Friday, December 23, 2011

And Now, Some Non-Denominational Holiday Stuff

This post has nothing to do with My Little Pony.  Sorry about that; I promise it won't happen again.

What it is about is the holiday season, which we are now in the midst of.  I hope you'll read it, even if you don't celebrate anything this time of year.  If you're just here for ponies and want to skip this post, that's fine too; I completely understand.  But if you're willing to indulge me, everything's below the break.

I am not a particularly 'religious' person, as the word is commonly used here in America (whether that definition has anything to do with actually being religious is another matter entirely, but I'm not here to argue semantics).  I do celebrate Christmas, but for me it's not primarily about baby Jesus.  Heck, it's not even about Santa Clause and presents.  For me, Christmas is a time to spend with family and remember how lucky I am to have them.  In fact, that's what I'm doing right now--spending my time with family.  This week's updates are in the hand of the auto-post feature, and I'm just hoping it doesn't make a mess of the blog while I'm not attending to it.

I'm fortunate enough to come from a tight-knit, loving family.  I know that many don't share that blessing, and the last few years have taught me to appreciate how lucky I really am.  But everyone has someone: someone they trust, someone they care about, someone they love unconditionally.  I've worked with adults and children of all backgrounds and all ages, and have never yet met anyone who didn't have at least one person they knew they could count on when it really mattered.

For some of you, there might be dozens of people who fit that description.  For others, maybe it's just one.  No matter who or how many, those people are the kind of family I'm talking about when I say this: this holiday season, tell them that you love them.  I mean it.  Talk face-to-face, call them on the phone, send a letter, whatever.  But say the words "I love you" somewhere in there.  I know this is the corniest advice you'll ever get, but it's also the best advice I have to give.  In the last few years, several people close to me have passed on.  I think about them a lot this time of year, and about those with whom I can still share my life.  I try to let them all know how much they mean to me throughout the year, but I'm a pretty stereotypical guy in a lot of ways: I don't "do" emotional stuff.  This time of year, I make a special effort to set that aside, at least long enough to let the people around me know how much they matter to me.

I already know that one of the people who I'm going to say "I love you" to is going to laugh it off and tell me to stop being such a faggot (he always does).  C'est la vie.  To me, it's more important to let him know how much he's meant to me than it is to dodge a playful (albeit politically incorrect) jibe.

Anyway, that's my big piece of advice.  Feel free to ignore it if you want--I'm just a stranger from the internet, what do I know?  But I hope you'll at least consider it.  Whatever this season means to you, nothing is more important than the people with whom you share your life.  I hope none of you ever has cause to forget that.

Now that we've established how important family is, how about doing something nice for them?  As it happens, I have an idea for you.  If you're reading this post, it's less than 48 hours until Christmas (unless you come back and read it after Christmas, in which case never mind), but that's still enough time to do something special for the ones you love.

Since this blog is primarily about fanfiction, I assume that most of its readership have done at least some creative writing at some point.  If so, you know what an intimate experience it is to have someone else read what you've written.  Even if the subject of your writing isn't overtly self-descriptive, you're sharing something profound about yourself when you write.  I can tell you from experience that music is, if anything, even more personal.  When you sing or play a tune for someone, there's an intimacy in doing so that can be found in few other avenues of expression.

So, I'd like to humbly suggest that your loved ones would appreciate a little music this holiday season.  And I'm not talking about giving them a CD for Christmas; I mean performing for them.  If your first thought on reading that sentence was "Hey, that's not a bad idea," then go do your thing; you don't need my help (and I don't want you to feel like you're being patronized--the rest of this post is for people who, musically speaking, are at square one).  On the other hand, if you said to yourself, "Too bad I stink at music," then stay with me!  I'm here to help.

If you went to school in the US, chances are that sometime around 4th grade you spent a few months learning to play recorder.  If you're a normal person, you probably haven't touched one since.  The reason recorders are used in elementary schools is because they're easy to play and dirt cheap.  What they don't tell you in school is that for hundreds of years, the recorder was one of the most important instruments in western music.  Many other cultures also have traditions with recorders or recorder-like instruments.  Although these days people generally think of recorders as toys or "kid stuff," the recorder is a wonderful instrument in its own right (when not being played in unison by two dozen 12 year olds).

