One more week left of constant rehearsals and concerts, then I can go into auto pilot mode until Christmas. Actually, it will be the first year in a long time that I am "done" with regards to Christmas shows so early, so I consider myself lucky.
Next week I have a symphony pops concert (blech!) where besides the ubiquitous "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" jazz arrangement (yes, a symphonic choir of 120+ choristers singing in close harmony!) we are also presenting two Christmas epics by Randol Bass, who is John Williams' answer to an orchestral Christmas. Following that will be a two performances in one day show with the local Baroque Orchestra, with the crowd favourite "Vivaldi Gloria". Don't get me wrong, I love Vivaldi, but if I didn't have to sing the Gloria again for at least thirty more years, I'd be OK with that (I could add Faure Requiem to that list as well, but that's a little off topic).
On to the topic at hand. If it weren't for Christmas, choirs would probably starve to death (most are eating from the bottom of the gruel pot as it is). For the last two yeas, I've managed to avoid programing a Christmas "potpourri" concert in favour of an early November concert. However, it's not to say we haven't done our share of Christmas shows. Last year, My chamber choir was asked to sing at the Symphony's Christmas pops concert - highlights included two Randol Bass Christmas medley's (there are so many thing wrong with that, that I don't know where to begin), and a women's choir arrangement of "Mele Kalikimaka", complete with Hawaiian leis. For a choir that is used to doing programs of the odd Bach Motet, plenty of Vaughan Williams (I'm Anglican after all) and Romantic part-songs of Brahms, Elgar and the like ... Mele Kalikimaka is bit of a stretch. The rehearsals were met with a certain amount of groaning and dissatisfaction from the choristers - no where near a mutiny, but displeasure was in the air. In the end it was an enjoyable experience all around, as symphony concerts often are (it was actually my wife's idea to buy the Leis for the Hawaiian number, putting them on without the conductor's knowledge. It was a great moment). One thing I will not forget though is the look on our financial secretary's face when he was presented with the cheque from the symphony. To which my reply was ... "it's sort of like 'musical prostitution' isn't it." Turns out singing easy Christmas arrangements for two nights would basically cover the costs of our next two concerts, and still have change left over to put into our tour account. It almost makes you feel guilty.
About fifteen years ago, in the prime of my undergraduate career, I joined a caroling quartet. We worked about four or five caroling shows a week starting late November, and closer to Christmas about three gigs a day mostly in shopping malls. The money was lucrative, I made more cash in that month then I did all year as a freelance musician at the time. The music is mind-numbing at the best of times, and only involves being able to sing the right notes, and have enough stamina to sing for three hours, louder than the ambient noise around you. It does nothing to further your ability to sing better (in fact, one might argue the contrary), or improve your general understanding of music and musicality. Yet, wow ... $$
It seems that the public, and businesses, are willing to spend so much money on music during the Christmas season, and we as musicians are wired to take advantage of it. I'd be willing to bet that the majority of funds in any business which are budgeted towards "social activities" go into the annual Christmas party, and entertainment is one of the larger expenses.
I'm not complaining though - secretly, I love it, and I'm not only talking about the money here. Christmas brings out the best in musicians, and even though my friends in my profession are running from gig to gig for the whole month, few complain about it. I'm sure a big part of it is the money that comes with it, however, there is something else, something intangible about it. Perhaps its the larger audiences, the friendly faces in the crowds, the ability for most patron to look past a wrong note or two in favour of MORE. Even at those dreaded shopping mall caroling gigs, there was always a moment, every time we were there, that a young child stopped his or her parents, who were usually in a mad dash to get in and out of the stores, to hear one more verse of "Up on The House Top." "Kid, if you like this ... you should have heard us last month performing Britten's War Requiem!" OK... maybe not yet.
December begins tomorrow and many of us are preparing for a slew of concerts - here's hoping that you see many smiling faces, full houses, and ... some extra spending money!