Tag Archive: Hamilton NY

Christmas—Held Over!

Seasons Greetings from Edgewater, 24 January

Seasons Greetings from Edgewater, 24 January

This has been an odd Christmastide for me. Odd even that I am still thinking of it in the present tense. I was late to decorate for Christmas, and even later to feel like I had slipped into the “Christmas Groove”. I followed the set-up of the holiday train diorama in the lobby of our Thanksgiving hotel with frequent check-ins, yet baked not a single Christmas cookie.

Christmas at home, once I finally got there late Christmas night, was as festive and enjoyable as ever. I fell into the Groove immediately. It snowed, I skied. We cooked, I ate. Family gathered, I mingled. Gifts appeared, I unwrapped. Corks popped, I drank. Lights twinkled, I gazed.

Snow drifted, I stayed an extra day. Readily.

When my partner and I went our separate ways at the end of Christmas time in snowy, bucolic Hamilton, neither of us wanted to see the celebrations end. When I reached Chicago on the 4th of January, I still had two days left to celebrate. I squeezed in Christmas shows and movies, CDs and stories.

Epiphany (January 6) came, and I hadn’t had my Christmas fill, so I left the decorations up. The Christmas tree hadn’t lost any needles, so I gave it another week. I continued shopping the post-holiday sales for Christmas decorations with particular verve. My Lego® Holiday Bakery is still on the sideboard.

We have a family fondness for Sesame Street, and we usually watch the 1978 special “Christmas Eve on Sesame Street” when we’re together. This year, the show’s signature song, “Keep Christmas with you” has become like a battle cry for some of us. It says,

“Keep Christmas with you All through the year, When Christmas is over, You can keep it near. Think of this Christmas day When Christmas is far away.

“Keep Christmas with you All through the year, When Christmas is over, Save some Christmas cheer. These precious moments, Hold them very dear And keep Christmas with you All through the year.

“Christmas means the spirit of giving Peace and joy to you, The goodness of loving, The gladness of living; These are Christmas too.”

It’s the 24th of January, and I’m watching “The Bishop’s Wife”! What is happening to me this year? As Christmas comes round every year, I think I enjoy our homecoming, my family home, and my hometown more and more. It is tinged with nostalgia, but also revived and refreshed with new tastes and experiences.

I wrote the following article for the weekly newsletter of the church where I work as Director of Music. (If you’re in Chicago, I hope you’ll come visit us <www.sp-r.org>.) As a church worker, I have a multi-layered—some may say ‘complex’—relationship with Christmas. Perhaps reading this now will help *you* “keep Christmas with you” for at least a little longer this year.

“Christmas is the Church’s ‘Try to Remember’ Holiday”

Merry Christmas. Except for the two years when I had flu (maybe even then), I’ve been blessed with Merry Christmases. Fun, food, family, friends, snow for skiing and sledding, games, movies, singing, wonderful worship… I love Christmastide! More than any other holiday I celebrate, Christmas is a smörgåsbord of experiences, origins and meanings. Complex, like me.

While at Choir Camp last summer, an hour from New Haven, where I spent nine of the most wonderful, friend-filled years of my life, I sat in on a colleague’s boy-choir rehearsal. They rehearsed “Try to Remember” from The Fantasticks for a concert. Listening to my godson, his younger brother, and their fellow choir members sing this simple tune, I began to cry. I felt deeply how much things have changed in my life.

The irony wasn’t lost on me, however, that the singers were all preteens, some as young as eight. What could they possibly be nostalgic for? Christmas, maybe.

Christmas nostalgia is often born at a tender age, when one discovers that all is not as it had seemed earlier. Through the years, the revelations keep coming, as one’s view of life and loved ones becomes more nuanced. Relatives die, friends and family move away, new ones arrive. Sibling rivalry, aging parents, challenging children, irksome in-laws. Who wouldn’t be nostalgic for earlier, simpler Christmases? “Try to remember…”

When I began my work as a church musician during graduate school, I had to miss Christmas Eve and Christmas Day family gatherings to play for services. Those first few years, I decided to divorce my new Christmas routine from my memories and old expectations. It was time to “remember the reason for the season”, and respect Christmas as the religious holiday it was meant to be.

