Tag Archives: Christmas

Hats

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The ones we wear, and the ones that wear us…

Every year shortly before Christmas, my chorus, The Knoxville Choral Society, collaborates with The Knoxville Symphony Orchestra for The Clayton Holiday Concerts, a Christmas tradition in our area for some 30 years and counting.  Concert week is hectic, with late night rehearsals and, for those of us with day jobs, work as usual and 4 shows over 3 days that weekend.  It’s a grueling, exhilarating and fun time of camaraderie for all of us.

Backstage at the venue a few years ago I took the time to pay closer attention to my surroundings than I had in the past.  Among the many quirky artifacts I noticed were numerous hats hung up on a wall.  I assume many of them are costume pieces from theatrical productions held there over the years, although some may be actual hats from firemen, soldiers, ball players and other professionals who wanted to leave their mark backstage.

Hats were invented to provide warmth, shelter and protection from the elements.  Over time they became fashion statements as well as parts of the unform for various professions.  Designs also vary from place to place and culture to culture, both for professional and decorative headwear.

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In the Stone Age when I was setting up my social media profile, I gave a thumbnail sketch of my life and the roles I play…the hats I wear.

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No one among us is just one thing, after all.  We all wear many different hats, filling roles as life circumstances call us to do.  Switching from one hat to the next sometimes feels frantic, as we shift among our various roles and responsibilities.  We juggle so many activities and demands from day to day, sometimes from hour to hour.  Some of the hats we wear weigh heavily on our heads, our hearts, as we face hard choices, regarding our health or the health of a loved one.  Sometimes a hat may feel too tight, if we are in a job or a relationship that doesn’t fit us.  Sometimes the hat just doesn’t flatter us or bring out the most attractive qualities in us.  Sometimes it even feels as though, rather than us wearing the hat, the hat wears us.  You get the idea.

We hope to craft for ourselves a life that works, with hats that fit, flatter and feel good.  I hope the hats you wear today sit lightly and comfortably upon you, bringing out your best and giving you warmth, protection and shelter from life’s storms.  (And it doesn’t hurt if they’re cute, too!)

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Take Me There

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Radio days…

This time of year always brings with it a tsunami-sized wave of nostalgia, memories of holiday seasons past and the people who fill those memories.  Sights, smells, flavors and especially sounds, fill my head and heart with both laughter and longing as I recall the many hours I spent “on the board” working in radio stations playing Christmas songs in the solitude of a tiny studio, music unheard at any other time of year except in my memories.

Working on the air was, for me, a chance to touch people without ever seeing them.  Different from live performance in that I spoke to an audience I couldn’t see, radio also allowed my listeners to imagine what I might be like without ever laying eyes on me.  I had regular callers at every station I worked for who, for the most part, were friendly, polite and respectful…even those who flirted and asked me out, sight unseen!  There were also occasional callers who made me feel uncomfortable, even threatened.  Anyone who has ever been on the air has experienced such things, especially my fellow “lady jocks”.  We all have stories to tell!

I’ve been out of the business for a long time now, but listening to the radio this time of year always takes me back to specific times and places.  I can’t hear Dan Fogelberg’s “Same Auld Lang Syne” without being transported to the top of Sharps Ridge, remembering the view from the studio window…often with my friend Ron visiting after finishing his own air shift at another radio station across town, drinking coffee and smiling at me from across the console.  This is the same Ron with whom I shared my shortest radio gig and built one of my longest friendships, until he passed away last year. That relationship is not over…it’s just changed until we’re in the same place again.

A simple song can take me there.

The synth intro to Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime” immediately returns me to my first radio gig in a tiny building in the Florida panhandle.  I worked in the AM studio where I played Southern Gospel music and preaching/teaching programs, while next door the FM station aired “Light Rock & A Little Country”, hence the Paul McCartney holiday offering.  I cut my radio teeth there, learning how to do everything the old-school way because of the antiquated equipment I worked with.  My real-life husband and my first ever “work husband” worked on the FM side, with the work husband and me sharing a shift time and often standing in each others’ studio doors talking and laughing between songs on automation.

A simple song can take me there.

Music is such an evocative force in my life, whether I am singing it or listening to it.  The music I played during my radio days is especially poignant.  Those sounds bring to mind both the places and the people with whom I shared them.

A simple song can always take me there.

