Music for the Season:  Which Season?

by Sam Black

I will write this column, then you can write me back, if you wish. I certainly enjoy any responses that I receive. I was present at the performance of the Duluth Superior Symphony Orchestra on Saturday afternoon, and I was present at the Julebyen concert up in Knife River on Sunday afternoon. The many, many other activities of this past weekend simply escaped my presence. I hope you did attend the Felgemaker concert, the Solar Quartet concert, the Twin Ports Brass concert, or one of the drama productions in motion. You are always welcome at arts venues.

How do we define Christmas?

I know longer know what season it is. If asked about Christmas, I will tell you that a Jewish man was quite probably born in Roman Palestine around 2,000 years ago, who briefly tried to convince his community that taking care of individuals who are less fortunate than they were, was the single most important focus of his life and theirs. He was murdered by the Roman authorities because he was a threat to their social order.

An organization known as the Christian Church carried on parts of his mission, more or less, which includes a lot of music and drama surrounding the celebration of that ancient birthday.  Between December 24 and January 6, Christians all over the globe celebrate and remember their mission in the current world. 

Meanwhile, the commercial corporate world has decided that on November 1 it’s time to get people spending money for nearly two months to find ways to spread Christmas joy to friends, neighbors, and, occasionally, those who are indeed less fortunate than ourselves. Once we cross December 26, the push to spend money stops, and sometimes the celebration stops as early. I don’t know what season to pay attention to.

Holiday Spirit with our DSSO

The Duluth Superior Symphony Orchestra offered a very musical combination this past Saturday. There were moments of religious devotion, there were moments of family celebration, and there were moments of community well-being. Take your choice.
Members of the LOON (Lyric Opera Of the North) company added powerful words to the afternoon. Singers Sarah Lawrence, Vicki Fingalson, John Pierce, and Calland Metts were on hand to sing words of faith as well as words of the overall social scene. The audience got to pick and choose. I rather think that most in the audience departed with a smile, for one reason or another.

For sure, this was an American holiday musical feast, with no real connection to any particular religious tradition. There was a touch of Jewish presence in the Festive Sounds of Hanukkah. And, of course, there was another touch of Christianity, with O Holy Night, Gesu Bambino, The First Noel, and the Wexford Carol, which including the graceful style of Suzie Baer (from the Minnesota Ballet). 

For the most part, however, this was a concert of Americana - albeit flavored strongly by the British author Charles Dickens - celebrating the notion of a cultural holiday at the end of the calendar year. Many songs about snow were on the program, as well as reindeer, angels, jingling bells, lots of greenery, and the nostalgia of being at home during the holiday time frame.

The DSSO was rich and full, Conductor Dirk Meyer was obviously having a very good musical time. The holiday notions of the last week of December were shared on December 2, 2017. It was very fitting to end the program with the Leroy Anderson orchestral piece called Christmas Festival. Eight different tunes were craftily presented, all the way from Jingle Bells to Silent Night. Whatever the Christmas season means in the year 2017, it is difficult for me to sort this out from a musical perspective. If you celebrate Christmas, I hope you find some new ways for removing hunger and homelessness from our planet. Meanwhile, enjoy the abundant music for the next couple of weeks.