What Sweeter Music

Traditions start as single activities.

A one time event makes an impression so that it is planned for again in order to recapture the excitement and joy of the first one. Nothing celebrates holidays like traditions.

I had the fortune of growing up in a musical family. Both my father and mother were music teachers and my two siblings and I had lives that were intrenched in music lessons, church choirs, band, piano, choir concerts, etc. No time of year was more filled with music than Christmastime.

At early ages, my sister and I would wear out the phonograph playing my father’s vinyl albums of the Robert Shaw Chorale “Hymns and Carols Vol. 1” and the Harry Simeone Chorale “The Little Drummer Boy.” I don’t remember the first time I heard them, I just remember listening to them every year. This grew into my own tradition of seeking out and purchasing a unique Christmas album each year. My collection on CD is extensive. 🙂

When we were slightly older, perhaps tweens or so, my parents taught us a Christmas carol to sing for our relatives after we made the long car trip to Grandmother’s house – in 4 part harmony. It kept us engaged and perhaps kept us from fighting over spots in the back seat. Our first carol was an arrangement of Deck the Halls, followed in subsequent years by several Alfred Burt Carols. It became a tradition throughout our teens, with my oldest brother contributing the final carol we would rehearse and perform as a family unit (written in a fit of inspiration during his first year of teaching and sent to my parents as a Christmas card – much like the Burt carols).

A most memorable tradition began soon after we had moved to Arkansas in the early 1970’s. My father had become the choral music director at (then) Arkansas Polytechnic College, a place that at the time was known for its band program but never had much of a choir. I suspect that he decided that he wanted to give a grand Christmas program one year. Preparations would always begin the Friday/Saturday before the concert with the search for the appropriate Christmas tree to cut and bring into the main lobby, the crafting of decorations, and last minute rehearsals. The program grew each following year and would begin with small ensembles singing in a pre-concert venue around a Christmas tree.

Antiphonal brass and choirs would perform from the open balconies of the music department lobby. Processional pieces that involved brass and organ announced the start of the program. Unique stage decorations such as large evergreen wreaths of cedar and pine or a mock stained-glass window would adorn the center of the stage.

There were exciting new choir pieces and familiar favorites and the community came out in droves year after year.

My father passed away a few months ago, and these memories have been a comfort these past few weeks. I am fortunate to have a soundtrack for my memories of him, and much of it is Christmas music. Here is a top five (ok, six) list of Christmas musical moments influenced by my Dad.

1. O Come all ye Faithful (Robert Shaw Chorale)
2. Come Dear Children – Alfred Burt
3. RĂ­u RĂ­u, ChĂ­u – Anonymous
4. XIV: The March of the Three Kings, from Hodie by Ralph Vaughan Williams (really this entire work, Hodie, is worth a listen)
5. His Yoke is Easy, from Messiah by George Frideric Handel

And finally, a moment of sweetness that expresses my father’s love of music greater than any song, poem, or piece that I could have written.

What Sweeter Music – by John Rutter

I encourage each of you to embrace your traditions, not only during this season of the year, but all year. It might be baking or going to events. It might be meals together or a hike in the woods. It could be singing or storytelling. It could be volunteering to help others. Watch them grow each year. Make something your own tradition and share it with ones you love.

Now and then

It was entire durations of a dream, she stood behind me, not a sound.

Then a gleam of light hit the ground, a shadow fell and her voice sang a round.

Now, the memory a more abundant chorus than I recall

with my littered words that clash and brawl – my slumber at an end.

I never saw her face, neither that of lover or a friend.

Another day may bring her near, perhaps with some quieter verse to hear as when it was just then.

Pieces

There is a puzzle to the course of living,
the fragments pieced in the order of their discovery.
Framing is followed by detailed construction of the things you find familiar,
With lines of similar breadth and swaths of shades of color
that fade and brighten, trying to intercede
among the pieces where interlocking forms are implicit
though not fated to be joined.
The uniting of pictorial flakes, a rewarding, engrossing
event – that drives you on to seek another, and another beyond and so…
With long spells of delusion and vexation
interspersed among the brighter moments of recognition.
The fulfillment of a vignette completed
the emotions in a red-tinged array resound,
all assembled by meticulous serendipity,
and a confidence that all the pieces are there to be found.

An unexpected drive

I saw the sun sparkle between the leaves

just before the outpouring of red and gold,

that moment of flux when everything is not new.

A bird flock undulated in our view.

A tarnished framework bridge sat to cross over

the creek, a connection between us and there:

A rusty reminder of the history of travels.

How many have driven this dirt road before?

Who else remarked upon the aging of the beams, has seen the streaming

brown water beneath.

The near-autumn sun advanced

upon the field.

An apple orchard in neglect to the left.

Weeds stood in contrast with the trees,

yet, apples continued to ripen and drop throughout the field,

leaving a sustaining memory.

The bird flock returned to a billow and thrum

and I drove on, following a ebbing sun.

Butterfly

There is a flitting butterfly in sight of all the passers-by-

lighting on a broad-leaf, I wish that I could blink and be

a butterfly, like one I see.

What species, then, I couldn’t tell,

the lighting in the field was fell,

but simply with its fleeting swell it caught my eye and cast a spell.

Whether monarch, with its spotted wings

or swallowtail, a colored thing of yellow with perhaps some blue

that sang a presence, then withdrew

to places past where I could see, leaving just my fancy free:

wondering what butterfly I could be.

 

A conversation

I imagine that what comes after must be better than before,

No constant monitoring of the quality, that is to maintain

with manmade artifices,

of  how beautiful or how healthy we are.

For me, it is not to know. I am here.

But for you, there – passed beyond the walls of this world,

it should be filled with the flavors of wine and honey,

the laughter of the loved and lost,

the passage of infinite moments cast

equally of musical crescendo and allargando – and pianissimo.

As for me, I do not know.

I do not know when the brightest stars are going to fade.

Perhaps you can show me someday.

Sitting at your glass table, with coffee and fresh-baked bread

I listen to the rain, instead.

 

 

 

Keepsake

I’ve been sorting through old keepsakes,
some photographs I’ve found are faded now,
these echo sounds of places where I didn’t go – faces that I do not know
I can’t decide how to store them all –
The sepia memories of what you saw,
The air your family stories hold
should last as long as when you told them.
And what you did is what you wanted
To do, and nothing worse hindered you.
Scenes of travel – and songs of yore
Some motets in your mind’s reservoir.
Carols sung in a cavernous forum
were more than just some Ipsem Lorem.
Choirs of men and women singing
Relationships brought into being
How, lovely – snaps you strived to make
No different than our own keepsakes.
But yours dwelled firmly in His grace –
and dwelling in your family’s place
Devotion and hymn live with us here
Led with your baton, and your voice as clear
as when you walked into a room.
My minds-eye sees you, feels you too.
How lovely, this reminiscence sounds –
Even if an echo now.
Listening to you in my head
puts my thoughts to this poem’s thread
of places where the music soars
and you’re step-singing an angel chorus.
The keepsakes of your melody in harmony with the little things,
And now they’re ours, for all to sing.