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(At my first radio gig, Circe 1989)

 

Meditating On These Things

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Appreciating excellence…

It is 2:30 am on Christmas Eve 2014 as I write this.  My day began with me asking a friend with whom I had lunch plans for a raincheck, because I got up with a thundering migraine.  My body was finally rebelling against me for the week I had put it through!

Last week Knoxville Choral Society and The Knoxville Symphony Orchestra once again collaborated with several other ensembles for the annual Clayton Holiday Concerts.  They traditionally take place the last weekend before Christmas, and the week leading up to them has us all rehearsing every night except Wednesday, pulling late hours and, for those of us who work day jobs, rising at our normal times to get to work.  The week is grueling and exhausting, culminating in 4 concerts over 3 days…but for me, and for many others, it gives us much more than it takes from us.  For some people, it is the thing that finally puts us into the Christmas spirit.

This year’s concerts were also the final holiday outings with the KSO’s outgoing conductor, Maestro Lucas Richman, so there were poignant memories of concerts past, appeciation expressed for the collaboration between the KSO and KCS and, as is my tradition, pictures and brief conversations with the maestro.  This year was  doubly sweet for me because my cousin Katherine shared the stage with us as a member of the Webb Madrigal Singers.  I was thrilled to share a stage with Katherine and her talented friends, and even more thrilled to have the chance to introduce her to the maestro before he leaves the KSO.  I had my friend Elizabeth snap their picture together with the hope that it’s a weekend that Katherine will always remember.  (The picture below was made at supper between Saturday shows.)

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In conversations on social media and in person, many of us said that we are going to miss the maestro, and he expressed his gratitude for our words.  I had the chance to tell him that I don’t “sling praise around much, but when I see excellence in my life, I do appreciate it.”  And yes, I said it with just those words.  Maestro knows by now that I am a goofball and “what you see is what you get” with me.  Mama passed along her gift for colorful communication to me (for better or for worse, I’m afraid!).

Thre is so much mediocrity in the world, and I am as guilty as anyone of not always striving to attain my full potential in every area of my life.  I like to believe that I give my best effort to everything I do, but I know better.  And even on days when I give my best, that “best” is often not very good.  In music and in life, I need to meditate on those things that are good, noble, praiseworthy…and to give thanks to, and for, the people who remind me what excellence looks like.

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The Comfort/Sanity/Happiness Kit

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Because we all need our marbles…

I enjoy giving goofball presents to people who appreciate my sense of humor and understand the spirit behind the gift.  Gag gifts between me and Reed at Christmas happen from time to time, although it is not an annual occurrence.  He started it when we were kids and he bought me a Chia Pet.  Over the ensuing years various crazy presents have passed between us, such as monkey dishes (I gave him a set the year after he presented me with a monkey lamp), bright pink slip-on sandals from him that decorated my office wall back when I had an office, and an extremely ugly “giggle jug” lamp that I gave him which had a goofy smiling face on one side and a frowny, but hilarious, face on the other.  My crowning goofball gift to him happened the Christmas I was able to obtain a beauty school head that a friend’s sister-in-law had worked with as she completed her training to be a hairstylist.  Score!  It was by far the goofiest gift I have ever given to Reed, or to anybody for that matter.  One Christmas, Reed overwhelmed me with 4 additions to my ugly necktie collection!  I actually wear my outrageous ties now and then, so this gift was priceless.

I have been working on an idea for a comfort/sanity/happiness kit to give to friends and family who need one or all of those things, especially in times of sadness or stress.  It would contain things like bubble wrap for stress relief (who doesn’t LOVE to pop bubble wrap?!  Again, when I had an office, I kept bubble wrap in it to work off my frustration);  A Slinky, for the soothing sound it makes as it passes from one hand to the other; and some jingle bells for those moments when a little music is needed.image

And definitely some marbles.  Who among us doesn’t occasionally feel like we have lost our marbles?  The gift of marbles assures the recipient that, no, you haven’t lost your marbles, because right here they are!

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The comfort/sanity/happiness kit might contain other items like bubble bath or a scented candle, a mix CD of music tailored for the recipient (a few people still actually use CDs, I think!), a book the recipient might like, a special snapshot, a recipe, or a jar of bubble-stuff to blow bubbles at the world. It’s a lot better to spread bubbles than profanity (although, I’ve been known to spread both!).  The only limit to the kit is one’s imagination and the desires/tastes/needs of the person who will receive it.

What would be in YOUR comfort/sanity/happiness kit?

The contents of mine would vary day by day…but I would always want, and need…

My marbles.

