Music : Holiday music: Raising voices and spirits
We're almost ready. The halls are decked, Jack Frost has found our noses, Santa's dancing in front of Edgartown Hardware and a cheery life-size Grinch is sitting on a stool at the ArtCliff diner in Vineyard Haven.
But for many of us, the holiday ritual is only completed with the sounds of its music. On the Island, the Minnesingers and the Island Community Chorus make their contributions. Now it's up to us.
"Singing is part of the holiday experience. We seem to want to do it," Pastor Rob Hensley, pastor of Grace Episcopal Church in Vineyard Haven, said last week amid the organized chaos of volunteers wrapping Red Stocking gifts for more than 350 needy Island kids.
Nis Kildegaard, a long-time member of the Island Community Chorus, agreed that this year holiday songfests might have special allure. "The crowds at our holiday performances were the largest we've ever seen," he said.
United Methodist Church organist Ed Rose also thinks this season may be different: "I was at the church office in Oak Bluffs last week when two different programs were being held. People were singing and dancing, including 70- and 80-year-olds. I've never seen so many people show up in the middle of the day like that before."
Beginning today and continuing through Christmas night, we can sing - or just listen - to a host of holiday voices raised around the Island.
Here's a menu of participatory musical events and some listening options over the next two days, ranging from the glory of Handel to Bob Dylan's version of the holiday spirit.
You can jingle up to Chilmark crossroads at 5 pm today when the Chilmark Community Church offers a half-hour service with carols and lessons.
Just down the road at the Agricultural Hall in West Tisbury, a Christmas pageant and the voices of the First Congregational Church children's choir will sing carols of the season, also at 5 pm. At 10 pm on Christmas Eve in the church, the adult choir will lead caroling at a candlelight service led by the Rev. Cathlin Baker. "The children also take part in a tableau, entering as their characters are introduced in the lesson," she said.
The holiday celebrations at Grace Episcopal Church in Vineyard Haven begin today, Christmas Eve, at 5:30 pm with the annual reading of "When the Chimes Rang," a medieval children's story of a special gift to a cathedral whose chimes had not rung for several generations. Pastor Rob Hensley has been giving the reading for a decade. "It's intended for children but the adults often like it better," he said.
Grace Church will also offer caroling at 8:30 pm before its Candlelight Festival with incense at 9 pm followed by a Christmas Eve reception. On Christmas Day, Island residents can warm up for the church's annual noon dinner after a 10 am service with Eucharist and caroling.
For a glimpse at Christmas of yore, the three affiliates of the United Methodist Cooperative Parish of Martha's Vineyard will offer a look at holiday worship and music as it was in England nearly four centuries ago. The event is at the Whaling Church in Edgartown, from 7 to 8 pm today.
"Nine Lessons and Carols", a one-hour service, will be led by pastor Richard Rego. Traditional carols will include organ accompaniment by Ed Rose and a trumpet solo by Galen Mayhew, a 14 year-old Chilmark musician.
Mr. Rose explained that the nine lessons refer to old and New Testament descriptions presaging the coming of the messiah, the role of John the Baptist and the birth of Christ. The tradition has 300- or 400-year-old roots in English worship and is still presented at Cambridge and Oxford universities.
"Holiday music reminds us of childhoods in a quieter and smaller time," Mr. Rose said. "The plain 100-year-old tradition of the Whaling Church makes this the quintessential New England service."
For the less liturgical, two local radio stations have developed a two-day traditional and modern holiday play list. WFCC, 107.5 FM, the Cape and Island's classical station, begins a symphonic holiday music presentation at 6 pm tonight and it runs through midnight tomorrow.
At WMVY, 92.7 FM, program director P.J. Finn has crafted an eclectic mix of holiday tunes, headlined by Handel's mighty "Messiah" at 10 pm tonight.
The WMVY holiday set runs from 3 pm today until 6 pm tomorrow, Christmas Day. "The overnight and early morning play list is weighted to classic holiday music- Bing Crosby, Nat "King" Cole, lots of Jon Williams and long form carol pieces," he said. "We want to be part of the holiday family experience, wrapping and unwrapping gifts together."
Funkier holiday sounds include holiday music renditions from Bare Naked Ladies, Leon Redbone, even Bob Dylan's new holiday music CD to benefit Feeding America, a nonprofit that provides holiday meals to people in need. "Dylan singing 'Silver Bells' in the style of The Andrews Sisters seems out of character, but just the idea makes you want to hear it," Mr. Finn said, adding that his personal favorite holiday mix, from Bonnie Raitt and Charles Brown, are in the set.
To hear a host of heavenly voices streaming from beyond our shores, make a quick Internet search for holiday music listening from stations around the world.
Jack Shea is a regular contributor to The Times.