Kids, Cookies, Christmas Music and Ministering to Ourselves

I have been thinking about this blog post for several weeks. After speaking with one of my singers, who also happens to be a new mother, I had thought this would be a fun post about combining being a professional church and choral musician and a family life with young children–and Christmas. It’s a little bit like I envisioned but it’s taken a different direction, I’m afraid.

I mean–children, Christmas music and cookies–how fun! I could write about making batches of chocolate chip cookies in October and freezing the raw dough to bake them with my boys in December. We would sprinkle green and red sugar on the cookies as we got ready to bake them–with lots of bickering about equal numbers of red/green cookies. For many years, my sons actually believed Christmas cookies were chocolate chip cookies with colored sugars on top–they didn’t realize there are other kinds! I wanted to bake cookies with my kids, just like any other Mom did, during the holiday season when I was so, so busy–this was my way of being able to do it.

Like many other choral musicians, I started to plan my Christmas and holiday programs some time in mid summer, if not before. Often, I would pick the hottest day in July, crank up the AC and bring out the holiday CDs to help me get my mind into Christmas. My younger two would help get “in the spirit” by dragging out their boots or a scarf and we would sing along with Nat, or Bing or Robert Shaw and friends. When they began music lessons, I found CDs of marimba carols for my percussionist and a ‘cello choir for my cellist–we has fun listening to their instruments play familiar music they knew from listening to me and my choirs. Once I had music chosen, it was back to “normal.” Christmas was in the future and the first drafts of their Santa letters were not written until September or October.

The boys were angels, shepherds and a Magi or two in the pageants I created and directed–cheaper than sitters–and we had a wonderful time in those productions of young children. I don’t think they knew other mothers didn’t direct Christmas plays–it was such a natural thing for them to do and they were even eager to do them. All that changed when they were in second or third grade–but that’s a different blog post. I miss my little boys, my angels and shepherds and Magi. They have become wonderful men but the funny and quirky and silly little boys are gone, only to be remembered fondly and lovingly.

During the whole of their childhoods, adolescences and college years, it was my job to make Christmas. Not just for my own family as many Moms do, but for whole congregations and audiences of people. I worried about choosing just the right thing, the right piece or arrangement. I worried about variety and not boring my choirs or congregants. I did research, had themes (angels one year, shepherds the next, and Mary and Joseph the following) and became adapt at finding just the right thing. I enjoyed learning about traditions other than my own and used new ideas almost every year. I raised the bar higher each year and some of my former bosses–pastors–expected me to outdo myself year after year. I was often exhausted the day after Christmas and would cry from sheer relief.

A few years ago, after an especially difficult Advent and Christmas season, my husband approached me. I had been crabby and snippy to him, poor man, much more than usual. He told me he loved me but was worried about what I was doing to myself. He said I could take a breather from my church job if I wanted and in fact, he and our boys thought it would be a good idea. I wasn’t sure it was a good idea and in fact, stayed one more year at that position. Then I decided my family was right and I left. I’ve never looked back.

I miss my church jobs but am happy in the chamber choir world. I do Messiahs and the occasional Christmas/Holiday program with the MMS and would certainly be open to a “perfect” church job. But I don’t think I’m ready yet.

The one thing I’ve learned since leaving church music is, most of us–choral musicians–forget we have to take care of ourselves during this time of year. We are so busy worrying about our choir’s health or rehearsal time or having all our hired musicians show up or not letting our best soprano get her nose out of joint or something else essentially out of our hands, we forget it’s Christmas for us, too. And all of us NEED Christmas in our lives, even those of us who are the makers of Christmas.

I need the peace and the love and sweetness of Christmas this year more than most years and I understand why I need it. Because one of my sons was in the hospital right before Thanksgiving, I have a new appreciation for my other sons and their love for their brother. I have a better understanding of unconditional love and believing in something without question. All of those pieces I have taught and conducted and loved because of musical reasons, I now know why they were written. And I hope to bring that knowledge to my work from this day forward.

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