Tag Archives: Christmas

Tuesday’s Tune: “The Boar’s Head Carol”

Today’s post is a guest post from Margaret,  a blogger friend of mine from England. She blogs at  From Pyrenees to Pennines. I first began reading Margaret’s blog several years ago when she and her husband lived in southwestern France. They moved home to England and I love reading of her exploits. I don’t recall how I found her, but I did, and I am ever grateful for the sunshine and joy that reading provides. There is nothing like an English Christmas, nothing. Thank you Margaret, keep Making the Days Count.

“He who sings scares away his woes.” ― Miguel de Cervantes 

There’s a  programme on British radio called ‘Desert Island Discs’, which has been running regularly since 1942.  Just about everyone fancies being on it, and if you’ve made a name for yourself as an actor, a politician, an academic, a musician, a journalist, a physician, a TV personality, a sportsperson …. whatever, really, you may just get your chance.  For 40 minutes, the ‘castaway’ for the week has to imagine themselves washed up on a desert island, with only 8 gramophone records (how quaint that sounds) of their choice, one luxury with no practical use, and one book, together with the Bible and the complete works of Shakespeare.  On air, they have the chance to talk about themselves, and more importantly, and just as revealingly, the opportunity to choose the 8 pieces of music that may have to last them for the rest of their lives.

What would I choose?  The list I occasionally idly compose in my head varies wildly, according to my mood.  But what I observe is that it’s always dominated by the human voice.  My list always includes some of the great sacred masses by the likes of Bach, Haydn and Mozart.  There’ll be some traditional music, maybe from Africa or India, and some ‘blasts from the past’ of my teenage years in the 1960s.  The voices range from the pure clear notes of children, through elegant, warm and melodious female voices, to resonant deeper male tones.  It’s hard to think of a single musical instrument with such range or versatility.

And washed upon my desert island, aside from listening to my recordings, what else would I be doing?  Well, singing for sure.  I don’t have the sort of voice that anyone would want to have in a top-flight choir…..  or any choir, really.  I read music only very insecurely.  Yet you won’t find me missing from our weekly choir practice unless I really, really can’t get there.

We’re engaged from the first moment we arrive.  We pat our faces and our bodies awake, stamping our feet rhythmically, or giving each other impromptu massages. We practice rounds and play musical games with notes from the highest to the lowest to get our voices mobilised.  And we sing.  We sing in canon, we sing in parts.  We learn that sometimes the hardest thing to do is to sing well in unison: there’s nowhere to hide.

Nicky’s in charge of us, and I can’t think what kind of title to give her.  She enthuses us; she won’t accept less than our best; she generates an atmosphere in which we all trust one another – our false notes will be forgiven and we’ll even be persuaded to be the sole singer of a line or two of song.  She’s the one who finds pieces none of us knows, from Africa to Finland, to lesser-known Gospel songs.  She’s the one who hunts out unfamiliar pieces from the English repertoire.  And this is the one I’ll share with you today.  It’s  Christmas song, but a secular one, sung at table at Queen’s College, Oxford.  Here’s ‘The Boar’s Head Carol’

During that hour or so on Thursday evening, we forget our woes and day-to-day worries.  We open our throats, and joyfully, we sing. American philosopher William James summed it up perfectly: 

‘I don’t sing because I’m happy, I’m happy because I sing’.

Here we are at our summer barbecue, singing for friends and family
Here we are at our summer barbecue, singing for friends and family

Tuesday’s Tune: A Charlie Brown Christmas

It’s Christmas time. The season is upon us. Christmas will be here in sixteen days. I’ve survived Black Friday – I didn’t shop, or even leave the house.

I was four years old the first time the Charlie Brown Christmas first aired. It was 1965. We were living in Houston. We be there one more Christmas and then, we’d move to Sugar Land where I would grow up. My mom still lives in the house I call home, even though I haven’t lived there for close to thirty years.

Charlie_brown_1209_2015-2016
This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the first showing of A Charlie Brown Christmas. The network produced a special 50th anniversary special and then replayed the cartoon. I watched it, again.

