At Christmas even the bitterest musicians become giddy and frivolous
by Rhiannon Nachbaur of Award-Winning Fiddleheads Violin Studio
Left fingers twitching sickly to the proverbial pulse of “Jingle Bells,” eyes watering from the fog of pine scent and lips stained from countless coats of cherry red lipstick, I demonstrate flawlessly the symptoms of “carolitis,” commonly known as “ Christmas Volunteer Musician Syndrome,” CVMS.
This ailment, widespread among music teachers and performers late each western calendar year, first attacks the nervous system (enter twitching hands) then progresses into a brief state of anxiety and consistent lateness to all gigs and lessons (double-booking is common).
Once this passes, the afflicted enters the denial phase, (“No, I didn’t take on too much this year!”) but then finally accepts this condition as his/her destiny as a musician and finds ways to cope, such as playing Silent Night in all twelve keys, one after another, for a bit of variety.
Extreme cases cause even the bitterest musicians to become giddy and frivolous, gleefully depositing December’s hard-earned rent money into the little red kettle because “the bells just sounded so pretty.”
We see these people wandering through malls playing guitar until their arms are stiff and fingers raw, or strolling on icy streets singing until their voices are frozen, but the puzzling thing is that they are wearing a smile of true contentment. Why do these people sacrifice their time and sanity to play us the same music again and again? They play their carols because they know it will touch someone and make a difference in the world.
These people exhibit the true meaning of Christmas giving through their music. Though they may just be strumming out the silly little tune of “All I want for Christmas is my Two Front Teeth,” their listener can be magically transported back to the 1949 when dad bought a new radio for the family. The musician is rewarded with approving smiles and nods and knows he has done a good job.
Several years ago a mall in Nelson, BC had inadvertently booked me to play violin when the mall was closed, excepting the grocery store and a Walmart. Playing for nobody isn’t gratifying in the first place and I had just gone through a breakup, so I was quite depressed playing jolly carols in the empty space.
I was scraping though my set halfheartedly when a middle-aged woman with a worn face and tired eyes timidly handed me a single red rose. She had been listening to me from behind a cart at the far end of the mall and said my music affected her tremendously and said, “you have no idea what this has done for me.” She held back tears as she thanked me several times for changing her life, and then scooted off. I have never had a better audience than I did that quiet December night and am reminded of her each year when I play for the shoppers.
With a three-year-old son and over forty students I cannot volunteer as much of my time as I did in years past. I volunteer when I can and have my student groups perform, but I hope to help by encouraging other musicians and their families to give their music to the community.
Play your flute for your grandmother in the retirement home, but make sure to leave her door open so other residents can hear. Bring your accordion to work on Christmas Eve and serenade your customers and fellow employees with Christmas songs from your home country. Not a musician? Pick up a kazoo and hum your own unique arrangement of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” for the lady down the hall who needs a laugh to cheer her spirits.
Once you have done this, you will also know what it’s like to have played for the best audience in the world. Be warned that you may love playing so much that you could come down with a merry little strain of “hobby musician carolitis.” Just keep playing and let it run its course. The world could always use more music!