The Vulcan treatment worked for a while, and helped to ease the grief that came when one of my grandparents died shortly before Christmas each of the first two years. As the years passed, though, nostalgia trampled my holiday compartmentalization. Ah, Ye Happy Olde Tymes!

Church plays a complex role in the Christmas drama. The trappings of Christmas liturgies are intimacy, warmth, beauty, and—yes—nostalgia, but the message of Christmas is forward-looking. Who else gets myrrh (for embalming) as a baby gift? The crèche is only a brief stopping place for Jesus. Before the nursery is painted, the Holy Family is off to Egypt, fleeing for their lives.

My mother cries when she sings Christmas carols, perhaps because they evoke some latent nostalgia. We want children to be adorable in pageants so we can wax wistful about how precious and fleeting these moments are. Church traditions—the same six hymns year after year; “Silent Night” on our knees, the lights dimmed—connect us to our tribe and our memories.

There is no harm, and much joy, in these moments. We should celebrate them. The Church’s Christmas commemoration, however, is not simply for cooing over cute children or luxuriating in intimacy and beauty. It is, instead, to show the great power of humility and the bottomless well of God’s love for humanity. Through the incarnation, God helps us frail humans to see and understand Godself more fully, and to chart our path to care for the world, and gain our salvation, by following Jesus’ example. Christmas is only the prologue, the flash that fixes our gaze. God knew we humans are suckers for a cute baby, having evolved that way so we wouldn’t get distracted and walk off and leave little Norbert to be eaten by pterodactyls.

But followers of the story, like singers of the hymn “Once in royal David’s city”, may get distracted before they get to the point. We are entranced by the nostalgia and homeyness of the manger, but in the second half (as we sing it from The Hymnal 1982), the message comes forth:

“For he is our lifelong pattern; daily, when on earth he grew, he was tempted, scorned, rejected, tears and smiles like us he knew. Thus he feels for all our sadness, and he shares in all our gladness.

“And our eyes at last shall see him, through his own redeeming love, for that child so dear and gentle is our Lord in heav’n above, and he leads his children on to the place where he is gone.

“Not in that poor lowly stable, with the oxen standing round, we shall see him; but in heaven, set at God’s right hand on high; where his saints his throne surround: Christ, revealed to faithful eye, set at God’s right hand on high.”

As you gather your beloved around your own hearth and memories, as you tell the story and sing the old Christmas hymns, listen for the message that goes beyond the wonder of God’s arrival in infant form, and be transformed, so you will be ready to transform the world. Merry Christmas. May it be ever so!


If I practiced this much all the time…

Tuesday 3 July 2012

I’m playing a Fourth of July (i.e., Independence Day) organ recital at First Baptist Church in Hamilton, NY, tomorrow, and though I’ve been preparing for weeks, I’m scrambling to get ready. Ironically, it’s the simple music that is giving me the biggest headaches, and the reason for that goes back to my piano studies in high school. I was a good sight-reader (at least by standards in my small town), and I got away with quite a lot of inadequate preparedness with skin-of-my-teeth sight-reading. It was a thrill, and fun, to learn an entire broadway musical score in just the first few days as rehearsal accompanist.

What passed for good playing back then doesn’t cut the mustard as an adult professional, and I’m spending way too much time today cleaning up “bonbons”, simple ditties with their repeating patterns that just aren’t intuitive enough to be dashed off with the limited love I’ve lavished on them while digging into the meat of the program. I’m sweatin’ up here at the organ console, two-and-a-half stories above the Village Green without benefit of air-conditioning, and not just because it’s a little warmer than I think Hamilton ever gets.

I’m sure my weather memory will get more selective with age and senility, but it’s worth reminding myself today as the temperature drifts upward into the 80s (high of 84º, quiver quiver quake quake sweat sweat swear swear) that I baked in the summer of 1987 when I leaned against the house in direct sunlight and temperatures up to 96º with a heat gun blowing Satan’s breath as I burned double-digit layers of old paint off our faded-yellow Victorian. The exactly three hour loop of bad music on the crystal set (okay, boom box) confirmed my fear that willfulness in my youth had consigned me to hell.