A Charlie Brown Christmas is an animated television special based on the comic strip Peanuts, by Charles M. Schulz. Produced by Lee Mendelson and directed by Bill Melendez, the program made its debut on CBS on December 9, 1965. In the special, lead character Charlie Brown finds himself depressed despite the onset of the cheerful holiday season. Lucy suggests he direct a school Christmas play, but he is both ignored and mocked by his peers. The story touches on the over-commercialization and secularism of Christmas, and serves to remind viewers of the true meaning of Christmas. (Wikipedia)

Rewind, I can imagine us, my brothers and I, sitting on the couch watching the Christmas special in our jammies. For us, it was in black and white; we wouldn’t get our first color television until 1971. I don’t have a specific memory of watching it, I just know we watched it. Sitting on the couch.

My kids have watched it, too.

A lot has changed since then. I can watch A Charlie Brown Christmas anytime I want – regardless of the season. And, much has stayed the same, A Charlie Brown Christmas was, in a way, a protest show about the commercialization of Christmas.

It bothers me that the Christmas season seemingly begins earlier every year. But, I don’t let it get me down.

A few years ago, I purchased the music from the show and loaded it on my iPhone. I play it as often as I can. I plug in my speakers in my classroom and play it before school starts and sometimes in class when my students are working, no one tires of the tunes. The music is calming and peaceful and it reminds me of the importance of the season.

I remember driving home to Ohio once – I don’t recall when. But, the backseat was in an uproar. My two backseat passengers couldn’t seem to get along, the dog was whining and barking, there was heavy traffic on the road and I popped in the CD. Presto, chango. We listened, whistled softly hummed, and thought of the gift of Christmas.

We won’t be driving to Ohio this Christmas. I am not sure what our plans are, but it will be Christmas. But, wherever we go we will remember the meaning of Christmas.

B has been working on the lights and we got the backyard done this past weekend. Continue reading Tuesday’s Tune: A Charlie Brown Christmas

Christmas

this morning's view from my 'office'
this morning’s view from my ‘office’

It’s a wonderful morning in Illinois. The sun is shining, the sky is bright blue, and there is a blanket of snow on the ground. We, at least W and I are, are back after spending Christmas in Ohio. B and O stayed another day and will leave for Michigan sometime today. W and I will head north early Sunday morning to join them; in the meantime he and I, and Ivy of course, have the run of the house. We also have a few things to do, like study for finals (W) and grade papers (me), before we pack up and drive north.

Somehow, Christmas always catches me by surprise. It sneaks up on me, pounces, and leaves me dazed. No matter how hard I try, I never seem to be mentally, emotionally, or physically prepared for the season. Perhaps it goes back to my days working in restaurants when the Christmas season was a blur of long days and even longer nights, or maybe there is a deeper reason for my Christmas surprise. But, my restaurant days are behind me, almost twenty years behind and I still find myself lost at this time of the year. Teaching has replaced working in restaurants and there is a two week long break for Christmas. When Winter Break and Christmas do arrive, all I want to do is rest, sleep, or just enjoy downtime. There always seems there is more to do than we have time for, or places to go and visit, there never seems time to just, be, to enjoy the holiday. We have our family traditions – we put up the tree, decorate outside, and inside – B always does a wonderful job of making the home full of  Christmas spirit. O loves to listen to Christmas songs and when she rides along with me, there is usually a fight over the radio, but not during December. I believe it all goes back to scarcity and choices; or how I use time, or not. I do enjoy Christmas and the entire holiday season, I just never seem to have it all together. It drove my dad nuts that I was so, so laissez-faire. It drives B crazy, too. Continue reading Christmas

Making Time

A sliver of a moon slides across the sky as a frozen Lake Margrethe sees the last part of day

@MakingDaysCount and MakingtheDaysCount dot org, on many occasions, I have written about time and using it wisely; and if you have been looking for an update and wondering where I have been, I’ve been here, or there, seemingly everywhere – but not on the internet and certainly not at MakingtheDaysCount dot org. It has been a long three weeks. During that time, I have started a couple of entries but they have died on the figurative vine and been left unfinished. Continue reading Making Time