I can’t imagine our world without music. The earthed human spirit – always looking to soar – demands it. I can’t imagine the worship of God without music, some early Anabaptists notwithstanding.
I certainly can’t imagine the season of Advent without music. Our local Kitchener-Waterloo community believes likewise.
I’m not talking of course about sappy tapes in malls, meant to relieve us of our money. I’m talking about churches and choirs and ensembles of all sorts offering their very best during this season, offering up hope for us once again.
This year I’ve chosen four musical feasts for myself in addition to our weekly worship music – also beautiful – at Rockway Mennonite Church. I likely had 50 to choose from!
#1 – Amahl and the Night Visitors
Last Sunday night we sat in a familiar church sanctuary, absorbing once again the wonder of the Christmas opera Amahl and the Night Visitors, a delight for all ages.
In my opinion, one of the gifts of St. Jacobs Mennonite Church to its community is its music. Directed by one of the church’s voice teachers, this enchanting production chronicled once again the visit of three kings and a page– each with his own personality – to the hovel of the dreamy disabled shepherd boy Amahl and his feisty mother.
By the end the boy is walking…dancing…running…healed! And off he goes with the kings to thank the Child for whom they are still searching.
I loved it!
#2 – Handel’s Messiah
My friends are of mixed opinion. Some wouldn’t miss a live performance of Messiah during Advent. Others have heard or sung it so often they deliberately choose something else.
I’m with the first batch. Each Advent I endeavour to enter the concert venue with an open spirit, wondering which arias or choruses will most nourish my soul this time.
I don’t always choose the biggest spectacle in town, such as the Grand Philharmonic Choir with K-W Symphony Orchestra at the Centre in the Square, although that’s where I intend to go tomorrow night.
One year I took in instead a Messiah Sing-along at a smallish church in a nearby city. Sam and I went because Michael’s parents invited us. Michael, a promising music student from our church youth group, sang The Trumpet Shall Sound beautifully. I was so proud that he already had the volume to soar above the trumpets, which he continues to do as part of the Elora Singers many years later.
“Michael above the Trumpets” has become my code phrase for the places to which Messiah transports my spirit.
#3 – Joy to the World – Advent Jazz Vesper Service
My third pick in recent years has been the Advent Jazz Vesper Service in the Conrad Grebel University College chapel – a wonderful mid-week pause in the midst of the Advent rush. Five talented guys coming together in business suits or jeans….introducing a familiar musical theme…giving time for mind and spirit to wander with piano, drums, trumpet, flute, guitar, vibes…then building into something wonderful. Last year a meandering Joy to the World settled in me a deep sense of all is well.
#4 – Rockway Church’s Children’s Christmas Pageant
Truth be told, this is the one I can’t do without. Each year I wonder: which small child will sing the donkey line or the cow line or the sheep line or the dove line in The Friendly Beasts? What humorous contemporary elements will the Middlers surprise us with this year?
For years we used the same dear old props, including a star on a pulley which our three kings tried to follow (but sometimes got ahead of). Then we moved, and that prop no longer worked.
What could possibly be as special, we wondered? Last year we found out! One of the Dads constructed a large wooden camel. When it came time for the kings, that camel on rollers slowly emerged from the ramp at the back of our stage…to everyone’s delight.
#5 – Music at Home
Or course I complement concerts with Christmas music at home. This year I’m drawn to calming CD’s, such as Christmas Sampler (1997) in the (Mennonite) Hymnal Masterworks series. The combination of pans and flute speaks peace to me, especially in Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring.
I’ve also rediscovered the Christmas music of the Mennonite Hour choral groups, which the radio brought to my childhood home in the 1950’s. I wonder what would happen if the Fairview Park Mall played Audrey Shank’s solo of The Star and the Wise Men with Men’s Chorus some morning. Wouldn’t that be amazing?!
Questions for Reflection
What role does music play for you during Advent? In what ways – if at all – does it lift your spirits and restore your soul during these weeks leading up to Christmas?
Next week: Christmas Eve Lessons and Carols