Musicians and The Holiday $eason

Try to picture a silent holiday: you walk through a busy shopping mall with all of the holiday decorations, but music is absent.  You try to decorate the Christmas tree with family members, but music is absent.  It’s like a black and white movie, a silent film.  Music adds color, expression and dimension to the picture.  Without music, the holiday season loses its spirit.  When we ask people what’s the most memorable event of the holiday season, they can usually associate a particular memory with one of their favorite tunes.  It’s part of the celebration of the season; that’s the power of music!

The true meaning of Christmas is about giving.  The three kings brought presents for the baby Jesus, expecting nothing in return except for the honor of providing for him.  This year, the Civic Orchestra kicked off the holiday season with the spirit of giving.  We performed free concerts featuring the music of J. S. Bach in retirement communities around the city of Chicago, and concluding with a final performance at the Fourth Presbyterian Church.  All of our musicians also spent some time volunteering in food pantries around the Chicago area.  With the assistance of music, we are able to lift the spirit while building a more concrete bond with people that probably would never have the means to be able to attend the concert hall.

While most people are preparing gifts for all or their friends and families, musicians are busy searching for new gig opportunities.  For most of us, holidays provides critical income to wrap up the year on a positive note, so to speak.  Thanks to Handel, Bach, Beethoven and Tchaikovsky, we can say The Messiah, Christmas Oratorio, Symphony No. 9 and The Nutcracker are among the most popular repertoires of the holiday season, regardless of your instrument. Orchestras usually do these with regular members, but they also need supplementary musicians for certain nuances of the performance.

Besides our standard concert hall pieces, it’s a time to be creative about the traditional holiday tunes.  One simple jingling bell can have a very seasonal effect on anything ranging from a small ensemble to a large orchestra piece. You can find us trying out new variations of tunes in different venues, such as malls, restaurants or even private house parties.

There was one year my friends played a pop-up concert at the garage door front of the Christmas Card Lane outside of San Diego. It is one of the most famous holiday displays within the neighborhoods of San Diego. You can imagine the crowded streets every night after dark when, all of a sudden, musicians appear in such an unexpected place.  It creates a feeling of holiday spirit and warmth, and helps to brighten the mood of the seasonally chilly, dark night, while also being a great time for raising some extra money.

Imagine your fondest Christmas memories – music reminds us of those times.  It helps us through dark winter days because music acts like a light and helps us to overlook the darkness.  Music brings us together so we don’t feel so isolated and alone due to the tendency to stay indoors during colder weather.  Sometimes we musicians sacrifice some portion of our holiday time with families in order to provide some live music at a restaurant or other such venue for the benefit of others.  So next time when you walk by some musicians working hard during odd hours, give them a smile back. And more importantly, fill that little hat in front of them, because we can’t make a wonderful holiday without music!

The end of the year also means exams at the end of the semester. In homage to that, here is a song with poetry by the American composer David Rakowski.

The Music Theory Song (Intervals Roasting)

Octaves roasting on an open fire
Major sixths nipping at your nose,
Major seconds being sung by a choir,
Chromatic alterations of the scale.

Diatonic scale
A turkey and some mistletoe
Major sixths make the season bright
Will drop a perfect fifth tonight
There ’s minor sevenths on their way
They’ve loaded lots of minor seconds on their sleigh
And every minor sixth will want to spy
to see the supertonic prolonged over five.

And octave offering this simple phrase
to major sixths one to ninety-two
Although it’s been said many times, many ways,
Meet the Flintstones to you.

Happy holidays!

By Civic Fellow and pianist Pei-yeh Tsai


TOP: “Christmas Music” from AdWeek, December 2015, Robert Klara.