Saturday, December 12, 2009

Songs for My Father

I'm listening to Christmas music now. It's a chilly December evening, about 9:00 pm (21:00) in Starobilsk. I know my sister Andy and brother Loren are doing the same thing in Tallahassee, Florida, even though we are a world and 7-hours apart. That's because it's a family tradition. No matter where we are, we listen to the music.

That's what our dad did as soon as we were done with our Thanksgiving meal, even before we finished the pumpkin pie (or so it seemed). Dad was up playing Christmas albums on our record player, filling the house with the sounds of the season, singing along.

We listened with him, absorbing at some unconscious level the spirit of the music, the deep and abiding love my dad had for his family. One of my earliest Christmas memories, I was about six or seven, was my dad singing "All I want for Christmas is my Two Front Teeth." And, with a twinkle in his eye, "I saw Mama Kissing Santa Claus."

I can't think of Christmas without thinking of my dad. He was the holiday music maestro of all time. Dad loved Christmas and he loved Christmas songs. He loved all of them, and he knew them all: classical, popular, religious, the 50 or 100 top favorites, grand chorale music, carols from other countries.

I'm glad that for my dad's last Christmas, in 1976, we had a white Christmas and a huge family reunion in Rochester, with aunts, uncles, cousins, and his beloved grandchildren, along with some great caroling. I like to think it was one of his best Christmases ever.

My dad never ran out of music. Hark the Herald Angels Sing. It Came Upon a Midnight Clear. Silent Night. What Child is This. Oh Come All Ye Faithful. We Three Kings. Oh Christmas Tree. Away in a Manger. Oh Holy Night. We listened to the Morman Tabernacle Choir, local choirs, the Berlin, London, New York and other splendid orchestras of the day. Our hearts were filled with the glorious sounds of violins, organs, trumpets, drums, soloists, and hundreds of voices singing hallalujas.

My sister , brother, and I all share this same memory, as vivid as if it were yesterday. We hear the songs. We hear dad singing. He is watching mom bake fruit cake (a sacred family recipe) and dozens of cookies, helping out where he can. We are decorating the tree (just so for my mom). Hanging the stockings by the chimney with care. The music plays on.
Mom made sure he played Tschaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite, because part of our tradition was going to the ballet at the Eastman theatre. I loved the Russian dancers, but I never dreamed I'd be in a country where Russian traditions reigned.

I also remember a Festival of Carols at the Eastman, with about 50 church choirs from around Rochester, including from our Calvary Baptist Church. My mom sang in the adult choir, led by well-known Eastman organist and voice teacher Harry Watts, a close family friend. I sang in the youth choir and found it thrilling.

But best of all, perhaps, dad's Christmas repertoire included the popular classics: I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas. Let it Snow. Jingle Bells. Chestnuts Roasting by an Open Fire. The Drummer Boy. Dad loved Bing Crosby, Andy WIlliams, Nat King Cole, Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, all the wildly popular talents of that day. Now we love them, too. When we hear the music, we hear our dad.

I'm listening to Silver Bells now, sipping tea with a bit of cognac to toast to my dad and the memories we cherish. Cheers, Dad! And cheers to one and all.

It Came Upon a Midnight Clear

It came upon the midnight clear,
That glorious song of old,
From angels bending near the earth,
To touch their harps of gold!
'Peace on the earth, good will to men,'
From heaven's all gracious King!
The world in silent stillness lay
To hear the angels sing....

For lo! the days are hastening on,
By prophet bards foretold,
When, with the ever-circling years,
Shall come the Age of Gold;
When peace shall over all the earth
It's ancient splendors fling.
And all the world give back the song,
Which now the angels sing.

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