Friday, December 17, 2010

Holiday CDs

What is your favorite holiday music? Among my own, let me give a shout out to a hometown group---Baroque Folk's "Christmas Winds." Also, my family gave me a CD, Chris Caswell & Friends' "Celtic Tidings" on the North Star label, which I play a lot. Still another favorite was, for a long time, only on an LP: Ralph Vaughan Williams' “nativity play” called "The First Nowell" (1958), which I purchased at a used record store in Carbondale, IL. The LP was a classical music club recording, out of print, and no other recording had apparently been made of the piece. So I took gentle care of the record for over twenty years until, finally, a new recording on CD appeared a few years ago on the Chandos label, conducted by Richard Hickox who passed away recently.

I’m an eccentric listener to classical music. I get into the mood of listening to genres (20th century English music is a favorite, and contemporary choral music), which is normal enough, but I also like to explore big areas of a composer’s output. I enjoyed Haydn’s music so I bought a 33-CD set of his symphonies. Sometimes I listen to them straight through over a period of weeks. Messiaen intrigued me so I purchased his complete organ works. So did the symphonies of the Danish composer Niels Gade. I loved Mozart’s 15th piano concerto so I bought an 11-CD set of all of them! I may have finally broken this weird habit with Mahler's music: that's a huge "landscape" to journey, so I started with the fourth symphony and have been content with that one for a while. In my van, I blast 70s and 80s music; that routine rarely varies.

This month I've been immersed in holiday music, beginning Advent mornings with a a CD or two or three. I do this nearly every year, partly to get into the season's spirit and also because of my odd listening habits. My LP turntable is on the fritz so I haven't listened to my big Karl Richter set of Bach's Advent and Christmas cantatas, nor yet transferred them to CDs. The same with my Handel "Judas Maccabaeus" set. But meanwhile, we have Canadian Brass, Mannheim Steamroller, Harry Christophers and The Sixteen, various symphonies' collections, collections by some of the famous English choirs, Dave Brubeck's Christmas album, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Eugene Ormandy's 1959 recording of "Messiah," and others. We've a collection of CDs of concerts of the Summit Choral Society in Akron, OH, a choir to which my daughter belonged for several years.

Like Lent, Advent can be a special time to renew your prayer life. Advent is such a busy time, though, that prayer often happens, if it happens at all, while you're in motion. I'm at least two weeks behind on my devotional reading because of various responsibilities amid some under-the-weather days. So, playing with holiday music in the early hours has been a way that I can start the day in a peaceful "place" in the spirit of Matt. 6:6.

Paradoxically, an excellent result of one's prayer life is the reminder that we're never saved because of our prayer life, spiritual study, devotional reading, favorite music, Christmas observance, or anything else. We’re saved by Christ’s redeeming work, not anything we do. The "true meaning of Christmas" is God's initiative. As with the other seasons of the church year, Advent and Christmas are simply times we "catch up" with the amazing things God has already done for us.

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