Too many Messiahs.
We’ve all heard it: “Why can’t people do something else?”; “Why is everything ‘Candlelight this’ and ‘Candlelight that’ this time of year?”. There are those who never want to hear another carol, and think that Christmas, in particular, has become too commercial, even in the classical music world. At one point or another, most musicians (especially carolers) have had the same thoughts, too, and there are plenty of programs that try to create something more original, different, or even completely off the grid for the holidays.
But what becomes apparent over years of performing and presenting is that there is indeed something special about this time of year, and the very familiarity is what most of the world craves. Not all the stuff, not the piles of food or the hectic schedules and worries about budgeting around presents. Just as Aunt Sally’s incredible caramel brownies have to be recognizable each time you make them, there are many good reasons why Handel’s most famous work (what some call “the Oratorio-which-must-not-be-named”) is performed over and over every December, and mostly to large crowds. This doesn’t mean there isn’t room for innovation, of course. But whether you’re whipping up a cake or a concert, you can change them around every time, and it’s still the old-ness that makes them so valuable.
These treasured repetitive experiences are part of a ritual, and part of what sociologists call our community of memory. It gives us common ground, license for emotion, and a reason to connect with others, even if it’s in the shared standing-up of a long-beloved “Hallelujah” tradition. On some level, it doesn’t matter why we stand, or why we light candles, or why for some families, it doesn’t feel like December without the ritualistic construction and demolition of a lopsided gingerbread house.
That’s the point. This is the time of year when we’re especially encouraged to feel something, regardless of personal belief. To really throw our hearts into what we do. If you can find a tradition of your very own that makes your music-making more real to you, embrace it. Don’t let anything be “just another gig”. After all, what we create is one of the best things about the season.