Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Heart Sings Unbidden

Luciano Pavarotti in VĂ©lodrome Stadium, 15/06/...
I've never known a single person who sounded glad when admitting they couldn't sing. Many have joked about it, covering over their off-key efforts with humor (a healthy thing to do, by the way), but no one has ever said they were happy about it. They've all loved music and I'm sure they sang privately, but in public, they refuse. I've always wished I could wave my Harry Potter wand (or its equivalent) and put in what nature had left out.

Sleigh bells ring, are you listening? I have a strip of them hanging on my front door and my dog has one he loves to wear around his neck. A beautiful sight, we're happy tonight, walking in a winter wonderland. Unable to sing doesn't mean musically disinclined. Ever wonder why so many lead guitarists avoid the microphone while playing? Uh huh, that's right. I've heard some great songwriters perform in concert and found myself wishing I'd never bought a ticket.

But whether Luciano Pavarotti or the poorest of imitations, there are times when we can't do anything else but. Even if, on our best days, we couldn't "carry a tune in a bucket," as my father used to say, when experiencing joy, we want to sing. More pervasive than pleasure and far deeper than happiness, joy fills us up until there's no room at the inn for anything else. It's what my friend was feeling yesterday when she announced she was pregnant and it's what I felt as I read her news.

A frosty Christmas Eve, when the stars were shining, I traveled forth alone, where westward falls the hill, and for many, many a village, in the darkness of the valley, distant music reached me, peels of bells were ringing. It was 1913, on the eve of war, when poet Robert Bridges left the warmth of fire and home and journeyed into the night. Then spread my thoughts to olden times, to that first of Christmases, when shepherds who were watching, heard music in the fields. And they sat there and they marveled, for they knew they could not tell, whether it were angels or the bright stars a singing.

In the presence of joy, even if the voice is silent, the heart sings unbidden.

(Noel: Christmas Eve 1913, by Robert Bridges, adapted by Lee Holdridge; Walking in a Winter Wonderland by Felix Bernard and Robert B. Smith)

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