by Harlow E. Hopkins, Editor
THE “W” OF CHRISTMAS
Christmas Is For Real People
I want to reflect with you today on three senses of what I will call the “W” of Christmas. The FIRST sense is the “W” that begins the word “War.” As the carol we’ve just heard reports, the first Christmas became an occasion for war as King Herod slaughtered hundreds of children, trying to destroy the Christ Child. If you followed the news, then you know that the War over Christmas still rages on. It is a struggle well described by Max Lucado in a legend from India’s famed Taj Mahal.1
It seems that “the favorite wife of the emperor Shah Mahan died. Devastated, the Shah resolved to honor her by constructing a temple that would serve as her tomb. Her coffin was placed in the center of a large parcel of land,” and construction of a magnificent temple began around it. As time wore on, however, the Shah's grief for his beloved wife was increasingly eclipsed by his passion for his great construction project.
One day, while walking across the building site, the Shah’s leg bumped against a wooden box. Brushing the dust off, he ordered a worker to throw the box out” – not realizing that he had just ordered the disposal of the one true love of his life. “The one the temple was intended to honor was forgotten, but the temple was erected anyway. Difficult to believe? Perhaps. But eerie nonetheless. Could someone build a temple and forget why?” asks Lucado. “Could someone construct a palace, yet forget the king?”
“How can they forget the glory of this night?” “How can people forget what happened in that stable?” some ask in the War that rages today. “How can they throw Jesus out of our Christmas songs and order the disposal of his manger from the public square? How can they reduce the glory of God come to save human beings to a mere frenzy of lights and shopping? Don’t they realize what becomes of a people consumed with building palaces, instead of honoring the royal Love that is the season’s reason and the Source of peace and goodwill our world so desperately needs?
What do you think? Is all the debate over Christmas today just much ado about nothing? Or is it possible that we HAVE lost a proper sense of wonder and gratitude before the marvel of what happened on Christmas Eve long ago?
If truth be told, I feel some sympathy for those on the other side of this War over Christmas. If Christmas is going to be about jamming an arrogant angry religion down everyone’s throat… If it’s really about asserting moral control or getting everyone in line with “W’s” politics or somebody else’s ideology… then I can see why some would rather sing “Away With The Manger.”
But Christmas is not about this. At its heart, Christmas is about what happened once to real people like you and me and how that Love and Goodness still meets people like us along the roads we walk. There is a SECOND “W” of Christmas that bears some thinking about tonight too. Christmas is about much more than the War that rages in the culture today. It has to do with the conflict that boils in our own hearts. I can’t speak for you, but I know that when I come to Christmas each year I find myself facing the fact that there are two sides to my life. There’s the side I want everyone to see – the part of me that’s well-mannered and tailored, the part that shows up at the Christmas party or at church or work, neatly packaged, taped up, and tied off.
But inside the box, there are some dead and rotting things that I don’t much like brushing up against. There are things I’ve done that I’m ashamed of and never can quite forget. There’s the part of me that is a selfish spouse way too concerned about my own feelings and agenda to love my wife in the way I once vowed to. There’s the part of me that is a lousy parent, blowing the opportunities I have with my kids right now. There’s the side of me that my workmates whisper about when I’m not around. There’s a part that has given up on being a great blessing in this world – a side that is settling for all this and doubting it could ever change.
Of course, that’s not the only side of me. But it’s these twin selves, this “double-me” that makes me wish that somewhere there really is a power that can renew my life from the inside out. Is there a “double-you?” Is there any real hope for people like us? YES, there is – but it only comes from above.
Beneath the Hallmark card images we have of the Christmas story, its players were very real people. They were people whose marriages had gone from better to worse… whose family life was disappointing them… who faced old-age fearing that they were long past prime and only death lay ahead. If you read on in the book, you learn that Jesus transformed the lives of businesspeople with ethical problems, single people with a broken love-life, wealthy folk, political junkies, seeking students, sick people, and those tired of mere religion.
Most churches are made up of people like that. Churches aren’t museums for saints; they are hospitals for sinners. What unites us is not simply the fact that we are facing real issues. It is that we are finding an interactive relationship with the God who came to offer us real help.
