Talking Story

Christmas music

joy_musicTwo days ago, I was on my way down Provo Canyon, a hour-long drive that I can do in my sleep. Flipping through the satellite radio stations, the car swelled with Merry Christmas, Darling by the Carpenters.

It’s too early, I thought, reaching to spin the dial.

I love this song.

It’s cheesy. It’s early November.

I don’t care. No one else can hear.

I opened my mouth and sang.

There was a time in my life when my hours were filled with music, when singing was about rehearsal and performance, about colors and tones and harmony. I don’t sing much any more and never where I think someone can hear me.

I know what I sounded like then and what I sound like now. My middle-aged voice is hoarse with fall allergies and the damage done to my vocal chords more than twenty years ago. Following Karen Carpenter’s melody line, my pitch was flat of true and my breath control left me sucking wind on most of the phrasing.

Alone in my car, I sang anyway. Really, really loudly.

The next song was O Holy Night.

Sang that one, too, cheering as big, fluffy flakes melted to death on my windshield.

I hate snow. Despite what many think, snow and Christmas are not synonymous. Give me a green Christmas at the beach any day.

Which got me thinking. To me, Christmas music should start in October.

Now I don’t work in a mall or a bank or any place that sells Christmas decorations or forces people to listen ad nauseam to holiday cheer. I’m not talking about full-on Christmas pre-Halloween, and certainly not in public.

I’m talking about a more private introspection.

October is when rehearsals for holiday performances start. Choirs and symphonies pass out sheet music for everything from complicated classical pieces to popular pop medleys. Performance schedules are announced. Television timeslots secured. Many years ago, every October for a couple of hours on weekdays, longer on weekends, I’d practice the more complicated phrases on my flute and memorize all the first soprano descants and hallelujahs.

Not a snowflake in sight.

Alone in the car it didn’t matter that my voice was no longer a stratosphering pure soprano. As I sang songs I knew well, I realized my voice was now an off-key smoky contralto, challenging me to fumble for harmonies and thirds when the melody soared past my now less than ideal range. I sounded awful. But for once I didn’t care.

Maybe, just maybe, I’ve grown past comparing what was with what is, with mourning the loss of spotlights and applause to find my way back to the joy of music again.

Maybe I’ll dust off my flute and pull out some sheet music and play to an empty house while the neighbors are all at work. My fingers curved around the steering wheel with muscle memory, flickering through patterns of runs and skips, my lips pursed in anticipation.

An hour of singing Christmas music in early November changed my entire perspective.

And maybe, just maybe, this new idea that’s brewing will give me the freedom to write what I want without worrying about publication, confusing an audience, or building a brand.

Maybe writing will be fun again.

Last night my husband got in my car and turned the key. Christmas music filled the air. He scowled. “Lehua, you can’t be listening to Christmas music.”

“Sure I can. My ears work fine.”

“It’s the first of November. We still have Halloween candy and pumpkin seeds to roast.”

“Not my problem,” I said.

“Lehua, we have a deal.”

“I know.”

“It’s been more than thirty years. You trying to back out now?”

“I promised no Christmas music in the house until after Thanksgiving. What I listen to in my car is my own business.”

He rolled his eyes and changed the station.

Whatever. With the holiday music station on a preset, it’s not hard to tune in again. Tonight I have another hour plus drive to Salt Lake City. I’ll be the one in a red SUV learning the alto parts to Handel’s Messiah, singing alone, loud, and slightly off-key.

You have been warned.

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