A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the Christmas music that we used to play on the radio and how much I loved finding and playing that holiday nugget from the past. But my love for Christmas music goes far beyond those tunes on the airwaves. I first fell in love with the music of Christmas while a youngster listening to the Christmas Carols in church.
I can still remember the magic in the air when I first heard the strains of “Oh Come, Oh Come Emmanuel.” Technically this is an advent carol, since it is about the anticipated coming of the Christ child and is usually last sung on Christmas Eve just before Midnight Mass. Hearing this song right after Thanksgiving set the mood for Christmas and I would often happily hum the melody riding home with my family. Now, we were not known for rocking the timbers with our singing in our church. Most of the year, we did a passable job but left the heavy lifting to the choir. But not so at Christmas time. Everybody got into the act, including my Dad, who sang in the key of “off”. Yule time would find him overcoming his inhibitions and belting out all the carols at the top of his voice. Mom’s voice would be lilting above his making our pew ring in the sounds of the season.
When I was in the second grade, I was recruited into the children’s choir along with most of my class. That is where I really learned how to sing. I learned the tricks of singing “NNNN” instead of “MMMM” during the humming parts and how to sing up in the high register. Back then before our voices changed, the boys sang the soprano parts and the girls the alto parts. That was fine with me; that meant that I got to sing the melody. That is also where I learned to keep time by tapping my foot. I can remember many a rehearsal where we were concentrating on not “rushing” the verses to get to the more familiar refrain. While I enjoyed singing the hymns year round, Christmas time was my favorite. My eyes always lit up when I saw the Christmas hymnal passed out in mid November and we began rehearsal for the Christmas season.
There were two big moments for the choir every December; the first was the annual Christmas concert when all the parents were there in the audience. That was nice, we always enjoyed it. But the best performance of the year was at Christmas Mass, when all the other students were there and I got to impress that special girl that I had my eye on. Of course, there was no way that she could pick my voice out of the 60 others in the choir, but in my imagination, she was hanging on to every note I sang. Ahh, the impudence of youth.
Eventually I graduated from choir boy to altar boy and my days of singing in public for the most part came to an end. Every now and then, across my adult life I would sit in with a band and sing a backup part. While that is fun, the best times are when I go Christmas Caroling. There is no match for being out in the crisp winter air surrounded by holiday decorations and my friends, singing my favorite carols! Oh MY!