Jennifer Baker-Trinity serves as a church musician and writer in the scenic Susquehanna Valley of Pennsylvania and was a participant at MMC in Chicago in 2011 and 2014.
This experiment Rev. Rob Boulter did with O Come O Come Emmanuel at MMC in Baltimore is one idea for how to use the practice of a paperless song leading to sing Christmas carols with groups who may not know all the words or tune but want to participate. How great would a setting like this be on a busy street corner full of dazed last-minute shoppers?
A few years ago, my husband who is a pastor met with a family caring for their ailing mother with Alzheimer’s. It was Christmastime and my husband offered to sing with them. He began to sing “Away in a Manger,” making the incorrect assumption that they would join in the singing. One woman sang, the mother whose memory was failing her. Her family, however, remained quiet. What kept them from singing? Unfamiliarity with the song? Uneasiness with singing in general? Something else?
When leaders of Music that Makes Community gather people for singing, they are wise not to assume that some are “in the know” and others are not. A leader doesn’t preface teaching with “Well, most of you know this, but...” The assumption is instead that all of us have something to learn; we are in this together.
Now is the season when many church or community groups will go caroling. Songbooks are gathered and groups go out in small or larger numbers to sing for others. It is considered a ministry, a way to bring the gift of music and the holiday spirit to those who are homebound or lonely. Yet as I think about this tradition, I wonder if the experience of MMC can refresh this practice?
Consider the practical. If we are singing while walking, can we easily sing from songbooks? What if it’s dark or folks are holding candles? What if it’s cold and our mitten-clad hands fumble to turn pages?
Consider our assumptions. Often times we’d love folks to join us in singing and we assume they know carols by heart. Yet as the nursing home visit illustrates, we can no longer make these assumptions. Furthermore, someone might know the first stanza, but struggle with stanzas two through four. How can the experience of caroling be transformed from singing to anotherto singing with another?
This is a call for those of us who have experienced MMC to translate this experience to our practice of caroling. What fresh musical expressions can we sing together? What creative juices can flow, developing paperless melodies and texts of the incarnation? How can we balance the love of traditional carols with openness to new songs?
This is the season of Emmanuel, of God becoming flesh in humble humanity. Perhaps with Mary, there is a song in you waiting to be born and shared.