The holiday season has landed with both feet, as it does every year. I wish I could say this with more warmth and cheer, but the truth is that the lead-up to Christmas always makes me a feel a little crazy. I know I’ll get up to speed soon, and by December 20th or so I’ll be feeling more on top of it all. But right now, between decorating the house, sending out cards, buying presents and scheduling family get-togethers — even though in my heart I truly love all these excellent holiday traditions — I’m feeling pretty distracted.
Fortunately, the season also provides some built-in moments of respite, opportunities to reflect quietly on the actual meaning and wonder of it all. For me, the best way to catch my breath and recharge my holiday batteries is through live music. And by great good fortune, the musical offerings of the season are many and varied. It’s just a question of finding the events that fit into my schedule.
It helps a lot that I belong to the proud Bangor Community Chorus myself and have committed to three performances of our spirited seasonal program, “Holidays: Music from the Stage and Screen.” We gave our first concert last Friday night at Dirigo Pines Retirement Community in Orono. It was well attended and cheerfully received. I think we all — audience and performers — went home with a little extra holiday glow in our auras.
The next evening, Saturday, Douglas and I met friends in Bangor for dinner and then attended the annual Musica Sacra for Advent concert by the top-notch Chamber Choir at St. Johns’ Catholic Church. The program this year included Benjamin Britten’s brilliant “A Ceremony of Carols” as well as the premier performance of “A Trilogy of Prayer,” a hushed and spellbinding composition by our Sandy Point friend and neighbor Carleton Russell. Although the church — a real beauty — was packed, there was a deep stillness to the event that allowed us to focus on the joy and hope of the Christmas promise.
Next up, this coming Sunday, the 11th, the Bangor Community Chorus will perform our second concert at 4 p.m. at the Trinitarian Congregational Parish of Castine. Lovely and spare, this historic village church provides an intimate setting for enjoying our holiday program. And a trip to Castine, surely one of the prettiest little towns in Maine and home to Maine Maritime Academy, is always worthwhile. A number of shops and restaurants stay open year round, so I may go early and do a little shopping before the show.
The final 2016 concert of the Bangor Community Chorus takes place at 4 p.m. the following Saturday, the 17th, at the United Methodist Church on Essex Street in Bangor. This is typically a full-house show that attracts a lively, multigenerational audience ready to rev up its holiday spirit. We’re all looking forward to sharing one last performance of the program we’ve worked so hard on.
As soon as that’s over, however, I’ll be bolting out the door and headed to the First Congregational Church in Blue Hill for the 7:30 p.m. performance of Handel’s “Messiah.” I may be late for the stirring opening strings of the Sinfony, but Douglas will be saving a seat for me. This is the soundtrack to my childhood Christmases, both melancholy and joyful. Blue Hill Bach does a spectacular job with it, and the classic 1843 church will be beautifully decorated. Hallelujah!
The last performance on my music calendar this season, and one I’m deeply looking forward to, is the very next day, Sunday, Dec 18th at 4 p.m. That’s when the remarkable Mount View Chamber Singers will perform their “Carols in the Round” at the United Christian Church in Lincolnville. If you’ve never had a chance to hear these polished young singers from Mount View High School in Thorndike, you’re missing out on something very special. Their hushed, candle-lit concerts, performed this year at about 30 small, community churches all over the region, are like nothing else.
By then, all this seasonal music, popular and classical, religious and secular, Christian and otherwise, will surely have eased me into the warm mainstream of the holiday current. I’ll have most of my presents wrapped and mailed out, the donations delivered, the cards signed and sent on their way, the tree all decorated and the menus planned.
There are many opportunities to hear the music of the season. Some are as close as your neighborhood church. Some are free or donation-only. Some are worth paying for. Many invite you to raise your own voice in song, even if, like me, you’re not entirely gifted in the singing department.
Christmas always arrives, whether I’m ready or not, and unfailingly fills me with wonder.