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The Things We Leave Behind

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Reflections as 2013  comes to a close…

I’ve been at a loss about writing this post because I don’t want Patchwork And Potpourri to be sad, and right now there is a lot of sadness in my world.  Several friends have lost family members.  In other parts of my world, relationships are strained, stressed and broken.  People sometimes can’t get along, or maybe even stand the sight of one another.  Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s don’t magically make these issues disappear…in fact, in some cases, the holidays just make these situations more painful.

Lots of holiday movies paint a picture of perfect people living perfect lives, snuggled next to roaring fires in snow-covered cottages with steaming mugs of cocoa.  There are blissful children around a Christmas tree laden with gifts.  It’s all very  Norman Rockwell.  My favorite holiday movie depicts quite a different scenario, one in which the protagonist thinks the world would be better off if he had never been born.

I had the chance recently to read Philip Van Doren Stern’s novella “The Greatest Gift”, the story upon which the classic Frank Capra movie,  “It’s A Wonderful Life” is based.  While the movie fills in a lot of elements not in the original story, the essence remains the same.  One person’s life makes a difference.  We all leave something behind.

In a series of concerts I sang in the weekend before Christmas, I spent some time looking more closely at my surroundings in the venue than I ever have before.  I wrote a bit about this and shared some musical instrument photos in my most recent post here.  Particularly fascinating to me were the many pieces of memorabilia backstage.

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Items ranging from poignant to ridiculous adorn almost every corner, ledge and inch of wall space.

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I don’t know why I’ve never paid any attention to all of the “stuff” backstage before, but this year I noticed it as though for the first time.  Among the various visual stimuli are decades worth of graffiti scrawled on the cinderblock walls.  I can’t help wondering about the people who have marked on the walls, left hats and boxing gloves and other items there.  And yes, I succumbed to the urge to leave my own mark behind.

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Isn’t that what we all want, after all?  To leave our mark on the world, some evidence that we were here.  A single friend was talking recently about how the holidays make his uncoupled status seem sadder than at other times, and that he just wants to feel like he matters, that he is cared for.  I responded that the search for significance is universal, whether we are coupled or single, gay or straight, old or young or someplace in the middle.

We ALL want to know that we matter.  We want to know that, once we are gone from this world, someone, maybe numerous someones, will miss us and remember us with love.  We want to know that we left something meaningful behind.

As 2013 comes to a close, my prayer is that I have been building something meaningful to leave behind me, that my world is maybe a  little better for my having been here.  I have no human children, so my legacy will not take that form, but I will still have a legacy. We all do.

If someone remembers that I made them laugh, or held them when they cried…if I blessed someone with a song or offered encouragement when it was needed…if I lightened a load or kept someone company…then I’ve left something meaningful behind.  I hope to continue building a legacy of memories, laughter and music for the people I encounter along the way.

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Make Me An Instrument

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Hearing and seeing the beauty around us…

“The Week” has begun.  Every year the Knoxville Choral Society teams up with the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra and various other music/dance ensembles for a series of holiday concerts, and this is “The Week”.  It is a week of rehearsals, final tweaking of the program and last-minute polishing of our weekend musical offerings to the community.  It is always a feast for both eyes and ears, a spectacle of movement, color and sound.

I will admit that I find “The Week” to be a mixed bag of excitement and fatigue.  Ultimately, though, there is a sense of wonderment that so many musicians, conductors, singers, dancers, sound technicians, lighting designers and costumers have all joined forces to make this concert series come together.  Numerous composers and arrangers are represented in each year’s program, and I am always especially impressed at their creative gifts, both in arranging existing music in new ways and in conjuring altogether original compositions.

At last night’s rehearsal I took a few moments to really look at some of the instruments so expertly played by our orchestra friends.  I’ve been around instruments my whole life and it’s easy to take their beauty for granted.  So it is with anything—or anyone—we have become accustomed to.  Looking at these familiar instruments through my camera’s lens brought me a fresh appreciation for their beauty, both in the craftsmanship with which they were fashioned and in the sounds they make in the hands of a skilled player.

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Such intricacy of design and workmanship!  And the marks of use and love worn into them over years, often decades, of playing and working, make each one unique unto itself and bear witness to a life of faithful musical service for both the instrument and the one who plays it.

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The paradox is that even the most expensive instrument is silent until someone plays it, and if it is not played well, all its expensive materials and workmanship don’t amount to much.  By the same token, a skilled and caring musician can take an average, or even poor, instrument and make glorious, beautiful sound pour forth from it.  It is all in the hands and heart of the player.

