One memorable grade-school performance my wife and I attended six years ago included songs about dancing penguins and prancing polar bears sung by fifth-graders dressed in white polo shirts and beige pants, interspersed with poetic student readings about snow and ice (prompting visions of isolation, hypothermia and snow blindness). Imagine a GapKids commercial directed by Ingmar Bergman.
Now, these once-festive and joyous musical events have become monochromatic affairs””both visually and artistically””devoid of any seasonal context. At last year’s high-school concert, all of the student performers were dressed in black””formal yes, but also funereal. Moreover, school music directors these days, overburdened by litigation-avoidance strategies, have committed the sin (if that word is still allowed) of not just erasing religion from these concerts but of basically abandoning musicality altogether.
Much of the music is simply bad: mindless melodies and meaningless lyrics, whether saccharine and syncopated or somber and staccato. To ignore the significant body of church music composed to celebrate Christmas””from English carols to Bach cantatas to the full oratorio of Handel ””borders on musical malpractice, even if it is motivated by fear of the ACLU. No matter how technically well-executed, Broadway show tunes and “Glee” versions of pop standards will never inspire hope, goodwill and renewal. Wasn’t that the whole point of these annual musical celebrations?