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Finding Community through Music of the Season

Like an overnight snowfall, the holiday season has swept into our lives once again. Retailers have wasted no time in “decking the halls” and setting the stage for the most giving time of year. Out come the trees, trinkets and Christmas tunes. Everywhere you go, you hear “Silent Night,” “White Christmas” and “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” along with every Christmas song ever written, it seems. After the thousandth time of hearing a song, any song, your brain feels like it’s had enough. And yet, there’s more to those old Christmas melodies than a few familiar phrases and sounds. They carry with them memories, feelings and a sense of something bigger than our selves and momentary worries. They bring us together.

The unifying power of music is something that forever amazes me, whether I am performing to people down the road, across the country or across the ocean. Often my audience and I begin as strangers, but by the end of our time together the music we have shared has brought us closer in spirit and friendship. It’s music’s expression of oneness and love that keeps me connected no matter how far my journey, no matter how much time I spend on the road. Music’s ability to cross the barriers of language, culture and position is what deepens my purpose and strengthens my resolve to share it with as many people as I can. Of the many examples of this that I have experienced, none has been more remarkable than my journey with Accenture to India. Although my audience and I were from different cultures and different lands, we shared a very similar love for music. No matter where I go, as long as I bring my music, I find myself among friends.

It’s the thought of friendship that I encourage you to consider when you hear a familiar Christmas refrain for the two-thousandth time. The tune that holds your holiday memories is likely to hold the memories of many if not all the people who share the same space, whether it happens to be your place of work or your favorite shopping mall. Every former stranger in the room now shares a little something in common with you. They may be singing along, humming the melody softly to themselves, tapping their toes or watching their children dancing and skipping down the aisles. If you look closely, you can’t help but notice how the simple melody has softened their hearts and connected their souls.

As fond as I am of Christmas music, I do empathize with those whose tolerance is tried after hearing the same set of music repeatedly over and over from early November through Christmas Eve. Personally, I find it gratifying to experiment with traditional melodies, add variations and reinvent them so that they become fresh, appealing and provide a new experience for listeners. In the process, I have been fortunate to work with some exceptionally gifted musicians who have created their own unique sounds. One of these artists is my friend, Rhett Butler.

Rhett is a guitarist from Texas who became well known for playing two guitars at once. He also happens to play finger-style guitar (playing the notes on the neck of the guitar) in his own intricate style. Like me, Rhett has a passion for making a difference in people lives, especially when it comes to healing. Having lost his brother to a rare form of cancer, Rhett has become the CEO of a development-stage biotech company that is working on an implantable cancer vaccine device. In addition to sharing a passion for finger-style guitar, we both enjoy traditional holiday music. A few years ago, Rhett and I produced a guitar collection titled “Holiday Open House.” The CD is a fusion of both of our individual arrangements and recordings of traditional holiday tunes; the same music that we’ve grown up with, but with a new style. If you’d like, you can listen to a number here.

For the past 10 years, I have toured with an ensemble of internationally recognized award-winning instrumentalists and vocalists who join together during the holiday season as the group SimpleGifts. Combining violin, Celtic whistle and bagpipes, piano, acoustic guitar and percussion with three-part female vocals, SimpleGifts brings a modern, yet classical sound to old-world Christmas music. It’s difficult to describe in words just what creates the SimpleGifts style, so I will share with you a video from one of our recent concerts. (Learn more about SimpleGifts here.)

Although Christmas music is prone to being overused and even abused over the holiday season, at the heart of it, there is still much to treasure. In our own small way, my friends and I have made an effort to hold Christmas music in a very special place so that it can be experienced and enjoyed again in a new light. For all the good and pleasure it brings, I believe that we as artists and listeners can uphold the wonder of holiday music now and for generations to come.