Monday, December 11, 2006

boy, those lutherans sure can sing

I speak in particular here of the National Lutheran Choir, whose annual Advent concert Steve and I attended Saturday night at the Basilica of St. Mary (our second "date" without Daniel since he was born), as we have for the past four or five years. The choir aside, it seems like most of my Lutheran friends are musical in one way or another. Maybe it's because they went to St. Olaf College, where music reigns supreme, or maybe there is something larger about the Lutheran zeitgeist that fosters a love for singing. I remember reading an essay by Garrison Keillor, posted on my very musical, Lutheran friend Liz's blog a while back: "We make fun of Lutherans for their blandness, their excessive calm, their fear of giving offense, their constant guilt that burns like a pilot light, their lack of speed and also their secret fondness for macaroni and cheese," he writes. "But nobody sings like them."

Anyway, the concert was exquisite, magnificent, even mystical in parts. At one point, the choir was spread throughout the whole, huge basilica, the singers in their black robes and cross pendants lined up and down the aisle, sustaining a series of undulating notes that would have reminded a more cynical me of an episode of Star Trek but which, at the time, felt like being carried along on the breath of angels.

This year, I find that I am especially drawn to images of Mary holding her sleeping infant son. I have always found the paintings beautiful and interesting (and sometimes funny, when the image of Jesus looks like a miniature grown man), but now I linger at the paintings and think about how familiar that pose is, how it reminds me of the way I cradle my own son in my arms, how he sometimes looks like a wise little man hands himself when he holds his hands out in a certain way. The same with music: As the choir and audience sang Silent Night together that night — "Holy Infant so tender and mild" — tears rolled down my face. As a Catholic of the post-Vatican II generation, I have never been really into Mary, the way some women of my mother's generation are. But now I'm thinking that becoming a mother has given me a new soft spot for her. When I think of all she went through with that son of hers, it's easier to put myself in her shoes and imagine what a strong, brave, patient woman she must have been.


Monkeymama said...

Growing up I only time we went to church was the Christmas Eve nights when we were with my Dad's side of the family. I really loved those services and I think they planted the seed in my mind that some day I'd become a Christian. I love being Catholic, but so miss the excitement and song after song celebration of those Lutheran ceremonies. It's been a sad coincidence that we haven't spent a Christmas Eve with that side of the family since I converted. I feel a little guilty that Mass doesn't quite make me feel the same!

I cry during Silent Night now too.

Emilie said...

That song makes you cry, too, Sarah? Wow ...

I hope you'll get a chance to go to one of those services again. I've never been to the midnight Mass at the Basilica (we are usually in Oregon), but I hear the music there is pretty phenomenal. The Basilica has a great choir. If you're ever in town, you might check it out.

liz said...

Awwww... I'm so proud of my peeps. ;) I'm glad you enjoyed the concert! The general manager of the NLC is a good friend of Seth's and mine from music camp. Wish I could have been there!

Barbara said...

Oh yeah, I cry at "Silent Night" too, have for years. I have to get in a plug for our Catholic musicians too though--you're right, there's nothing like hearing the Basilica choir at Midnight Mass. Or the choir at Incarnation (where I grew up) singing the Hallelujah Chorus after Midnight Mass. (Or the Saint Paul Seminary School of Divinity Chorale, ahem.)

That said, though, last year at Christmas George and I saw (and heard, of course) the St. Olaf choir on TV and they were awesome. My face was streaked with tears by the end.

PS I've always liked Mary--remember I left flowers on her altar before my wedding? I've always imagined her as being sort of a combination of my mom, my gradnmother, and my Aunt Jo (my godmother), which would make her one heck of a strong and loving woman! She was, after all, the first disciple. And to raise Jesus she must have "had the patience of a saint" which she is; as Catholics, we revere her as the head of the Communion of Saints. Luckily Catholic theology has corrected the excesses of Marian devotion that were present before Vatican II and turned off a lot of Catholics--myself included. It's much more balanced now than it used to be, thank goodness.

Ellen said...

Our Cathedral Choir doesn't hold auditions, but we're probably up there with Basillica's. Our director is up in the ranks at Oregon Catholic Press, which is the largest supplier of music and litugical publications in the country. Next time anyone here is at church, look to see who published your missals and let me know if it's OCP, okay? The illustrator also works at OCP, as well as several composers of liturgical pieces. Em, we also sing Midnight Mass, which you and Steve would probably enjoy since we have some brass players and end it with a Hallalujah chorus too. In my three years we've always gotten a standing ovation. It starts at midnight, proceeding an hour of caroling.

Monkeymama said...

Some switch must have flipped when I was pregnant. I never used to cry during Christmas songs, but I tend to, now, for specific versions of certain song. For me, "sleep in heavenly peace" is the part of Silent Night that gets me.

Greg and I went to a beautiful Scottish Christmas concert when I was very, very pregnant and Beck spent a lot of time kicking in response to the music. The tears were rolling down my face for much of the show!

Pregnancy brought me closer to Mary too. Hard not to put myself in her shoes, holding my baby at Christmas time.

Kristine .... a.k.a. Mommy said...

I know what you mean about Silent Night,. That song has always made me cry, but now I cry for a different reason. I was in the car driving around with my dear one and the song came on (yes, I was listening to 102.9 - the christmas station) and i started crying in the car! I couldn't believe it. It's funy how you see things in a totally different light now, being a mother.

Anonymous said...

Woohoo! Way to represent guys! I am totally and completely biased, but it just doesn't seem like Christmas without at least one Lutheran choir singing! Luckily I've been to a few already this season. (Although in my experience, the Catholics know a thing or two about good music too).

As for the carols I haven't had any Mary related crying jags but I do always find one Christmas song that makes me cry each year. It has been Silent night before, I don't know what it might be this year...We'll have to see :)

P.S. This is Lutherliz but the dumb computer has refused to let me log in for two days