The most incredible thing happened yesterday morning.
I’ve been a Grinchy Scrooge about the holidays this year. I’m overextended, and I haven’t had time to even think about Christmas. I haven’t done any decorating. I haven’t baked a single cookie. I haven’t bought a single gift. I haven’t even sat at the piano and played Christmas music — not once.
Hint: this is not like me.
Then … yesterday morning. Oh! Yesterday morning!
First, you need a little background. Last July — before we decided to pull the kids out of school, before we decided to move into the city to find a decent school and friends for our children — I happened to be in Washington the same weekend Augsburg Fortress was having a music clinic in Seattle.
The clinic was fabulous, but my favorite part was the choral music workshops. We spent two solid hours over the weekend sight-reading through choral music. It was thrilling — especially because I was surrounded by serious musicians. For the first time since college, I was below average in my sight-reading and singing skills!
Of the fifty songs or so that we sightread through, one in particular grabbed me by the heart. A song called, ”When He Comes On That Day,” it combines three-part women’s harmony on the lyrics with a mostly wordless percussion part in the men’s voices. And it has a dancing lilt that perfectly expresses the joyful anticipation of Advent. Best of all, it’s easier than it sounds, if a choir can sing a cappella — and our little choir at St. Matthews rocked at singing unaccompanied.
Just for the record, I am not qualified to direct a choir. But I wanted to sing in one, and somehow when I said that out loud, I found myself directing the fledgling group. And my, oh, my … we made some serious music together!!
Anyway, I left the clinic last July excited about the prospect of singing ”When He Comes On That Day” with our little group. But unfortunately, though we loved St. Matthews, there were simply no children there close to the ages of ours, so when we decided to pull the kids from school, we regretfully made the decision to find a church where our children could make friends their ages.
Though we still miss the wonderful people in Spruce Grove, it was the right decision. Girly Girl is in a confirmation class with fourteen other children, and The Animator is very active in Sunday School and the kids group.
So … fast forward to yesterday morning. We had a rough, rough time waking up. We’d been at Mars’ office party the night before and didn’t get to bed until 2 a.m. I woke with a nasty migraine. And I was heavy hearted over a friend I’d visited in the cancer institute the day before — not to mention the events in Sandy Hook. If we hadn’t been invited to lunch at a friend’s house, we probably wouldn’t have made it to church at all, and as it was, we were ten or fifteen minutes late.
We walked into the narthex just as the choir sang the first note of the anthem.
You can guess what’s coming. Yep, they were singing, ”When He Comes On That Day.”
I was transfixed. Two steps into the building, I just stopped. I knew from the first two notes that it was one of my all-time favorite songs, but it took a measure or so to realize exactly what I was listening to. Once I did, I felt they were singing it just for me.
My family went into the coat room to take off their winter coats, boots, hats, and gloves. I just stood in the lobby without moving. I must have removed my coat and changed into indoor shoes, and Mars must have taken them from me to put away, but I hardly remember. I was so engrossed in the song.
The choir did an incredible job. You can listen to the song on the website, but the sample there is sung with too much legato, without the dancing lilt that I feel in the arrangement. But the choir at Holy Spirit nailed it. The song absolutely rang with spontaneous joy and anticipation.
By the end of the piece, I was fighting tears. So, so, sooo grateful to be reminded that the world — while filled with grief and pain and suffering — is also filled with joy and wonder, and gifts of unexpected grace.
I would have expected to end this blog entry with that line. But after church, I happened to run into one of the singers, a young man who truly expresses joy every time he sings. I told him about walking in and being frozen in place by the anthem.
He said I needed to make sure I told the director, Kim Denis. ”She wrote that arrangement, you know.”
No! I didn’t know! When I discovered the song, I had no idea who she was, and I probably never looked at the name anyway.
I’ve been wanting to sing with the choir, but I couldn’t justify the cost and increased risk of driving into the city once a week, just to sing in a choir. Once we get moved, I promised myself, I will. But I made myself wait.
No more! Come January 9, I am singing with that choir, increased driving bedamned!
Only now I have a problem.
How the heck am I supposed to walk in and sit down in front of this incredible musician and not express my inner gushing, stuttering fangirl?
Edited to add: my friend Jean found a much better version of When He Comes On That Day. I’d say our little local choir still did a slightly better job expressing the joy, but that might be because I could see their huge smiles and their bodies trying not to dance. I might spend much of day listening to this song, over and over. Between this song and Sara Bareilles’ “Love is Christmas,” my Christmas joy just might come back and stay.