The Joy of Christmas

The Joy of Christmas

1280 960 Nathaniel Lee Hansen

Last week I took my son and daughter to the new Peanuts movie. As a purist, and as a reader of the comic strip and viewer of the specials and TV shows since my youngest years, I didn’t know what to expect. I’ll note that I was happily surprised by the film’s quality, but this post isn’t a movie review.

What I heard early in the movie was the famous piece, “Linus and Lucy.” I listened closely, my kids bouncing in their seats on either side of me, and sure enough it was the Vince Guaraldi recording, complete with the “wrong” note in the second verse.

Since then, I’ve been thinking about Vince Guaraldi’s music and its importance in my life. It was the first jazz I ever heard, and I’m an avid jazz listener (perhaps because of that early exposure), but not until my mid-twenties did I discover his extensive catalog dating from before any of the Peanuts specials.

I started with Jazz Impressions of Black Orpheus and A Flower is a Lovesome Thing. Later came that wonderful supergroup album Cal Tjader & Stan Getz Sextet on which Vince played piano, opening with his wonderful composition, “Ginza Samba.”

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I direct the Windhover Writers’ Festival, and in 2014, my first year handling those responsibilities, the keynote presenter was Bret Lott. I’m not sure how the discussion began, but on the day he arrived we talked about Vince Guaraldi, our shared affection for his music, our favorite recordings. He told me about how he had recently interviewed Vince’s family. Again, I have no idea how the subject even appeared.

The next day while driving Bret to the airport (a Vince Guaraldi recording playing in my vehicle of course), I realized that Bret and I had been honoring Vince on the anniversary of his death: February 6. I shared my observation with him, and his immediate response was “no way,” but then he added a “you’re right.”

A connection had formed with a writer whom I admire, a writer with whom I already had a bond due to our shared brotherhood as followers of Christ. Then this, the music of a jazz pianist, had created another bond.

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As I expanded my familiarity with Guaraldi’s catalog, I cherished (among other works) The Grace Cathedral Concert and the beautiful choral piece, “Theme to Grace,” all led by his wonderful playing. If I could use only one word to describe his music it would be this: joyful. Not simply happy. Joyful. And his music, for all of these years, has given me joy. Moreover, I associate his music with Advent and Christmas—when Joy took on flesh and made His dwelling among us.

As I consider the Second Advent, when sorrow and pain will be no more, when joy and peace will prevail, when there will be no fatal heart attacks between sets at a jazz gig, I have an image of Vince Guaraldi playing around the throne. In this image, even in his resurrected body, Vince would have those thick glasses, that handlebar mustache, that subtle grin.

And there will be Joy neverending.


 

Nathaniel Lee Hansen

I’m a poet, fiction writer, and essayist. My chapbook, Four Seasons West of the 95th Meridian, was published by Spoon River Poetry Press (2014). My work has appeared in Christianity and Literature, Prairie Gold: An Anthology of the American Heartland, Blast Furnace, Driftwood Press, Whitefish Review, The Cresset, Midwestern Gothic, and South Dakota Review, among others. I currently serve as an assistant professor of English & Creative Writing at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor in Belton, Texas. I also edit Windhover: A Journal of Christian Literature and direct the annual Windhover Writers’ Festival. When not writing or teaching, I run, read, play piano, listen to music, and play disc golf. My greatest joys are my wife, my son, and my daughter. I was born in southern Minnesota, but while growing up, I had little interest in the Plains and opens spaces. A stint at a rural state liberal arts college in southwestern Minnesota, as well as grad-school stints in northwestern Minnesota and southeastern South Dakota, altered my interests. @plainswriter, plainswriter.com, & www.facebook.com/plainswriter

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