in front of you that says “A Christmas Song” you feel it will come across to the audience as a Christmasy piece. But I’m sad to say that at least half the pieces presented last night did not seem to relate to the season we were there to celebrate. Others presented the music in an idiom that was interesting but in an arrangement that mostly just teased the listeners to find the familiar tune.
So rather than say I wasn’t impressed with the music (which I actually was) I decided that I would try to isolate some of what I learned from my first try at this event, which according to what the pastor said was an annual tradition. It's probably applicable to any non-commercial concert nowadays.
- If you are going to a free concert at a college be there at least an hour early so you will find a seat out from under the balcony, where the music fills the air and is not swallowed up. Being there a half-hour early is not early enough
- Church members are family oriented and will bring children ranging from the age of 10 to newborn and hope that those in the audience are not bothered by fussing, crying and running in and out of the chapel.
- Be prepared to see nothing if you are under the balcony. For the most part traditional churches do not have stadium seating. Spikey hairdos and children standing on the pew seats ahead of you are unfortunately not transparent.
- If the program has a big notice on it that says “There will be no flash photography during the performance” don’t believe it. I’d guess that students enrolled in art classes dealing with photography were given an exemption, which turned out to be very distracting. In a similar vein, if the program says in big bold letters “Please remain seated until the end of the Postlude” don’t believe that either. I’d guess most people don’t want to get stuck in the parking lot and have to wait their turn to get in line.
- Remember, this is the University’s party and they can do what they want. This is a different generation than we grew up in, and they do it differently. Manners and expectations are very different from what we think is customary…and perhaps we need to “get a life.”
Now musically, did I enjoy it? Yes. Did I understand it? Not a whole lot of it. Would I have liked a few notes – either verbal before the piece or written on the program itself – about what I was going to be hearing. The title and composer just isn’t quite enough when one is listening to music that must be about Christmas but doesn’t appear that way.
I did love all the modern sounds, but dissonance isn’t always conducive to satisfaction in having a warm Christmasy feeling. If the idea is explained to me ahead of time I can be much more receptive. If I can understand and like composer John Adams’ LA Noir, I’d like to think I could understand some of this modern Christmas music too. But I need a little help.
Jer and I came home glad we went but not exactly full of the Christmas Spirit. I don’t expect Jerry to be full of it, but he’s always so non-judgmental and I really appreciate that; I think it balances me a bit! If the concert itself hadn’t lasted almost two and a half hours, I would have walked in my front door, put one of Mannheim Steamroller’s Christmas CDs on my player and sent the real Christmas Spirit soaring through my house. But the hour was late and I just went to bed without benefit of those glorious sounds. And I did sleep well. But in the night when I woke up I decided I just had to do an honest blog today.
The kids did wonderfully well in their presentation last night. I was glad I went. I was glad I heard new stuff. I was glad there was a tiny newborn baby in the arms of its mother in the pew in front of me that I could feast my eyes on when I couldn’t see the stage. I was glad that Jerry, whose tradition is definitely not Christmas music, sat like a trooper through it all without registering one complaint. Will we go next year?
Yes, God willing and the creek don’t rise!