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Jingle Hell

Suffering a Musician's Fate Each December

by Rhiannon Nachbaur of Award-Winning Fiddleheads Violin Studio

“If I hear Jingle Bells one more time I’m going to jump off a cliff!”
-Rhiannon Nachbaur, December, 1997.

I had just immigrated to Canada one month earlier as a self-employed musician. I made my living by playing hours of Christmas music at malls, craft fairs and parties. I was happy to have the work, but the long hours playing lively violin carols were physically and mentally exhausting.

I started to keep track of how many times I played Jingle Bells that season and lost count somewhere around 200. Every night as I tried to fall asleep, the annoying chorus rang deafeningly in my ears. My digits involuntarily twitched and repeated the irritating fingering patterns incessantly. Then I thought of the people passing by with their packages, singing along merrily. “Well, I can put up with it a bit longer” I said to myself.

Christmas 1998: With a few hundred hours of playing booked and several students in my weekly routine, I was developing an itchy allergy to the tune’s cadence, “one-horse open sleigh.” The mere mention of Jingle Bells caused my eyes start watering and nose running. Even my feline friend flinched whenever CBC Radio played Christmas music, as “sung” by the digitally edited “Jingle Cats” chorus. Our eyes widened with panic and we both hid under the couch until the song was over.

But any time I found myself about to bellow a scratchy “Bah Humbug,” a parent would tell me how playing Jingle Bells had made a positive difference in their child’s practice. I found myself saying, “It’s one of my favourites” and stifling a cough.

Christmas 1999-2001: Each year brought me increased performances and students, whom all requested the dreaded Jingle Bells. Each year I reluctantly played it for joyful audiences of shoppers. Oddly, each year I seemed to develop a bizarre appreciation for the song that struck fear in the hearts of musicians. I found myself embracing the chorus’ cute little quarter and half notes. “Do do doo, Do do doo” I sang in the shower gleefully. “I’m going mad,” I thought, laughing all the way, HA HA HA!

Christmas 2002: “Jingle Bells” blasts out in the still, winter air as I play the triumphant chorus with my violin students. We clap the charming little rhythm (tap tap taap!) then play the delightful melody on our instruments!

I am raising a relentless arsenal of “Junior Jingle Bells Radicals” (known in dark violin circles as simply JJBRs) with a mission to gain support and appreciation for this much misunderstood song. Our upcoming Christmas recital will be a glorious display of over fifteen variations of the tune. I’m having the time of my life.

My doctor has an explanation for this unexpected turn of events. According to elaborate medical research, I have apparently built up an immunity to Jingle Bells’ harmful effects. Doc tells me I’m one of the lucky few; an advanced case which has shown miraculous recovery from the plague that strikes so many victims. But I know it’s simpler than that: I just had a change of heart.

I, like many others, felt burdened and overwhelmed by the barrage of Christmas music, decorations and commercials that strained my enjoyment of the holiday season. At times, it seemed like the meaning of Christmas was lost in all the commercialism and hype.

The change came when I played Jingle Bells for the 2,798th time. I then realized that each time I had ever played that silly little song, someone experienced joy.

I learned that all one has to do to find the true meaning of Christmas is to watch people. See the child giggling on Santa’s knee, the newlyweds holding mitten hands as they shop for the in-laws, a great-grandmother kneading her special cookie dough for her 80th Christmas celebration. Watch them and you will learn the true meaning of Christmas is “joy.”

I am thankful to have musical skill so I can witness joy manifest itself in teary smiles and beaming grins every year. This brings me Christmas joy.

Happy Holidays.

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