This year, my younger sister and I are playing a few pieces for the rest of the family on Christmas (don't tell them, it's going to be a surprise!).  Since she's not a musically inclined person, I've arranged several very simple tunes that can be played as solos or duets for me and her.  I've picked songs that are easy to play, and will sound good on the instrument (another chronic problem with elementary-level recorder: crappy song selection).  I firmly believe that anyone can learn at least one of these songs by Christmas, if they want to.  With that in mind, I'd like to share them with you, the non-musical blog reader.  Think of it as an opportunity to do something you never thought you could, and impress your family at the same time.

If any of this is looking like a good idea to you yet, here's what you need to do now: 1) Get a friend or family member to collaborate with.  If you can't find one then you can play any of these songs solo and it'll still sound fine, but it's more fun with two people.  2) Get recorders.  Start by looking around the house; odds are, you already own one.  If not, you can buy a decent-quality one at any music store for about five bucks.  Trust me, it's money well spent.  As for the second recorder, it'd be nice to get an alto.  They're quite a bit bigger than normal recorders (technically known as "soprano recorders"), and play lower notes.  Again, start by checking around the house.  If you don't already own one, they're a bit more expensive; you're probably looking at 25-35 dollars for a reasonably nice one.  If that's too pricey, don't worry.  You can get two sopranos and still make music together.

If you don't remember how to play the recorder, here's a simple fingering chart.  If you're playing the soprano, compare the note on the page to the top line of the chart, and it will show you what holes should and shouldn't be covered by what fingers.  For playing the alto, use the second line.


Now, you need some music.  I arranged five traditional songs for SA recorder duet, two of which are playable by SS duet and all of which can be played by a Soprano recorder soloist.  These are all easy enough for even a complete non-musician to learn in an hour or less, if my sister's ability to pick them up is any indication.  We'll start with the easiest: Song of the Nuns of Chester.  For this one, you don't even need to be able to read music to play!  Figure out the note fingerings using the chart above.  Play all the quarter notes (the ones with the filled in heads) with the same rhythm, so that each one lasts as long as any other.  For the half notes (the ones with the hollow heads), play them at least twice as long as the quarter notes, but feel free to hold them even longer if you want.  When you get to the next to last measure (the third- and fourth-to-last notes on the Soprano line, with the straight line over them), play it and then start over at the beginning of the song.  When you get there the second time, skip that measure (those two notes) and play the last measure instead.  Try to only breath where there are apostrophes after a note.  That's all there is to it!

For those of you who can read music, however poor you may think you are at it, these are the other songs we're doing: This Endris Night, Blessed Be that Maid Marie, How Vain the Cruel Herod's Fear, and A Kiss for the Baby.  If all you've got are two Soprano recorders, there are SS arrangements of both A Kiss for the Baby and How Vain the Cruel Herod's Fear.  Whoever is the better player should take the second soprano line in both of those, as the part sits low in the instrument's range.

All of these tunes have been arranged so that they only use easy-to-play notes and don't contain any really tricky fingering jumps.  If you're willing to try, I honestly believe that anyone, regardless of talent level, can learn to play any of these songs with only a little effort.  In case the titles didn't give it away, they're all religious tunes.  But, they're also all instrumental.  If you don't emphasize the "Jesus-y" aspects of the holiday season, do like I do and just don't tell anyone the names of the pieces.  "This is a tune from 1500s England" is how I often present tunes like these.

Just like creative writing requires you to be willing to embarrass yourself, so does music.  If you decide to try one or more of these tunes on Christmas, there's no guarantee that it will go well.  But one of the wonderful things about music is that sometimes, who's performing is just as important as what they're doing, or how well they're doing it.  If you play one of these songs for a parent, a sibling, or even a good friend, I promise that no matter how poorly you do, it will be something they'll never forget.  And for my money, memories like that are the greatest gift any person can give.

Happy holidays, everyone.

1 comment:

  1. I gotta say, this is one of my favorite archives to binge on. It sucks, really. I have so many other things I should be doing right now.

    But on a more relevant note, it's currently July! Seems like an equally grand time for some appreciation gestures/performances. I think I'll do exactly that! ...But likely not involving a recorder.