You see, there is a FINAL “W” of Christmas I want to touch on. It is the one seen by a parent who writes of a December when “I found myself exhausted, unable to appreciate the precious family moments, and of course, the true meaning of Christmas.
My son, Nicholas, was in kindergarten that year. It was an exciting season for a six year old. For weeks, he'd been memorizing songs for his school's ‘Winter Pageant.’ Because the school system had long stopped referring to the holiday as ‘Christmas,’ I didn't expect anything other than commercial entertainment - songs of reindeer, Santa Claus, snowflakes and good cheer.
“When my son's class rose to sing a song boldly titled, ‘Christmas Love,’ however, I was surprised. Nicholas was aglow, as were all of his classmates. Those in the front row held up large letters, one by one, to spell out the title of the song. As the class sang ‘C is for Christmas,’ a child was supposed to hold up the letter C. Then, "H is for Happy," and on and on, until each child would help to form the complete message, ‘Christ-mas Love.’" Even watered down for public consumption, who can argue that Christmas is all about Love? It’s a fine song. Or is it just possible that there is sweeter music still?
The Winter Pageant performance was going smoothly, until suddenly, we noticed her; a small, quiet, girl about halfway down the front row holding her letter “M” sign upside down. The audience of children began to snicker at the mistake. But she had no idea they were laughing at her, so she stood tall, just proudly holding up her "W". The teachers tried to shush the children, but laughter continued until the last letter was raised and, suddenly, we all saw it together.
A hush came over the audience and eyes widened. Suddenly, many of us remembered why we were there, why we celebrated the holiday in the first place, and how even in the midst of the war outside and the conflicts within us, still there moved a peace and grace trying to reach us all. For when the last letter was held high, the message read ever so clearly: "CHRISTWAS LOVE".
And He still is. I proclaim to you this day good tidings of great joy which reach out in love for all people: The great Being who formed this Universe stooped down from eternity and became a human baby. He walked among human beings to show us in word and deed the life for which all of us have been created. He voluntarily gave his life upon a cross to pay off all our spiritual debts and show us the staggering lengths to which God’s love will go to save you and me. He rose from the grave to show God’s power to overcome all that drags us down. He promised his life-renewing Spirit to all who would open their heart to him. And he founded communities of disciples like this one, where anyone can learn from Jesus what life can be.
Now he invites you to come be part of that adventure. You see, Christ was not just love come down long ago. Christ IS the Love that reaches out to YOU from the Pageant today. If you’re weary of the wars of this world, weary of the double-you, ask Him into the Inn of your heart. And I promise you -- just as He did at that first Christmas -- Christ will come, and His new life will be born in you.
1 Max Lucado, The Applause of Heaven.
(© 2006 Christ Church of Oak Brook, Illinois, Dan Meyer, Senior Pastor)
by Billy Madison
Billy Madison has taught instrumental music in the Arkansas Public Schools for 20 years. He holds both the BME in Instrumental Music and the MM in Music Theory and Composition from Arkansas State University. He studied composition with Jared Spears and Tom O’Connor. Madison has played percussion with the Northeast Arkansas Symphony since 1978.
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Saturday, May 23 Da Ponte (and Mozart)in New York City
In 1805, a 56-year-old Italian man of letters immigrated to America. Now, there wasn’t much call for Italian men of letters in America in those days, so over the next twenty years, in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New York, he was, by turns, a grocer, distiller, seller of patent medicines, and owner of a dry goods shop. Eventually he was offered an honorary — that is to say unsalaried — position as Professor of Italian at Columbia University.
In 1825, a troupe of Italian opera singers visited New York, and our Italian friend attended their performances. He introduced himself to the head of the troupe, the famous singer Manuel Garcia, who was astonished to learn the elderly Italian gentleman was none other than Lorenzo da Ponte, the librettist of Mozart’s operas “The Marriage of Figaro,” “Cosi fan tutte,” and “Don Giovanni.”
And so it came about, that on today’s date in 1826, the American premiere of Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” was given in New York City, with Garcia in the title role, in the presence of the man who had penned the opera’s libretto almost forty years earlier.
