My neighborhood is all decked out for Christmas, and my own halls are quite proverbially decked as well. I love bringing light and color into the dark days of December. It’s an important way I get into the holiday spirit.
Holiday parties and gatherings are starting to pile up on my calendar. I love catching up with old friends, connecting with family, sharing good food and happy conversation. This is also an important way I get into the holiday spirit.
My checkbook is getting a workout these days. I love making donations during the holidays, sponsoring good causes both large and small. Doing small generous acts is an important way I connect with the holiday spirit.
But the real holiday magic? For me, that comes from only one thing.
“There’s a profound sense in which music opens a secret door in time and reaches into the eternal,” writes John O’Donohue in his book Beauty, The Invisible Embrace. When I first read that sentence, it felt as if O’Donohue himself had opened a secret door into my soul and discovered the secret magic music brings to my life.
When you really listen to music, when you allow yourself to enter into it’s particular rhythm and nuance, you can be lifted out of time and place and into another realm, one where beauty and elegance and story and feeling all meld into one. Where precision and tone and harmony and breath come together to create something new and completely organic. When you really listen in this way, with your whole heart, you will be surprised by how it touches your heart, how it finds emotions and memories you had thought long forgotten.
Sometimes it’s painful. Sometimes music finds things in your soul you wish would stay hidden. But at the same time, it heals the pain with it’s own sweet, melodious balm. And there are certain times of life when music touches you more deeply than others, evoking more memories, transporting you to different places in time, connecting you with a long line of listeners through the ages. Certainly the holidays are one of those times.
O’Donohue writes: “Perhaps music renews the heart precisely for this reason: it plumbs the gravity of sorrow until it finds the point of submerged light and lightness. Unconsciously, it schools us in a different way to hold the sorrow.” Sometimes, especially during these bleak winter days when the world seems to weigh heavily on my shoulder, I come to music as a way to heal.
It never fails me.
I have played music in some form or other for nearly all of my life. I started playing piano when I was 6 and never stopped. I’ve played in orchestras, sung in choirs. Now I play with a group of wonderful musicians in a handbell ensemble, and you can imagine how busy we are during the Christmas season. (Bells and Christmas are a natural combination, apparently.) We start working on holiday music at our first rehearsal in September, and don’t stop until the last program is over in mid-December.
I have piano books of Christmas arrangements that I started playing over 45 years ago, and I dig them out of the music closet every year without fail. Playing those pieces connects me with Christmas past as surely as Ebenezer’s ghost does- but in a much more pleasant fashion. I remember playing them in the living room of my childhood home while my mother and grandmother were cleaning up the dinner dishes. I remember playing them in my own living room while my son built a fort for his stuffed animals underneath the grand piano. I remember playing them in the house all alone, with no one but my two little dogs to listen. Each time I sit down at the piano and start to play, a lifetime’s worth of memories flow from my heart into my fingertips.
And when I finally push back the piano bench, or step away from the bell tables, or even turn off the speaker on my iPad, I feel a surge of both strength and peace. It’s a feeling of deep soul-satisfaction that like no other.
“The soul is the force of remembrance in us,” O’Donohue says. “It reminds us that we are children of the eternal and that our time on earth is meant to be a pilgrimage of growth and creativity. This is what music does. It evokes a world where that ancient beauty can resonate within us again.”
That is magical indeed.
About the Author: Becca Rowan
Becca Rowan lives in Northville, Michigan with her husband and their two dogs. She is the author of Life in General, a book of personal and inspirational essays about the ways women navigate the passage into midlife. She is also a musician, and performs as a pianist and as a member of Classical Bells, a professional handbell ensemble. If she’s not writing or playing music you’ll likely find her out walking with the dogs or curled up on the couch reading with a cup of coffee (or glass of wine) close at hand. She loves to connect with readers at her blog, or on Facebook, Twitter, or Goodreads.