By Dale Martin, City Manager
Music has always been a part of my life. I sang in a youth choir in church when I was young and began instrumental music in school. When in high school, I switched from instrumental music to strictly vocal music and then sang in a variety of college choruses. I hadn’t done any singing in the past 35 years or so, so my interest in music was simply listening.
Although I do have varied tastes in what I listen to, for many years I have primarily listened to country music. My affinity for country music began when I was stationed with the Army in Germany. On the rare occasions we were not deployed to the field for training, Armed Forces Radio featured country music during my drive home. I enjoyed then, as I do now, the story-telling of country music. The songs cheer new love, console lost love, celebrate life, and confront challenges. The songs can be toe-tapping, fast-paced melodies or slow, thoughtful ballads. Country music is my “go-to” music style.
Except for this time of year. The joys of the Christmas season are most wonderfully experienced through music – the familiar hymns in a warm church or the carols on a cold street. I started singing in the church choir here about four months ago. It’s a small ensemble – some Sundays it’s a quartet and not a choir, but nonetheless, it is enjoyable to sing again during the Christmas season.
When I did sing back in college, some of my favorite singing was being part of a barbershop quartet. After starting to sing with the church choir, I wanted to sing barbershop again. I found a men’s chorus in Jacksonville, The Big Orange, and practiced with them a couple of times before being thrown into the Christmas performances in St. Augustine. I sing the tenor line, which after not singing for long, is taking a while to get back “into shape” for the high notes.
The songs of the Christmas program are wonderfully barbershop, with plenty of fun and frivolity in the songs: “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” “The Man with the Bag,” “Jingle Bells,” and “Winter Wonderland.” A few traditional religious songs are included in the repertoire: “The Birthday of a King,” “Angels We Have Heard on High,” and “Joy to the World.”
My favorite song of the performance, though, is an arrangement of “Believe” (from the movie “The Polar Express”), encouraging listeners to “Believe in what your heart is saying, Hear the melody that’s playing. There’s no time to waste. There’s so much to celebrate.” The conductor (Tom Hanks) of the train says, “Seeing is believing, but, sometimes, the most real things in the world are the things we can’t see.”
My enjoyment of Christmas music magic is not limited to barbershop songs. When not singing, I enjoy immersing myself in classical sacred songs of Christmas. The sound of symphonies, soloists, and grand choruses is uplifting and glorious. The usual gliding grace of stringed instruments can become poignant when part of a symphony; the brass instruments become even more resounding. The voices of grand singers make the music fill your head.
The piece that I enjoy the most is Handel’s “Messiah.” Throughout college, I had the opportunity to sing several sections of the famous oratorio, including the renowned “Hallelujah” chorus. Singing parts of “Messiah” is moving, but it doesn’t even compare to the sheer magnificence of hearing the entire composition played and sung by professional musicians. I make an annual effort to attend such a performance.
The Jacksonville Symphony and the Jacksonville Symphony Chorus (over 100 voices), accompanied by four soloists will present this powerful and inspirational message of faith (Dec. 17-18). I’ll don my tuxedo and take my seat in the lofty mezzanine to become completely engrossed in the soaring instrumental and vocal music. I’ll be oblivious to everything around me as the story of Christ, from birth to resurrection is gloriously recounted. I’ll close my eyes and be entirely captivated by the sounds and the “inner solitude.”
For nearly three hours, the concert hall will resound with the overwhelming power and beautiful sounds composed by George Frideric Handel. Although originally modestly received in the mid-18th century, it has become one of the most frequently performed choral works in Western music.
If you want to reflect, relax, rejoice, and be re-born, listen to Handel’s “Messiah.” At the end of this piece, you will be unburdened; you will feel like you are floating. That is why that piece is so satisfying and enlightening for me – it permeates your soul, bringing comfort and rest. Enjoy at your own risk (and reward).
REMINDER: Community Christmas pot-luck dinner on Dec. 25, 2:00-5:00 p.m., Nassau County Council on Aging. All are welcome to share with our community’s bounty of fellowship and food.