Or in the summer of 1991 when, having broken free of The Other Place and landed a Real Summer Job in Periodicals and Circulation at the Colgate University Library, I sweated in the stagnant, stifling heat of that unairconditioned knowledge boutique (The University of Rochester had a MUCH larger library.), becoming ever more selective about which carts I would take for reshelving (Basement stacks? Check. LC Classification? Check. [Some of those Dewey Decimal System call numbers had eight decimal places!] Close to the art section where the browsing titillated? As often as possible.) while temperatures soared into the mid-90ºs again.

“And the heat, my God, the heat!”

I’ll get my revenge tomorrow when I’ll play a secret tribute (It’s not really called “Variations on ‘America'” wink wink) to Her Majesty, Queen of Canada, where I’m sure temperatures NEVER exceed 82ºF.

Meet My Farmer

Adam Perrin wants to be your farmer.

Hello. I'm Adam Perrin & I Want to Be Your Farmer.

Two seasons ago, I bought a dozen eggs at the Hamilton (NY) Farmer’s Market (held on Saturdays and now in its 36th year), for export to Takoma Park, where our Farmers Market’s eggs are always sold out by the time I arrive after church, if I can even get to the market before the 2 PM closing bell. Sunday morning markets are great for Seventh-Day Adventists, thick on the ground in Takoma Park; Roman Catholics, with their Saturday Option; Jews; Muslims; Wiccans; Atheists; Occasional Churchgoers… but not for your garden-variety Professional (read: paid) Protestant, who has to be there every week from before dawn (most of the year, now that Daylight Savings Time has become a farcical eight-month extravaganza, Thank You, George W. Bush and your Republican-controlled Congress and your Skanky Bedmates: Lobbyists for Movie Theaters and Shopping Malls and Big Box Stores, but I don’t want to use up all my blog ideas in one article) through the lunch hour, and on toward mid-afternoon. I opened the paper carton (remember my eggs?) and was taken aback, delighted by subtle color variations among the dozen individuals before me. Each egg was unique; together, they cast a tawny rainbow.

Last year, during another of my too-infrequent visits to the Hamilton Farmer’s Market (and to my homeland), I stopped at Quarry Brook Farms’ stand, and was again dazzled by a dozen beautiful eggs, this time artfully, enticingly displayed. I told the tall, thin, bearded young man working the booth that I had previously bought his eggs, and had gotten particular joy out of looking at them, almost to the point of not wanting to eat them. His response was quiet, laconic. (Maybe he thought I was some effete city boy who viewed food as art more than sustenance? Go figure.) He spoke in the local rural accent, the one that first intrigued me, years ago: how can people who live so close to each other, and who interact so much, possess such different inflections? I picked up his business card, and eggs, and moved on through the Market.

Back in Maryland, I visited Quarry Brook Farms’ website <http://quarrybrookfarms.com/&gt;, where I found out that Adam Perrin wants to be my farmer. I was pleased to meet online a young, articulate (if a bit taciturn in person) heir to a family farm in our area, who is working to change the terms of family farming in Central New York, an area full of struggling dairy farms, abandoned pastures and hope in short supply for the future of the industry and the culture. Pro-fracking signs seem to be more common on the grassy verge of a farm field than anywhere else in the region.

Around the start of Lent, my partner, who’s work has taken him deep into the difficult history of the Holocaust, began reading a troubling book called “Eternal Treblinka: Our Treatment of Animals and the Holocaust” (by Charles Patterson, ), and was moved to keep vegetarian for Lent, later continuing on well past Easter. I returned again to the Hamilton Farmer’s Market in late May, and, drawn back to Adam’s stand by my vivid memory of the beautiful eggs and his website, found myself caught in the collision between supporting Adam’s commitment to organic, humanely raised livestock (by buying some meat) and my ethical failure of eating any meat at all. I took the “low road”, and bought some veal, of all things; Adam cautioned that this wasn’t like supermarket veal, that it wouldn’t be as tender or mild-flavored, that the calves were pastured with their mothers and treated humanely. He said that each year, the cows produced more young than he could keep, and, rather than ship them off to be raised and butchered in the cruel, industrial way, he held onto them until the end of the season, giving them the best short life they could have.

But I was still troubled. Back in Maryland again, I e-mailed Adam to ask if, during another trip home, he would meet with me and talk about ethical farming.