Sunday, December 1, 2019

Song in Your Heart

Television star and orchestra leader Lawrence Welk used to end his weekly TV programs by reminding the audience to keep a song in their hearts. When I think of the weeks leading up to Christmas, I carry a song -- actually several songs, carols and hymns -- in my heart. For me, the joy of the holidays is synonymous with the joy of singing the music of the season.

My love of holiday music began as a child when my parents bought the latest Christmas vinyl LP albums offered through Firestone tires. I couldn't wait to climb back into our station wagon and get home to listen to the new album on our hi-fi stereo record player, complete with speakers affixed to the sides and a turntable that could tilt back into the equipment's housing when not in use. I looked forward every year to that latest Firestone Christmas record album making its appearance in the store so we could buy one.

Each of those annual record albums featured a wide array of famous singers and groups performing Christmas pop standards and classical orchestral works. By listening to those records over and over, I came to love the smooth silky sounds of Andy Williams, Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme, Vic Damone, Doris Day, Robert Goulet, Carol Lawrence and Rosemary Clooney.  I was introduced to the holiday music of Bert Kaempfert's orchestra, Tchaikovsky's "The Nutcracker" and the magnificent orchestral arrangements of everything from "O Holy Night" to "Toyland." 

As a six-year-old, I began singing in our church's children's choir, wearing a white "angel" robe with a big black bow tied at the neck. I was also given the wonderful opportunity to sing solos at Christmas Eve church services, beginning as an elementary school girl. "Winds Through the Olive Trees" and "I Wonder As I Wander" were two of my favorite solo pieces from those years. 

Throughout the years, my Christmas performing opportunities expanded to madrigal dinners, as well as vocal duets, trios, choirs, harp-vocal duets and even as a member of an a cappella women's group called The Cheddar Chicks (It's a Wisconsin thing!). I continue to enjoy participating in several of those small ensembles to this day. 

During my growing up years, there were Christmas concerts at school from the time I was an elementary school student all the way through college. In high school, I was a member of a girls' sorority that entertained our community's grade school audiences at Christmastime with skits and songs. One year, I wore our family's green felt Christmas tree skirt as part of my elf costume as I helped lead the children in singing "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer."

As a member of other youth organizations and groups, I helped bring music to those who benefited from being uplifted by song as they healed at our local hospital or resided at the local nursing home or at a senior housing facility.

Regardless of the age of our audiences, whether seated cross-legged on a grade school gymnasium floor or in wheelchairs in a nursing home's activity room, there was something about singing Christmas music together that transcended age and promoted joy. And it still does today.

As an adult, I have had the pleasure for many years of singing with a local caroling ensemble called The Village Voices. We wander the downtown retail district, caroling a cappella sacred and secular Christmas songs, in and out of shops and cafes every Saturday during the bustling holiday shopping season. We also sing at the lovely mansion associated with our county's historical society. I look forward to caroling season every fall.

While I have enjoyed singing a wide range of Christmas music over the decades, I consider it to be among the highlights when I have sung with scores of other singers in performances of "The Messiah," filling the hall or church with the moving strains of Handel's great work. Who doesn't get a chill up and down their spine when hearing "The Hallelujah Chorus"?

Some of my Christmas musical performances haven't been ready for "prime time" or any time! For years, a dear friend and I would get together to watch "White Christmas," the popular holiday movie classic starring Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen, and we'd sing along! My friend could sing every single lyric to every single song, where I seemed to only be able to sing the chorus or perhaps a line or two of most pieces, except of course the iconic "White Christmas" after which the movie was named.

Even when I'm not doing the singing myself, I find that I'm drawn to the Christmas music that others perform as they lift their voices or their instruments in jubilant song. It seems that my husband and I attend every Christmas concert available all December long. I even enjoy Christmas music in other more mundane settings, tapping my toe to the beat and humming along while standing in line at stores where Christmas music is playing over the sound system.

Christmas shouldn't have to be the only time of year when we feel the music deep inside of us. Lawrence Welk reminded us of otherwise. 

Whether the tune be merry ("Jingle Bells"), silly ("Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer"), reverent ("Silent Night") or celebratory ("Joy to the World"), consider making your own joyful noise this holiday season. 

Keep a song in your heart.

As I close out this year's series of reminiscences, I'm going to take a hiatus from the longer Sunday afternoon blog posts in 2020. Please join me next Sunday morning at 6:00 a.m. central time and again each Sunday morning in the new year for your weekly dose of "Sunday Sunshine" where my goal is to offer you rays of hope, encouragement, joy and gratitude for your day and week. Blessings!

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