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A Feast of Festive Singing

A Feast of Festive Singing

A concert is always like a feast day to me. – James Taylor
So the annual snowstorm of Christmas approaches full of frosty mornings, frozen fingers, frenzied shopping… and lots of fabulous festive singing.   I am so grateful for the bountiful gifts that singing brings and that I have a warm family hearth to return to at midwinter.  I'm also aware it can also be a challenging time, fraught with personal, social and global pressures. 
So here's 5 ways to make Midwinter a Feast for one and all.

Fun
Find ecstasy in life; the mere sense of living is joy enough.-  Emily Dickinson
 The true joy in life often comes from unexpected and everyday sources.  There's a huge amount of social pressure to be seen (and posting on social media) having a good time.  An antidote to this is to participate in the party of simple pleasures life is continually serving up.  One thing I love about London life is the spontaneity of quirky street interactions - suddenly out of nowhere the whole street can start pulsing with the sound system of skateboarder riding down the tram tracks.  Nature is also constantly throwing spectacular parties - this morning the sight of a host of frosted spiderwebs filled me with awe.  I also love seeing laughing, smiling faces at choir - of being able to fool around together as well as making a beautiful sound.  Fun happens when we allow ourselves to engage from our inner-sense and play with all the joy, wonder, delight, beauty and whackiness of life.

Essence
Do whatever it takes to convey your essential self - Martha Beck
Winter is the natural time for retreat and reflection. Giving ourselves space - even if it is just by taking a moment for a deep breath in the midst of the madness - enables us to reboot and refuel.  Creative activities, including singing, offer a space for respite and reflection, enabling us to reconnect with our essential selves.  In a time when social and family expectations can feel overwhelming, by asking
 Do I really want/ need to do/ be / think/ say yes to / buy this ?
we can act from a place of authenticity rather than obligation, survival or pressure.  We can focus on what really matters and what is sustainable.  If buying the extended family gifts is becoming unmanageable we can set up an agreement to do a Secret Santa that takes the pressure off everyone. Instead of being seduced by the pressure to buy more, more, more we can affirm that in the words of a Helen Yeomans song we've been singing in choir, We Got All The Love, all that we need to change our world.
We can prune away the excess to focus on the essence of what we really want our midwinter celebrations to really be about - a nourishing feast of love, friendship, creativity, strength, hope and truth.

Alchemy
Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this too, was a gift. – Mary Oliver
Many midwinter festivals share the message of alchemising light from darkness.  We are living in times of great challenge - from the local to global levels including increasingly intense political volatility and climate change. Yet there are also daily instances of inspiring heroism, leadership and activism.  Just yesterday in London members of the public and police demonstrated huge courage in the face another terror attack on London Bridge.  I have also been recently deeply moved by the story of New Zealand barber, Matt Barber, founder of the She is Not Your Rehab movement, who is helping both men and women heal and break the cycles of domestic abuse.  Matt has alchemised his own story and those of the men who sit in his barbers chair to create a global movement of empowerment and transformation.  Inspired by his story and by reflections after Chai Day, an initiative set up by Annie Lennox's charity The Circle to mark the International Day of Elimination of Violence against Women, I have written a song - Stop The Abuse.  My Carers Choir have also been alchemising their experience of caring in a songwriting project funded by the My Cool Music Foundation and will be recording their song  'Keep Going' this month.  Singing enables us to draw out the learning and wisdom from our most challenging experiences.

Sanctuary
Offering sanctuary is a revolutionary act; it expresses love, when others offer scorn or hate. It recognises humanity, when others deny and seek to debase it. Sanctuary says 'we' rather than 'I'. It is belonging—the building block of community.
― Diane Kalen-Sukra

Cultivating a sense of internal and external safety is essential for wellbeing and enables us to become resilient in the face of challenges.  Creative practices can help us stay grounded and connected during the dark times and I continually witness how quickly choirs become a place of refuge for those facing challenging life circumstances.  We are always enriched when we offer the sanctuary of warm heartedness to one another - lending an ear or a shoulder to cry on, smiling and making eye contact with a homeless person instead of looking away, cooking a hot meal for an unwell friend.  These small daily actions create a space for reassuring connection, affirming our shared humanity.

Treasure
The greatest treasures are those invisible to the eye but found by the heart. - Judy Garland
The true treasures of midwinter are not to be found in the photoshopped adverts of rampant commercialism. Life is not airbrushed.  Just like the holly, it comes with both beautiful fruit and thorny prickles.  Traditionally the season of goodwill, midwinter festivals encourage us to be generous towards those who are on facing the thorns -  those who are homeless or whose homes are not safe, those who are fleeing warfare or deprivation, those who are unwell or facing death.  We have a voice inside of us, that costs nothing and can bestow a fortune of happiness. Whether it's singing a child to sleep or awakening an elder momentarily from the fog of dementia, singing enables us to connect and share the treasures of the heart.
 
Wishing you a true feast of festive delight this Midwinter

Warmest sparkly seasonal singing wishes