What is it about music?
The cold, windy and gray November days keep me inside, since all the garden chores are done. Hunters are out and about in the woods, so I don’t feel like hiking either. Every year about this time, I return to my piano. Refreshing my sight-reading skills, I regain that feeling for making music out of the instrument under my fingers.
For no particular reason, I pick up a book of Haydn Sonatas. I start in on one at random, a cheerful and lively piece with delicate, light touches, along with a moving rhythm. At times it is downright hilarious, as he creates a theme and then presents a half dozen variations, each with a different feel. As I practice the fingerings and come to be familiar with each section, I forget myself and just hear the music as I create it. My eyes see the notes, my hands automatically play them, my ears hear the sound as it comes out, and my heart responds at the same time as it is expressing the music. And yet, it is just me and Haydn. How could this Austrian man of the 1700s create such delightful music for a woman of the 21st century to play and enjoy?
Lutheran churches are celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation launched by Martin Luther. Luther was passionate about music. He was a musician and songwriter himself, and churchgoers are still singing those hymns today. Music, he said “…controls our thoughts, minds, hearts, and spirits…. Our dear fathers and prophets did not desire without reason that music be always used in the churches. Hence, we have so many songs and psalms.” His language is dated and sexist, but I wholeheartedly agree with the sentiment. “I, Doctor Martin Luther, wish all lovers of the unshackled art of music grace and peace! …The riches of music are so excellent and so precious that words fail me whenever I attempt to discuss and describe them…” The mass choir I had the honor to sing with at the Luther anniversary celebration in Preston last month was a glorious example of how singing together can be one of life’s peak experiences.
We just returned from a visit to Music City, otherwise known as Nashville, Tenn. Everywhere we turned, there was live music ranging from country to rock to the blues. Huge arenas, concert halls and probably hundreds of small bars and restaurants have live music daily, supporting an astounding number of singers, musicians and songwriters. B. B. King’s House of Blues got us dancing the night away.
Last night we drove up to St. Paul to hear our eldest daughter perform with the Prairie Fire Lady Choir. “We’re ladies. We like to sing,” is their motto, and they certainly do. This choir mostly sings a cappella, with no accompaniment, taking on every kind of familiar rock song or unknown ballad with verve and personality. I was choked up, with tears in my eyes and goosebumps on my arms, or a ridiculous grin on my face, throughout the whole evening. Dressed in shades of red and yellow, they sang as one organism. I was proud of my daughter, now a wife and mother, as she created her music.
As the holiday season comes on, Christmas music is everywhere, providing an opportunity to sing along and appreciate all the musicians among us.
Becky Varone of Chaska was a 2011 StarTribune cookie contest finalist. I’ve made a few adjustments for my Christmas cookies. Skip overly sweetened shredded coconut and seek out unsweetened dried coconut. Use a good dark chocolate bar, chopped, instead of miniature chocolate chips. This recipe happens to be gluten free.
Preheat oven to 325. Whisk together 1/2 cup flour and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a small bowl.
In a medium bowl mix at medium speed 3/4 cup sugar, 1/3 cup sour cream, 2 tablespoons melted butter and one lightly bean egg white, until smooth. Add flour mixture and mix on low until just incorporated.
Add 1/2 teaspoon vanilla and 4 cups shredded coconut and mix thoroughly. Mix in 1/2 cup chopped dark chocolate.
Use a scoop, or shape into 3/4 inch balls with damp fingers. Bake one inch apart on baking sheets until coconut begins to brown, 18-22 minutes. Cool on baking sheet for 2 minutes, then transfer to wire rack to cool completely.
Melt 4 ounces dark or semisweet chocolate and dip bottoms of cookies. Place them chocolate side down on wax paper and refrigerate until chocolate sets, about 30 minutes, then store at room temperature.