We have all heard and/or read the famous Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi:  “Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace…”  Especially now at Christmas, which is joyful but also very difficult for a lot of us, for a variety of reasons, I pray to be an instrument of peace in the lives of those I love.  Where there is hatred, let me show love.  Where there is injury, pardon.  Where there is pain, healing.  Where there is stress, calm.  In the noise and clamor and chaos of this world, Lord, make me an instrument of peace in Your masterful hands, bringing serene harmony into the lives of those around me.

Lord, make me an instrument.

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Ghosts of Christmas Past

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Nostalgia has me going in circles…

I was invited, and very much looking forward to, a wedding this evening. However, my body had other plans. After a week and a half of not feeling well I finally dragged myself in to the doctor’s office today and left with a prescription for some strong antibiotics, as well as a medium-sized dose of self-pity. It’s very cold outside, and that cold seems to have seeped into my very bones tonight. Oh well, I thought, if I can’t be at the wedding of my two friends, at least ‘The Grinch” is coming on and I can enjoy that. Imagine my disappointment when, instead of the animated 1960’s television classic, the opening credits to the modern-day theatrical release blared from my TV screen. Not that there’s anything wrong with the movie, I guess. It just is not what I was expecting, and not what I wanted.

Hence this blog post. This time of year finds me revisiting Christmases of my childhood, youth, early marriage…ghosts of Christmas past, I suppose, the circle of years. I remember kid-Christmases with Reed and our cousins at our house on Ford Street and their house on Arnold Street, when dolls and teddy bears and toy trucks were the things our fondest little dreams were made of.

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I still have my last Christmas present from Granny before she died, a little black and white panda bear. It has a music box inside it that used to play “Frere Jacques”, but the winding key was lost decades ago. Later Christmases on Ford Street, and then on Denwood after the bridge took the Ford Street house, included a big supper with lots of family coming and going on Christmas Eve, which was always when we opened presents and had our gathering. Mamaw and Papaw would be there, after Dad or Reed would go and pick them up. Mamaw and Papaw were homebodies and often huffed and puffed about coming over, but they always had a wonderful time once they were there. One year I remember we all got watches for Christmas, Mamaw and Papaw included.

Often Aunt Ruby and Aunt Martha spent the evening with us as well, contributing something to the dinner table and providing lots of love and laughs. A highlight for me was always after supper and presents, when we’d gather around the piano and sing. Mama always played beautifully and sang alto, and the rest of us harmonized on familiar Christmas carols and old-timey songs out the hymnbooks that are in my collection now. Aunt Martha singing “Ivory Palaces” echoes in my soul to this day, her sweet soprano drifting through the recesses of my memory.

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For a large part of my life, I was unaware that my Mamaw played both piano and organ.  Once she asked Mama if she could play the piano, and Mama said, “Why, sure, Mamaw, play it all you want!”  And she did, like a house afire!  This side of Mamaw was a revelation to me, and what a kick we all got from seeing and hearing her play with such vigor and pleasure.

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Papaw enjoyed our musical holiday tradition as well, often adding his voice to the female chorus.  Dad would usually sit reading quietly, and Reed generally took the pictures, including, I believe, the second and third ones posted here.  He was a photographer from a very young age.

Some of my Christmas gifts have been memorable, like the “watch” Christmas, and the year Granny gave me the musical panda bear.   One year Mama and Dad gave me my “hope chest”, a lovely cedar box with its natural striated red and golden grain left showing, a gift which made me weep with joy.  The year Jeff proposed and gave me my ring and the first place setting of our good china was a milestone Christmas, as was our first married Christmas when all I asked for was a good winter coat (which I still own and can once again fit into!).

Some years the gifts were quickly outgrown or forgotten.  Some gifts, I am ashamed to admit, were disappointing to me.  Looking at all the decades of Christmases, I realize that the true gifts did not come stowed under the tree wrapped in shiny paper.  The true gifts came as we made circles.  Circles around the supper table sharing food, laughter and well-worn family stories.  Circles around the piano, blending voices in harmony as we sang other well-worn stories from out of the hymnbooks.  Circles now incomplete down here because Mama, Mamaw and Papaw and The Aunts have gone to celebrate their Christmases in Heaven.  I look forward to the day when in Paradise every day will be like Christmas…when once again our circle will be complete.