Confessions of a Church Organist
From Handel’s Messiah sing-alongs and carolers to Salvation Army bell-ringers and department store Christmas ambiance, the air pulses with music this season. I recently saw a photo on social media satirizing how busy musicians are during the Christmas holiday, and as a church organist I can completely relate. December is without doubt the busiest time of my year; concerts, gigs, and church services consume my thoughts from Thanksgiving to Christmas. I consciously have to remind myself of why we celebrate Advent and Christmas, as my busyness often overshadows the miracle birth of baby Jesus over 2000 years ago. Despite such confessions, Advent and Christmas are also my favorite time to be a musician because Christmas music is my favorite!
Christmas music humorously creates discord as arguments erupt over when it is appropriate to begin listening to our favorite holiday tunes. Some claim Christmas music before Thanksgiving is sacrilege, while others listen to Christmas music year-round. But often, the music of this season unites. According to many sources, the famed World War I “Christmas Truce” of 1914 began with the singing of Christmas carols on both sides of the conflict. Enemies emerged from frozen trenches to mingle with men with whom the day before they had been fighting. Perhaps we will never truly understand how, but this truth remains: music has power.
One theory (in a very watered-down version) states that the vibratory nature of music assimilates with the vibratory nature of our bodies, thus affecting humans more profoundly than any other type of art. Without knowing the physical reasoning, early church fathers understood the influence of music. Music in the worship service dates back to the early Christian Church as a means to transmit the Word; while the liturgical use of music has evolved and changed from that time, music remains an effective way to elevate the worship service. And this is no more evident than during the Advent and Christmas season. For it is in these seasons we focus 100% of our music on Jesus Christ. We wait for him every Advent, lighting the four candles representing hope, love, joy, and peace while singing hymns such as O Come, O Come, Emmanuel. We celebrate his birth every Christmas with joyous hymns, Hark! The Herald Angels Sing; contemplative hymns, What Child is This?; with spirituals, Go, Tell It on the Mountain; and with hymns projecting toward Jesus Christ’s second coming, Joy to the World.
Personally, the most moving moment of Christmas occurs during the Candlelight service on Christmas Eve, when the electric lights go out and the flame from the Christ-candle is passed through the congregation to the simple, yet beautiful, strains of Silent Night. For what better way to remember what this hectic season is all about than to see ourselves and our neighbors reflected in the Christ-candle flame?
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