Tuesday, December 24, 2013 - Christmas Eve

Advent 2013



             I started taking piano lessons from my elementary school music teacher when I was in the 4th grade.  Each year she would invite students from her studio to play during the prelude of the Christmas Eve service at her church.  And so, as a 4th grader, I went and participated.  Looking back, I feel sort of bad for the people there listening to my piano piece...  I hadn't had much experience playing in front of people and was playing at a very basic level.  It was likely not the most inspiring of performances to say the least!

However, that year I experienced two "firsts" in my life:  my first Christmas Eve service and (probably) my first time hearing a pipe organ.  You see, the church in which I grew up had a lovely Christmas service each year, but it wasn't on Christmas Eve.  Rather, we held it on a Sunday night the week before Christmas.  Also, my church did not have a pipe organ;  we had a Hammond organ.  You may know the type, with its drawbars and vibrato -- often associated with jazz music.

As a young boy I may not have had a huge appreciation for all the symbolism and meaning that Christmas Eve service held for people.  But I do remember hearing the pipe organ had a big impact on me that night.  I'd always loved to sing at church, whether it be hymns or in the children's choir.  The way this pipe organ could support the hymn singing left me in awe, with its sheer volume, combinations of various sounds, and bass notes that would rumble in the floor.

It took a long time after that before I actually started playing or studying on the organ.  When I was in high school I was asked to play my first wedding on that Hammond organ I mentioned earlier.  I started taking organ lessons in college and then went on to earn a Master's degree and make a career in playing the organ (among other things).

I suppose that had I not gone to that particular Christmas Eve service as a 4th grader I would have still encountered the organ.  But I'm so glad I was there that night even though it wasn't something my family usually did as a part of our Christmas tradition, because it changed my life.  And this year, as I sit at the organ console at First Baptist Church, Savannah and play the Christmas carols, direct the choir, and enjoy the magnificent beauty of our sanctuary, I will think back on that service when I played my short piano piece.  However, this time I'll probably be much more attuned to the symbolism and meaning of the Christmas Eve service, as well as appreciate the sound of the organ.  It is my hope that our Christmas Eve service will be equally as meaningful to you, along with the entirety of this season of Advent and Christmas.

- Kyle Ballantine


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