Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

December 14, 2012

The gift of Christmas music

Carrie Stambaugh
The Independent

ASHLAND — Christmas music, and the performing arts that go with it, are some of my favorite Christmas traditions.

From hymns and carols to cheesy pop songs, I love to listen to them all this time of year. Then there are the plays and pageants, choral and instrumental ensembles and other Christmas-themed performances. There are so many wonderful opportunities, it’s hard to take them all in!

These holiday traditions are so immensely joyful because each is an expression, a celebration of human love and emotion that can to be shared year after year, generation after generation. They often grow richer with time, as each individual adds layer upon layer of meaning and memories to them over his or her lifetime. They become greater than the original work itself.

Every time I hear “I want a Hippopotamus for Christmas,” I'm suddenly riding in my family’s minivan, my little sisters buckled in all around me. We’re singing along in our best nasal voices while simultaneously scanning the sky for Santa’s sleigh late on Christmas Eve.

Knowing how much I love that song, my husband, Carl, added it to our Christmas iTunes playlist years ago. Now it also instantly brings to mind memories of us together in our little kitchen singing along while baking each other’s favorite holiday treats, Christmas tree-shaped sugar cookies and gooey Hello Dollies.

Then there is the hymn “Oh Come All Ye Faithful.” I cannot stop the joyful tears it brings to my eyes every time I hear it performed or raise my own voice to sing it. Always from somewhere deep in my heart I can hear my grandmother’s sweet voice, singing it beside me in the candlelight of my childhood church, her warm hand squeezing mine. It’s simply overwhelming.

Another memory-steeped holiday tradition, one that is always being shared and evolving, is the “Nutcracker” ballet with its classical music by Russian composer Peter Tchaikovsky.

I remember the first time I saw the ballet as a very small child. My teenage neighbor, Suzanne, took me to Cincinnati’s Music Hall for the performance. Every detail — from the beautiful, graceful ballerinas to the tuxedoed symphony director and his sea of polished instruments — seemed truly magical to this little girl. It was a wonderful gift, one I still cherish.

I would see the ballet again and again throughout my youth and young adulthood with family members and friends. Each time it was special because of who was there and what was happening in my life at the time.

That is why five years ago when the Moscow Ballet company first brought “The Great Russian Nutcracker” to the Paramount Arts Center in Ashland I insisted on taking Carl, then my boyfriend and soon-to-be fiancé, to see it for the first time. There was something so different about sitting beside the person I loved in the dark and being swept away by it together.

He agreed it was enchanting. Whenever we hear “The Waltz of the Flowers,” we think of that wonderful Christmas season and our first Christmas morning together.

So, this year when the ballet returned to Ashland, we decided to take my Big Brothers Big Sisters “Little Sister” Regina and her grandmother, Joyce, to see it, both for the first time. They, too, loved it. I grew teary watching Regina, who has a passion for music, leaning forward in her seat, soaking it all in.

My mother was also there to share the incredible performance, having driven in from Cincinnati to share the tradition once again with me. It was truly a lovely evening, made even more special because so many of the little ballerinas were the children of people we have known for years. We shared in the feeling of pride they surely felt watching the youngsters twirl and tiptoe on stage.

I left the theater with my soul brimming with happiness.

Sharing something so uplifting and beautiful with your loved ones and your community has to be at least close to the meaning of Christmas.

CARRIE STAMBAUGH can be reached at cstambaugh@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2653.