Sam Burnham, Curator
We’re once again in the midst of the Christmas season. It’s a season that we look forward to and that I always hope to celebrate well but always struggle to engage. We’ve made our world so hectic and intense that it is hard to stop, to focus on what matters, and to truly be in the holiday spirit. I often find myself in a spirit more like Scrooge before his conversion. While I’m not hostile to Christmas, I’m not enjoying it until it has past and it is too late.
So I have to be intentional. I have to focus on things that matter - family and faith primarily. I thought I’d share some of what I do to get my mind and heart right.
Music plays a role in everything for me. While I don’t play an instrument and lack any semblance of a singing voice, I love music and my tastes are pretty broad. But at Christmas I’m pretty traditional. So here are a few of my go-to musical works.
God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen - Annie Lennox
a few years ago, Annie Lennox released a Christmas album. Lennox is incredibly gifted and the entire album is worth a listen but this one song stands out to me. The song focuses on the story of the birth of Christ and the announcement the angels made before shepherds, proclaiming the Incarnation - Messiah. In the video, Lennox ties many old Anglo-Saxon traditions and shows the way Christianity and Christmas would have been presented in Britain long ago.
Concerto Grosso in G Minor, Opus 6, Number 8 “Christmas Concerto” - Arcangelo Corelli
I first heard this piece played as an opening overture to a performance of Handel’s Messiah. I’ve always been partial to strings and while I don’t understand the technical merits of this work, I find it stunning. It's a shorter work, only about 14 minutes, but well worth the time.
Messiah - George Frideric Handel
This quintessential Christmas opus is really an Easter celebration that has been adapted to Christmas. It fits both. So I just enjoy it during two seasons instead of just one. This one is long. It makes good ambient music in the house while you're doing whatever but is also stirring enough to hold your interest as a concert.
A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols - The Choir of King’s College, Cambridge
This event was first held in 1918, after the dark spectre of World War I had finally passed. In the aftermath, the Festival was introduced as a “more imaginative approach to worship.” It was broadcasted for the first time in 1928 and is now available all over the world, including on GPB radio in Georgia. The broadcast begins at 10 am Eastern.
I know I have fancier tastes in Christmas music than a lot of Georgians. And that’s ok. I wanted to share some of what I love but I also invite you to share your favorites below. Tell us what music, or other traditions, help you get in the Christmas spirit.
Most of all, take time to stop, truly absorb some of the season. Take time to appreciate it. Share it with us, with others, with yourself.
(Click here for our suggestions for Christmas viewing - film & television)
Sam Burnham, Curator
I was interviewing James Calamine this afternoon for the upcoming episode of the podcast. Without getting into a lot of the details and ruining that part of the interview, I want to share a basic comment that came up in the conversation.
In The South, everything sort of runs together. Those highest of Southern arts - music, food, and literature, seem very distinct, very different to the casual observer. But in reality, it is hard to ignore the fact that they are helplessly entwined.
You can see it in the Bourdain in Mississippi episode I reviewed. You can see it in the Calemine books as well. If you live in the South, you probably know what I'm talking about. It's all storytelling on some level. It's all an accumulation of the shared history of a diverse people who have struggled to live together for centuries - a history shaped by bondage and injustice but also by the truth few will admit. Southerners are all much more alike than we are different. It's the food, the music, and the literature that connect us. Or perhaps it's that connection that gives us the arts. I'm not sure anyone really knows which is which anymore. Oh some will pretend that they do but that's just hubris at best.
This land has seen poverty, ignorance, famine, war, pestilence. It's also seen riches, peace, safety, wisdom, and abundance. Through it all, good and bad, the people and their arts have been handed down generation to generation, like a song, like a story, like a recipe.
And it all runs together.
Sam Burnham, Curator
Memorial Day Weekend marks the unofficial beginning of summer every year. While we should remember those who made this weekend possible with their sacrifice, we should also remember what the sacrifice was for. When those men and women laid down their lives, they were doing so in the defense of the American way of life. They did so in the attempt to thwart threats to our way of life before they could reach our shores.
We often speak of the liberty, the freedom, the independence that is afforded by their sacrifice. But those are abstract and we often don't go into the details. What I'd like to point out is that they made an American summer possible. We are safe and free to drink beer and cook out poolside. We are safe and free to go water skiing, fishing, hiking, or to the race. The freedom of movement allows us to go on vacations or weekend getaways. All the indulgences we allow ourselves - many we take for granted in our society - were purchased with the blood and lives of American service members. Why do we do the things we do as Americans? Because we can.
So in keeping a heart filled with gratitude for the sacrifice that made it all possible, we head into a new summer. We will celebrate. We will enjoy the life and freedoms provided to us. We will toast those who died, we'll pray for their families, and we'll do the things we can. Our way of life will continue. That is a duty that we owe to them, the heroes. How ungrateful we would be to not take advantage of such a precious and expensive gift.
So as the summer begins, live free because they died. That is what they would want us to do.
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire