christmas at the piano
now available on CD (iTunes/Amazon links pending)
ADVENT is the season before Christmas – the time in which we anticipate a long-awaited day. The word technically means coming, referring to the arrival of Christ on earth, but it is also the first half of one of my favorite words: adventure. The coming of Jesus is the promise of a great adventure, and we have this time to anticipate it before we finally celebrate it. I love the concept of a pre-Christmas season, in which we wait and wonder when.
LOVE is one of those words we use all the time and forget what it really means. Love is the greatest and most desirable gift; a gift that gives back to you as soon as you give it away to someone else. Its source is no other than God himself.
My hope is that these songs put words and melodies to your own sense of anticipation – for the Christmas season and for everything you want out of life.
Here’s a sample:
1. Come, Jesus Come
Ancient text and music; additional lyrics by Cortney Matz 2017
My favorite Christmas carol, O Come, O Come Emmanuel sounds like a long wait for a savior – there is something familiar about a songwriter looking at the problems in the world and hoping that eventually someone will come to the rescue. That idea has gone out of vogue in western civilization, but I think it’s still our best option for real healing. The song survives because we are still waiting and hoping for our savior’s return.
By Cortney Matz 2017
In shorthand, Christians sometimes refer to Jesus as a friend who meets us where we are – the beloved hymn, Just As I Am urges everyone to respond to the call of God without any preparation or adjustment of our lives or ourselves. In the same way, God did not make any requirements of earth in order to receive his Son. Jesus simply came to us. And he comes to our hearts still – knocking, as it were, with only the request to be let in.
3. What Child is This?
Greensleeves, English folk song; Words by William Chatterton Dix 1865
The innocence of Christmas is always juxtaposed with the inevitable suffering of the cross, and this song pairs them together beautifully. With all the supernatural wonder surrounding the virgin birth, the ultimate beauty of Christ’s coming is that he redeems humanity with his own life. It’s not as pretty to sing about, but it is the best gift we’ll ever be offered. And the fact that God introduced his kingdom with the birth of a baby and sealed it with his own blood is just so backward to my way of thinking. I love how this song recognizes the power and weirdness of the Word made flesh.
4. Waiting for a Savior (piano medley)
Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming / Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus / Silent Night
Lo: German melody, 1599 / Come: Hyfrydol, by Rowland Prichard 1844 / Silent: Franz Xaver Gruber, 1818
As much as I love words, it is sometimes refreshing to let the instrumentation lead your mind, heart and imagination. And it’s fun to take a break from singing and enjoy simply playing the piano. I recorded this medley three times, and it turned out differently each time – oh well, that’s how I play!
I think these three songs together tell the story of a promise about to bloom, a salvation promised, and a holy night on which God’s son is finally born. In addition to being a cherished memory with my good friend Tessa Day, Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming is a lesser-known, time-tested reflection on the advent of Christ. And the melody is gorgeous. Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus is a hymn from the days when text and music were frequently interchanged, but the bittersweet longing persists. And Silent Night puts us right there in Bethlehem with the young family discovering God’s glory all over again.
5. Not the Most Wonderful Time
by Cortney Matz 2017
I have a habit of ending the year in stressful situations – big projects at work, buying my first house, leading events, moving, not to mention my first LA December when my roommate and coworkers all evacuated the city weeks before Christmas. I love the concept of Christmastime, but man it has led to some really confusing feelings over the years. If the demands of modern life are getting in the way of your Christmas spirit, I hope this helps us all take a deep breath and give ourselves a break. It may not be the most wonderful time – but hang in there, we’ll be fine. Eventually.
6. All For Love’s Sake
Original hymn Thou Who Wast Rich Beyond All Splendor, written by Frank Houghton; updated arrangement by Cortney Matz 2018
I’ve noodled with this song off and on for about ten years – it raises the concept of what Jesus left in order to live among us on earth. What a deep love must have inspired it – and that same love is available to carry us through whatever life brings, and even beyond.
7. Of the Father’s Love Begotten
words by Aurelius Clemens Prudential, translated to English by H. W. Baker and J.M. Neal; ancient chanting tune DIVINUM MYSTERIUM
One of my favorite Christmas records growing up was John Michael Talbot’s The Birth of Jesus. He had an a cappella choral performance of this piece, and I guess it stuck with me. The words are deep and just a little obscure, inviting deeper listening and mediation.
8. 12 Days
Folk song (possibly French); music by Frederic Austin
I LOVE this song! Growing up with a family that sings, everyone groaned when it came my turn to choose our next Christmas carol during long road trips to visit family. This song has lasted through generations for a reason – the dynamic melody meets brain teaser is a perfect recipe for singalong fun. So sing along with me!
9. Christmas is Weird
by Cortney Matz 2018
Isn’t it though?
10. The Love of God
by Frederick M. Lehman and Meir Ben Isaac Nehorai
I’ve been singing this hymn in live performances, and it’s one of my favorite songs. The last verse is so evocative of the endlessness of God’s love. The whole concept of unconditional love hinges on the love we receive from God himself. It’s infinitude simply can’t be grasped, but this old hymn (and ancient poem) helps put it in perspective.
11. Beautiful, Beautiful
by Cortney Matz 2018
Produced by Atelier Records; Torin Wright, cello; Laura Wall, violin
Beautiful, Beautiful took me about six years to finish – how to portray a love that takes the form of what seems like a wasted sacrifice proved to be a challenge. But the famous story of a woman who poured all her expensive perfume on Jesus’ feet still resonates with my modern reality. Everything I do, every sacrifice I make for the sake of love for my savior is made beautiful and worthy – whether it makes sense or seems like a total waste. And you have to recognize that the true fulfillment of every hope is God himself. Tough but true.
12. O, Come
Ancient text and music; translated by Frederick Oakeley 1841
A fitting note to end on. The whole point of Advent is that it culminates in Arrival. Jesus comes. Let’s come together to love him.
All lyrics coming soon.