By Sarah Skinner
It feels like a bit of a contradiction, my life in music during Advent. Often before Thanksgiving, I have already played Sleigh Ride and other holiday favorites. My job as a freelance violinist means that Christmas festivities begin early. When I don my concert black and take my violin case in hand, I venture onto stages decked in trees and lights, cheer emanating tangibly from the audience. The holiday pops concerts are bright and shiny. But walk into our church, and you’ll see not green, red, and gold, but purple and simple greenery. The music isn’t yet the Christmas favorites like “O Come, All Ye Faithful.” We are quieting ourselves. Waiting. Waiting for something yet to come — for someone yet to come. Not just the babe in the manger, but the returning King of Glory. And we join with all of history in this waiting. The readings from the lectionary aren’t about a silent night and a swaddled babe; rather, they are by turns prophetic and apocalyptic.
At home, with my children, our little homeschool begins an ‘Advent Term,’ a journey through the Old Testament by which we wait with Abraham, and all the others, for the promised Messiah. We are striving to follow the wisdom of the Church and observe Advent, and this encompasses many aspects of our home life, including music.
For as long as I can restrain myself, we’ll listen to Advent music before we break out the Christmas favorites. “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” is a hymn that carries us through Advent, coming full circle in the final seven days leading up to Christmas as we read the O Antiphons. Fortunately, the liturgical police have never come knocking at my door, for as much as my heart longs to truly pause and observe Advent each year, things usually end up a bit of a mishmash. The traditions I grew up with are in some ways different from the ones I observe in church now, and no, I have never waited until Christmas Eve to get a Christmas tree or listen to Christmas favorites!
As Christmas draws close, we are equally likely to put on a vinyl record of Bing Crosby or Harry Simeone as we are to head to the music room for an impromptu carol sing with friends, the older girls sometimes joining in on their violins.
With a recording of the choir of King’s College playing in the background earlier this week, my five-year-old made her opinion loudly known: “Hey! There are too many boys and no girls and not enough organ in this piece!” There are frequent interruptions of this sort, reminders that sharing beautiful music with young children has glimpses of heaven but also moments decidedly less than sublime. The rhythms of the church year keep us grounded amidst the frequent chaos of real life at home with young children. Music that trains our hearts and minds on the season of Advent helps us find the quiet joy we long for.
In this age of Instagram, where it can appear that everyone else’s homes are beautifully decorated, everyone else’s children have matching holiday pajamas, and certainly no one else’s children are bickering ironically as “Joy to the World” plays in the background, it’s a gift to me to be reminded – by those same dear bickering children – that “purple is for preparation,” a song they learn in the Atrium and sing at home. Preparation. Even as I’m rehearsing for concerts, I’m also preparing my heart, and my home – and none of it has to be perfect right now to be very good and worthwhile.
Raising three (soon to be four) small girls, while both my husband and myself work as musicians, I would not describe most of our moments by saying that “All is calm, all is bright.” But I am thankful that through the Word, through music, and through the liturgy of the church, I have glimpses that all is somehow, in moments here and there… right. And Advent reminds us that all will someday be made right forever.