If there is one image that sums up Christmas for many people it is the crèche. The scene at the manger that is being set up in churches and homes and communities around the world. At its heart, of course, is the baby lying in a manger, helpless and adored by all those gathered around, and it is this gathering which is such a powerful part of the story being told by the crèche. Shepherds in the field, angels hovering nearby, kings on their way from distant lands, and even the animals in a humble shed are gathering around this baby.
Something happens when people gather. It’s hard to measure, but science tells us about all kinds of health benefits associated with participating in a community which gathers around shared interests. There are potential downsides, I realize. Group-think and mob-rule have dangerous consequences, but when communities are welcoming and loving, the potential for good is unlimited. I remember hearing a story years ago about the aftermath of the devastating 2010 earthquake in Haiti. The people had left the rubble of their impoverished homes and gathered together to sing. Singing to create community when they had nothing else.
No one has spoken more eloquently or worked more elegantly to create community around the human voice than composer, arranger and conductor Alice Parker, who celebrates her 91st birthday tomorrow on December 16. She was interviewed by Krista Tippett on NPR’s On Being in an episode titled Singing is the Most Companionable of Arts which aired recently. In it she describes the human voice in choral singing as our best tool for discovering what emotions lay beneath the surface, for overcoming the differences among us in the kind of face-to-face way that is required to build understanding, and as a means of balancing intuition with the rationality that is overly glorified by our society.
But Parker says it so much better and listening to this interview is an hour well spent:
I think there is a reason that choral singing is the predominant form of music-making at this time of year. Parker talks about the incredible space that exists, when we sing about our faith, between our human story and those things we cannot understand. Singing together gives us another way of gathering around the baby. Even the angels sang that night.
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Where I’ll be:
November 27-January 1– organist/choir director at Christ Episcopal Church, Rockville, Maryland, while their Music Director is recuperating. (www.christchurchrockville.org)
December 14, 7:30 p.m. – concert with Zemer Chai, The Mansion at Strathmore. (http://www.zemerchai.org/upcoming-performances-cr3j)
December 13, 15, 16 – World Bank/IMF Chorus concerts, Magnificats by John Rutter and Johann Pachelbel for choir and orchestra. 1:00 p.m. (www.wbimfchorus.org/news)
December 17, 10:00 – Washington National Cathedral, Bethlehem Prayer Service, simulcast (https://cathedral.org/event/bethlehem-prayer-service)
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This blog represents my attempt to put thoughts together on various things that seem to connect – in my mind anyway. More often than not new ideas first involve reaching back to what was and I can only hope that the prehistoric San cave painting at the top of this page inspires all kinds of new connections between old and new.