Every year in mid-October, each chorister finds a little treat on their chair when they arrive for rehearsal. It isn’t a bite-sized Snickers, or a Reese’s or a lollipop. It isn’t a cute little pumpkin or a decorative gourd. It is the much-anticipated packet of Christmas music. Yes, as the big-box stores are unpacking their trees and tinsel before Halloween even begins, so are we unpacking the magical sounds of the Christmas season. Squeals abound as we turn to our neighbors with “that’s my favorite!” or “that was gorgeous five years ago; imagine what it will sound like with all the new singers” or “whoa – I sang this in college, it’s amazing!”
We begin preparing for the Christmas concert when the air still holds the warmth and humidity of a Georgia autumn. It seems early, but in fact, the board and our artistic director have prepared for this concert many months, and in some cases years in advance. I spoke with Jamie Clements, Development Manager and tenor extraordinaire, who told me plans are being made for concerts and collaborations as far ahead as 2020!
Some of my gentle readers may be thinking, “this would have been a great post to write in October…” I absolutely agree. However, a working musician’s Christmas season gets underway in October and like many of my colleagues in Atlanta Master Chorale, I simply got swept away by the planning and preparation for my various holiday undertakings. If you have a working musician in your life, you will have given them a big kiss sometime in November, not expecting to see them again until January. If you do not, allow me to give you some insight into what it is like to be a working musician during the holidays: I am a voice teacher, teaching 10 students and handling all of the administrative aspects of the business.
In November and December, I will coach five recording sessions with a sound engineer from Nashville for students making CDs as gifts for their parents. I will prepare singers for six independent performances for their church or school, occasionally re-writing arrangements to fit a specific need. I planned, executed, and accompanied for a Christmas Recital for all of the students last night. For Atlanta Master Chorale, I will first and foremost learn all of my music for our two Christmas Concerts.
Secondarily, I will organize, shop for, and present receptions for our donors after each concert. If this sounds like a lot, brace yourself. My schedule is extremely light compared to many of my colleagues. It is, comparably, a piece of cake, and not yucky hard fruitcake either – delicious, easy-to digest cake. Many of us sing in a church choir, requiring hours on Wednesdays and Sundays for Advent and Lessons and Carols services. Many of our Atlanta Master Chorale choristers lead music services for metro-Atlanta’s houses of worship. More of us are teachers in the schools, preparing holiday concerts that combine cultural inclusion and musical integrity while completing end-of-the-semester grading while managing winter fundraisers while organizing field trips traveling nursing homes and other venues to give back to the community.
Within the world of Atlanta Master Chorale, the Christmas season is bustling with tasks. Our Board still holds their regular meetings, sorting out budgets and making plans for the future. Jeffrey Clanton, our Concert Manager, dedicates two full days to decorate and un-decorate the hall for the concert. Jodi Danis, our Administrative Manager, writes invitations, creates concert programs, proof-reads this blog, and approximately one million other things. Choristers continue to volunteer their time and talents editing videos for the Christmas YouTube channel, writing copy for e-blasts, articles for local magazines, and special-interest pieces, working on finalizing our latest CD to sell at the concert, coordinating with Schwartz Center, monitoring advertising on social media, and managing the website, on top of their full-time jobs, family, and other holiday tasks.
So, do we musicians think of ourselves as martyrs? Are we resentful, frustrated, misunderstood? Not in the slightest. I’ll let you in on an industry secret: We LOVE it.
The thrill we feel unpacking that Christmas music during the October rehearsal is like Santa’s sleigh propelling us through the next three months. Because no matter what holiday you celebrate in the winter, we can all agree on the universal power of giving, the power of love, and the power of hope. The gift of music is something that resides in each of us, and something we want so much to give. Many of us have been training and sacrificing since childhood to perfect our craft. We want to give back to those who sacrificed and worked so that we could learn and grow. We want to share the magic and the thrill that courses through our veins when we sing these beloved tunes. The texts we sing speak of great love, and great hope. We want you to hear that, feel it, and experience it with us.
Working musicians occasionally feel guilty that we don’t have much time to give during the holiday season. Personally, I feel badly that I missed the crafting and baking genes that touched all the other women in my family. I begin to twitch when I read Pinterest Christmas craft or a complicated cookie recipe. But then I remember that I too have something to give. I can sing. And we, the Atlanta Master Chorale, can surely sing.
So please, whether the holiday season exhilarates you or exhausts you, come take a break with us this weekend. We have a gift to give: The gift of music, love, and hope. Please let us give our gift to you.