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‘Soul songs’

Singing at St. Bede’s Chapel, Renison

I was pouring myself another cup of coffee when the student sitting at her laptop looked up and said, “What’s your favourite carol?” I grinned and answered, “I doubt you know it – I love ‘Tomorrow shall be my dancing day’!”

I was right. She didn’t know it – so we pulled up youtube on her computer and hunted it down (you can find it here – turns out my favourite version by Maddy Prior isn’t available…) We listened together. And then hunted down the lyrics, and sat and talked about why I love the imagery of this song.

She looked at me and said, “It’s a soul song. Most Christmas carols in the malls and stores aren’t. They are all about ‘home’. I never noticed that before this year, but they are all sentimental about going home – and home isn’t always so great, and then the songs about it are depressing.”

We talked some more about how Christmas gets marketed, and how hard all the nostalgia is to deal with. Then I let her go back to studying, and I went into my office. Before long, her own favourite soul song had been posted to my facebook page (‘O holy night’ – and here’s the version she posted.)

It’s not that popular carols can’t be ‘soul songs’ too. I remember a couple of years ago, being terribly grumpy in a store at this time of year. It was crowded and I was tired and it all seemed dreadful. Then from the next aisle, I could suddenly hear a voice singing along with the Christmas ‘muzak’ playing in the background. I peeped around the end of the shelves. Sure enough, there was a middle-aged woman, looking at ornaments as she sang loudly “Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!” She wasn’t self-conscious at all, with her hips swaying slightly. I smiled, and left the store humming under my breath. And I gotta confess – that particular song has been less annoying ever since!

So do you have a soul song for this season? Something that feeds you? What reminds you of the joy we are celebrating, and helps you deal with the difficult emotions that this season always brings? Or causes you to pause in the middle of the chaos and listen? What soundtrack has God written on your heart?

“Sing, oh! my love, oh! my love, my love, my love
This have I done for my true love…”
(from Tomorrow Shall be my Dancing Day)

About Megan Collings-Moore

Megan spent 8 years in parish ministry before arriving at Renison University College at the University of Waterloo. Raised as a Quaker, and with roots in the Presbyterian Church, she has been Anglican since her teen years. She loves to talk about faith and God – and enjoys a good debate! She likes finding ways to connect popular culture with faith, and thinks there is nothing quite so interesting as people, and finds that those who are seeking truth always have interesting conversations.

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0 Responses to ‘Soul songs’

  1. Kyle Norman

    Thanks Megan,  I find this an interesting post preciesly becsause of the conversation you had with this person.  I find it interesting that her association with carols was ‘in the malls and stores.’  I think this is something that the church should reflect more about.  More and more poeple are growing up with a religious history – and so their experience with carols are the pathetic muzak-style renditions heard over loud-speaker.

    And yet her favorite hymn posted to your FB page is not ‘Let it snow’ or “White Christmas’ , or any other religiously-lite carols, but the theolgoically dense and Christocentric “O Holy Night.’ 

    My mind is going off in many wierd and wonderful places.  Thanks!

  2. I’m with Kyle–in weird and wonderful places!

    Two contrasting musically cosy places come to mind. The first is basically anything by the Vince Guaraldi Trio in A Charlie Brown Christmas. The cartoon (and the music) were incredibly important in my personal Christmas narrative, as Charlie Brown’s frustration with commercial Christmas and the search for meaning were part of my own childhood (and perhaps still are!) I still pull it out every year, in video, audio and sheet music forms. When I am particularly frustrated with the financial and/or social expectations of the weeks leading up to Christmas, it brings me back to the story.

    The second, perhaps somewhat ironically, is See Amidst the Winter’s Snow. It’s simple, and it’s beautiful. It’s sacred. And it’s always struck me as odd: imagining Christ’s infancy taking place in a snowy English village, rather than the Middle East. Sleigh bells and Christmas pudding seem to be part of that narrative… but you know what? It’s cosy. And maybe that says something common about the experience we’re all sharing here. Even though the hymn wasn’t written to capture the birth narrative in its most accurate form, it meant something to those who celebrated the mystery “amidst the winter’s snow.”

    As I type, I see some gentle snow beginning to fall outside my window. And it feels cosy.

  3. Matthew Griffin

    I lean toward “No Crowded Eastern Street”

    I love both the evocative depiction of Canada (word pictures like “… sturdy farm house, stout and warm, with stable, shed, and great red barn”) and the reminder that “still to us is born tonight the child, the King of glory.”

  4. Kyle – not only do people only hear carols in malls/stores, but there is rarely any place for ordinary people to sing any more (apart from karaoke!) In the summer, chapel music is often a capella (I am short of student musicians then) – and it’s HUGELY popular. I think it’s absolutely something that the church needs to be more aware of… But , yes, I was both delighted and surprised that this student identified O Holy Night as her soul song (she is a quite remarkable young woman tho’!)

    And I love that you mentioned Charlie Brown’s Christmas, Jesse 🙂 In unexpected places, grace surprises us.

  5. One fave of mine is”In the Bleak Mid-Winter” which I’ve loved and sung for years (despite early doubts as to how cold and snowy it got in Judea) and I just found out today about this verse:

    Enough for Him, whom cherubim, worship night and day,
    Breastful of milk, and a mangerful of hay;
    Enough for Him, whom angels fall before,
    The ox and ass and camel which adore.

    How have I never sung about Mary breastfeeding Jesus?  And why is that taken out of most hymnals?  It got me thinking that the carols that most resonate with me are neither those that ignore the Nativity (Frosty / Jingle bells etc) nor the ones with a high lofty Christology but those that focus on the very human connection of mother and child, and of all those intimately connected with the birth of Jesus (Joseph, the shepherds etc..)   Many of them can be highly sentimental, true, but I appreciate being reminded that at the heart of the Incarnation, are human hearts….human flesh…human lives…and human love.

  6. +1 for In the Bleak Mid-Winter, @RevDaniel. There is something about recognizing incarnation.

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