It’s freezing here.
And the local doctors, life coaches, night education classes
and sun studios
are doing a booming business
in winter depression cures.
Not helped along much
by the fact the local carnival clubs
have all called it a day
until February, at least,
to make room for the six weeks,
and serious thinking,
that goes into the ‘month of sadness.’
Home of the day of national mourning, on the nineteenth,
the day of atonement and prayer, on the twenty-second,
and, just to round it off,
also lovingly called “thank heavens it’s over” day,
or “tears to sparkle”
by the church musicians
who start the end of July,
or the third Sunday in September
depending on the level of traditionalism in the church-
traditional churches do a huge St Michael’s day service,
around the 21 of September.
Followed by a huge street carnival with rides and amusements on the Rhine.
The not so traditional (smaller) churches
often with the not so terrific (or not so large) church choirs,
do no St Michael’s Mass,
but spend the entire summer, and most of the fall,
getting ready for the day of the dead.
With a full reading of all the names of those who passed over during the year,
and families all in black.
(And smelling of mothballs)
And this is a time of great challenge for church musicians.
You want to do the most caring and sympathetic, and strengthening music possible.
And show the belief.
So you, as a young newbie to the biz,
choose something with a serious statement-
Brahms’ “There comes a reaper nam-ed death.”
Which was meant to be followed immediately, after the reading of the names,
by Bach’s ‘Jesus, Meine Freude.’
And it would have, if the first of two elderly ladies in black
hadn’t fainted and the other near fainted
in the first row.
Nothing, not even my repeated apologies, could make that one right-
even though I do think a large part of it was the overcrowded room,
But for years since, I have walked on eggs,
sticking to things that are appropriate,
and more distanced,
(Although I did once, accidentally, stop a minister dead in her tracks
with a quartet version of the hymns from the St John’s passion.
If you are used to a large cathedral choir,
and you suddenly hear four perfectly meshing a capella singers,
it takes your breath away.)
and apparently spurred the minister on to preach for well over the alloted half hour.
And the one hour and ten that is the absolute limit,
preset by the state church board,
(did I mention that pastors and church musicians are civil servants here?)
for a church service with more than organ music.
At least people remembered the service.
And came the next year to see what we had in mind for them.
(Parts of the St. Matthew, what else?)
But first you have to get through September.
And St Michael, umpteen trinity Sundays, St. Nick
and the entire rest of the “not free for pastor’s choice” set liturgy themes.
And then comes Advent.
One week of joy and sparkle,
then one of solemnity and serious thinking about the coming birth,
during which I usually use a beautiful version of “Leise rieselt der Schnee-”
a traditional winter landscape song,
with a descant of “Lo how a rose e’re blooming”
It works like a charm every time.
then three candles on,
full power to the traditional,
and slide into home,
with four to six Christmas services,
Christmas early, family at five, the stretching to over midnight service,
one the next day, (First Christmas day)
a full holiday here,
then second Christmas day,
then a day off for the choir directors to visit a house doctor for ague and flu medication,
(most churches are not heated)
or buy new long ski underwear,
then two to three traditional services,
and the full singing through of the hymn book on New Years’ eve.
Presence of conductor required.
Thank heavens Friday is the first day of opening the advent calendar doors
and pulling out the sustaining lumps of chocolate,
slightly before third advent Sunday,
or one of the at least a foot tall cheap chocolate Santas,
given as gifts from one suffering choir director to another
with the words “we burn up to 5,000 calories at a shot,
we work under nearly the same conditions as coal miners,
we surely have a dispensation from fasting”
in recognition of the code of the church musicians’ guild “we will survive.”
Or as stated by Bach in the cantata “Jesu Meine Freude”
“tobe Welt und springe, ich steh’ hier und singe, in gar sich’re Ruh”
(quake world, and spring, I stand here and sing, in absolute peace)
And still, somehow, it is fun.
Happy advent tide.
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