Take me to Church*

The City may be celebrating the most wonderful time of the year but December usually finds me exhausted, ready for hibernation, in absence of which a fair amount of introspection will have to do. One more year has just been added into my bag of experiences and, amazing it has been, I feel the weight. It was perhaps a cosmic coincidence or I was just subconsciously seeking to get into the ”Christmas Spirit” rather than sinking deeper into my ”Christmas Blues” that brought me to church not once, but three times this month. As an atheist, church is not part of my usual routine, but a sequence of seemingly unrelated events managed to get me there – thrice.  Emphasis added on ”seemingly”, because all three events had something in common: music & song. Ethereal, transcendent, lyrical, divine song.

First, it was Ambient Church:

Group Immersions into modern contemplative and devotional music through site-specific audio and visual performance // is their Facebook statement and I couldn’t describe it better.

In celebration of 25 years of American ambient label Kranky, this nomadic audiovisual experience traveled to four cities – Portland, Los Angeles and Chicago, before coming to St. Ann & the Holy Trinity  (est.1847) in Brooklyn Heights, on December 15th. The headliner was progressive power trio of Brooklyn Forma but my personal luminary of the night was Christina Vantzou, a Kansas City, Missouri born composer and filmmaker of Greek descent based (of all places) in Brussels, Belgium.

You can listen to Christina’s dreamy, abstract music on her website and her latest work, album No. 4 here.

Then, on December 22nd, came Paul Winter’s 39th Annual Winter Solstice Celebration, a multi-media event featuring musicians, vocalists and the 25 dancers and drummers of the Forces of Nature Dance Theatre. This annual phantasmagoria, which I’ve only just discovered, aims to offer a contemporary take on ancient solstice rituals, when people gathered together on the longest night of the year to welcome the return of the sun and the birth of the new year. The mere fact that it takes place in the largest cathedral in the world, makes it an unforgettable experience, albeit a bit overwhelming, in my view. Except for the howling – that was awesome. Click on the video below, to listen.

Finally, on Christmas eve, there was caroling in Gramercy Park. Where, once a year for a single hour, the exclusive park normally open to a small circle of key holders only, welcomes everyone with open doors and Christmas Carols sang by the choir of Calvary-St. George’s Church, a choir so melodic we had to follow them to their next round at the Christmas Eve Service, inside the church. I thought we would stay for a couple of songs, then leave quietly. Instead, we stayed for the whole service in what became one of the most uplifting experiences we could possibly hope for, this Christmas. Which goes to demonstrate that when religion is inclusive rather than imposing, and the church keeps up to date and young, it can only gain – if not devotees, at least a couple of new friends. 

*Title borrowed from Hozier’s homonym song.

Christmas Eve 2018