Amazing as it seems, it’s a true story. But to indulge in fantasy for a moment, let’s pretend that Mozart did not die in Vienna in 1791, and had instead immigrated to America. Mozart would have been 70 in 1826, and could easily have been sitting beside the 77 year-old da Ponte at the American premiere of their “Don Giovanni!”
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by Jay-Martin Pinner
Of Strings and Tuners...
Precollege band directors are expected to have at least rudimentary instrument repair skills in order to keep student instruments playable for imminent rehearsals and performances. String orchestra directors are often surprised by and ill prepared for the repair and maintenance needs of their students. For this column I would like to address changing strings on the violin family instruments and the correct use of fine tuners.
String students who do not feel comfortable tuning their instruments with the pegs should use four steel strings and four fine tuners. Normally this would include string students in elementary school grades 4-6 and middle school, depending on when the string program starts at a particular school.
Tuners are metal screw devices that attach the ball or loop end of the string to the tailpiece of the instrument and allow the student to adjust the open string pitches without turning the pegs for each string.
Tuning with pegs involves using a sophisticated turning/pushing motion that is better suited for an older student’s larger hands. There are pegs on the market that act like fine tuners and are much easier for a young string student to turn. One of the best such pegs is a Caspari™ peg. While these pegs work quite well it is still recommended that young students have a fine tuner installed for each of the four strings. (Because double bassists have easy-to-turn machines with gears to tune their strings no fine tuners are made for bassists.)
Steel strings should be used for elementary and middle school violins, violas, cellos and basses. Steel strings are preferable to gut or synthetic strings for young players. Steel strings respond quickly to fine tuners and generally have a longer playing life than other strings. One of the most reliable brands of steel strings is Super Sensitive, Red Label™. Steel strings may be purchased in fractional sizes for smaller instruments.
Except for an emergency the string size should match the instrument size. Using a .75 string on a .5 size instrument will leave too much wrapping in the peg box and the string will not vibrate well due to improper tension.
When installing a string the student or teacher should follow several steps.
Change only one string at a time. If all four strings are removed at once the bridge will fall and the sound post could fall, necessitating a trip to a string repair technician.
Lubricate the string groove in the nut with pencil. Graphite in lead is a great dry lubricant. Use an old white candle (paraffin) to lubricate the groove in the bridge. Pencil lead can be used on the bridge but it leaves a black mark.
As you install a steel string start at the peg, winding the string wrapping evenly so that the string drops straight from the peg down through the string groove in the nut, across the bridge groove and into the receiving arm of the fine tuner. (When re-stringing a double bass start by threading the string through the narrow slot of the keyhole in the tailpiece. Then wind the string wrapping onto the machine at the peg box, keeping the string as straight as possible from tailpiece to machine.)
If time allows only bring the string up to within a half step of the correct pitch. This prolongs the life of the string, especially those that are gut and synthetic. After settling overnight the string may be brought up to pitch. In an emergency any type of string may be brought up to pitch immediately. Steel strings will hold their pitch with minimal re-tuning. Gut and synthetic strings need several days of re-tuning before they will hold their pitch consistently.
Steel strings come with either a loop or ball on the end that attaches to the fine tuner. When the ball end of the string does not fit between the two prongs of the fine tuner the prongs can be spread further apart with a flat head screwdriver. Exercise caution during this operation or the prongs will break.
Fine tuners should not normally be used for non-steel strings. Non-steel strings are not designed to fit fine tuners and they are much less responsive to fine tuners than steel strings. When a student graduates to gut or synthetic strings a fine tuner is left on the tailpiece for the E string on the violin. Violists often use a steel A string and have a fine tuner for it. Cellists will often use a steel A and D, necessitating the use of two fine tuners.
Students and teachers should regularly check to be sure that fine tuners are not “digging” into the top of the instrument under the tailpiece. Having the teacher loosen the fine tuner and re-tuning with the peg will keep such damage from occurring.
(Reprinted from the Spring 2007 issue of Lines and Spaces)
Jay-Martin Pinner teaches 41 violin, viola, cello and double bass students at Pinner Studios in Greenville, South Carolina. He is also a free-lance musician, guest conductor and adjudicator.