I don’t remember when exactly it happened. I think it was 2005, or maybe it was 2006. But I distinctly remember that I didn’t want to celebrate Christmas anymore.. or at least to cut way back on the ways that I observed it.
I think it was commercialization that dampened my "holiday spirit." The expectation to find the perfect Christmas presents - omg, plural! 😰 - led me to actually ask people, “What do you want?” so I wouldn't get it wrong. I became anxious because I was worried I would disappoint the recipient, and that feeling only abated after all the presents had been opened on Christmas Day. Then I noticed others started asking me this same question, so I started asking myself, "What was the point of the holiday? Why celebrate at all?"
It’s two weeks before Christmas 2015. I joined the BBE as Brandi’s co-director. We put together a one-off performance of Christmas music for the Fourth Presbyterian Church concert series. We called the program “Christmas in the East.” It was a “high art” kind of concert, featuring arrangements of Polish carols by the fabulous Mark Nowakowski and variations on other carols like "What Child is This."
There was something about that performance that brought back the Christmas spirit for me. I’m pretty sure that “something” was the audience. This particular concert series is fantastic and one of the best-attended series in the city, but even with that I’ve been to several concerts there where over half the seats were empty. For this concert, it was standing room only - every musician's dream! I can’t be sure why they were all there. I doubt all or even most of them were avid concert goers. If I were to guess, I image most just came in because they saw “Christmas” in the title of the program on the Michigan Avenue street advertisements. They came because they wanted to hear holiday music.
What struck me was that the audience had this glow about them. That’s not descriptive at all, and it sounds lame, I know. But I think you might know what I mean. It’s just an intangible feeling, energy, something special. It wasn’t the kind of concert where half of the people in the room are falling asleep, and the other half have a blank look on their faces. People were happy, smiling, and engaged. It was palpable.
We (e.g., the BBE) talk about how important shared musical experiences are for everyone involved - musicians and audience alike. At that concert, the audience shared a little bit of their love for Christmas and the holidays with me through their presence, their singing - yes, we encourage people to sing! - and their smiles.
That’s what the holidays have become to me: sharing moments and memories with others. Through those carols, my holiday spirit was renewed. They reminded me that the most valuable gifts are intangibles, like kindness and good cheer - and that I can offer the pretty awesome gift of music to others.
Two years later, we’re back for the holidays with a brand new program of Christmas Carols. I hope you’ll join me for one of our three performances. I also hope you’ll consider giving the gift of your support to the BBE this year through a donation, which will help us continue giving the gift of music all year round.
Thomas sings like a girl and that's awesome. He's one of the BBE c-directors, conducts choirs at Holy Name Cathedral, performs across the United States, and teaches private voice out of his home in Chicago. He earned degrees in voice from Texas Woman's University and Alderson-Broaddus University. He loves Starbucks, donuts, and cats, and he wants you to join him for Carols 2017!