This morning, I woke before my alarm went off. I looked at my phone to check the time, and saw three text messages from friends, all wishing me Merry Christmas. One friend thanked me for writing again about Advent, and I felt a tiny twinge of regret, because I didn’t set aside the time to write like I have the past two years.
It doesn’t feel much like Christmas to me this year, and I only blame myself for that–I let the stress of accompanying choirs get in the way of truly enjoying the season.
This morning at church, I played my final accompaniments of the season, and one in particular meant more to me than all the others I’ve played this year.
At the beginning of December, a young teenage boy was asked to sing a solo of “Guard Him Joseph,” a song I hadn’t played in years. He needed an accompanist and since I was already playing four other numbers, what was one more at this point? It’s not difficult music, and while Sally DeFord has a knack for complicated accompaniments, this one is simple (it’s not what you hear in the video, by the way–what I played was quite different).
I practiced a couple of times with the young singer, and this morning he performed it with confidence and innocence. There’s a different between playing for a choir and playing for a soloist. I feel a greater responsibility when playing for a soloist, because if I mess up, it’s much more apparent and can often rattle the singer. So I tend to be a bit more focused, a bit more tuned in to what the soloist is doing, and much more aware of how my playing adds to the overall production.
When I was in high school, my choir teacher once told me she had not taught a student that had my innate sense of musicality, and ever since, I’ve taken that compliment as a responsibility: it’s not enough to just play notes. I must make music out of those notes, and after teaching piano lessons for the past ten years, I can attest that it’s hard to teach that skill.
After the number was over, I looked at the congregation and the choir and saw tissues dabbing at eyes and heard sniffles throughout the chapel. He knocked it out of the park, and I was so proud of such a young kid taking that risk to sing a solo at a Christmas service. I knew both of us created a piece of music–he didn’t just sing notes, and I didn’t just play them.
After the service was over, I was on my way out, and I felt a tug on my sleeve. It was the young singer. “Thank you for playing,” he said, as he gave me a little hug.
“Thank you for singing,” I said. “Don’t ever stop sharing that gift.”
When I spend months preparing Christmas music and accompanying choirs at a most stressful time of year, it is so easy for me to forget that playing the piano is a gift. It’s not something that everyone can do–and I forget too often the words of my choir teacher and the responsibility I have to create music.
I’m glad a young teenage singer reminded me today of the power of creating music, especially at Christmas time. It was one of the best gifts I received this year.