Reviewing Christmas

Every fall it’s time to review for Christmas: to look over the sheet music, try to remember the solo and trio arrangements, change my mind about some of them, learn some new ones, reject ones I don’t like this year, and practice practice practice.

This week, I’ve been working mostly on the solo stuff.

I’d like to be able to do solo versions of all the pieces on my Christmas CD, What Child Is This?. Some of them are already solos: He Shall Feed His Flock, What Child Is This? / Menuet. Others are multi-tracked, with other instruments and/or with multiple dulcimer parts. These I have to simplify for dulcimer, except Christ Child Lullaby, which I think I’ll play on alto recorder this year.

My folder has a bunch of other Christmas material, too.

Some of them I haven’t been satisfied with as dulcimer pieces. For two of these, Joy to the World and O Come All Ye Faithful, I’ve been playing around with new dulcimer arrangements using a root-fifth right-hand accompaniment for one and right-hand arpeggios for the other. Last year I tried the right-hand arpeggio thing with O Holy Night and still didn’t like it as a dulcimer piece. It’ll be another alto recorder solo this year. Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silent, Good King Wenceslas, and perhaps a few others, will be bowed psaltery pieces.

Some of my favorites for dulcimer are Jerry Read Smith’s wonderful “The Storm” and “One Wintry Night,” Jim Taylor’s “Come Before Winter,” Vangelis’ “Hymne,” and Simeone’s “The Little Drummer Boy.” The last one is fun to play: I drum on the low notes with my right hand while my left plays the melody.

I’ll also need to review trio arrangements and create some new ones. Last year our trio gigs in the Christmas season were all fairly short; we learned nine pieces from the CD, and filled out the time with pieces from our usual mostly Celtic repertoire. This year we’ve got some longer gigs and will need a lot more Christmas music.

It’s easy to get caught up in this review process as work, something mechanical, a task to accomplish. It’s also easy to get a little overwhelmed by it, particularly as my first Christmas gig is next weekend already.

May the music itself remind me what Christmas is all about: First and foremost, the amazing act of redemption, God sending his son to be one of us, to seek and save us. Secondly, the great sweep of blessings God bestows on us — friends and family, freedom and safety, food and shelter, snowflakes and pine trees and fireplaces and dulcimers. And third, the reminder that when it’s hard to count any blessings, darkness is not the final word:

In thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting light
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee tonight

(Brooks, Redner; O Little Town of Bethlehem)