Listening Page #50: William Vollinger

DECEMBER 21, 2008

William Vollinger, Waddaya Want for Christmas? performed by The Gregg Smith Singers, Thomas Schmidt, conductor; William Vollinger, narrator; Julie Morgan, soprano; Walter Richardson, bass

“Waddaya Want for Christmas” is my most recent piece. It is written for narrator, SATB choir, and piano. As for the form: as in my next to last piece “Raspberry Man” (and more than likely in a few more to follow) it has an energetic rhythmically-notated narration duplicated in some of the accompaniment, and utilizes a very direct American (probably even NYC) vernacular, with music to match. In this piece the piano duplicates the spoken rhythms and adds a kind of separate but equal inflection, while the choir (the Gregg Smith Signers which I’ve been blessed to work with for 35 years now) does it’s own semi-Christmassy choir kind of thing.
As for the content: I’m not trying to put down people but to put down bad thoughts (thoughts that I have to deal with too), to generate a cynical view of cynicism itself. I’m speaking not so much to “believers”, but to potential “unbelievers”, (even when I’m the unbeliever). I wanted to create something different and direct from the usual Holiday fare, something that would require thought rather than just a pleasant emotion. (And I like pleasant emotions.)
A definition of materialism I like is “trying to meet spiritual needs with material things”. Materialism never works. The opposite of love isn’ t hate, but selfishness. I used to give my students in elementary school an assignment of doing a kind act and during the next class talking about how they felt about doing it. With the exception of one little girl (who got yelled at after breaking a dish while washing some for her mother), everyone else described how good they felt, sometimes quite profoundly. Then I’d imitate that ugly wrinkled-up scowl that little children make when they don’t want to share, i.e. “That’s MINE!”
Funny how when we act selfish it makes us unhappy, but happy when we do something kind. So why do we keep acting selfish? That is a profound mystery, as if we are imprisoned by a prevailing state of mind that isn’t really who we are or meant to be. Of course love is nice to talk about or write songs about, but to practice it, and CONSISTENTLY, that’s the hard thing. We need help, and to avail ourselves of the help, which I believe is the intent of Christmas.
As Jesus said: “But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.”  (Matthew 9:13)
“Waddaya Want for Christmas?” is also being broadcast today at 6 PM EST as part of a Gregg Smith Christmas Concert on New York’s classical radio station WQXR and can be heard streamed on the Internet by going to:

Waddaya want for Christmas? Digital camera? Cell phone? Combination of digital camera & cell phone? MP3 player? Combination of MP3 player & digital camera & cell phone? Jewelry? Chocolates & wine? Gift card? (So you can get what ya want instead of something ya don’t like & hafta act polite about.) “That’s so nice of you to give me that. I am going to put in a safe place I assure you.” Or maybe even a robot? Let’s sing something: “Joy to the world, the Lord is come.”
Waddaya want for Christmas? Maybe world peace? Maybe that your boss gets fired? Maybe more appreciation for the ethnic group ya happen to be in? Or less appreciation for the ethnic group you’re not in? Or maybe even HELP FOR THE ECONOMY?! Lord have mercy. Maybe lower taxes? Or higher taxes? Or a combination of lower taxes & higher taxes? Or a combination of lower taxes & higher taxes and an MP3 player? Let’s sing something: “Good King Wenceslas looked out on the feast of Stephen.”
Waddaya want for Christmas? Ya wanna be bigger than somebody else? Ya wanna be richer than somebody else? Ya wanna better than somebody else? Ya wanna be a star? Or do you just wanna follow a star? Do you remember, back in the 60s, there were a lotta songs about luv? Yeah, then somebody got murdered at a Rolling Stones concert & that ended all that. Let’s sing something: “Sleep in heavenly peace.”
Waddaya want for Christmas? Waddaya want for Christmas? Waddaya want? (Waddaya want?) “love love love” Yeah right whateverrr. “love joy song” Make that 3 hard-boiled eggs. “faith hope love” After all ya gotta look out for numero uno. “love life hope” But what if numero uno isn’t you? “hope life song” What if Numero Uno comes down from the sky? “song life love” Here beneath the shadow of Citigroup. But if it’s no longer you that liveth, how then shall you liveth? Ya gotta ask. Let’s sing something: “Gloria in excelsis Deo!”
Waddaya want for Christmas?

I grew up in New Jersey, I am still growing up in New Jersey, and I am growing up in Christ. Jesus, the only complete grown-up I know, is still helping me to grow up too, and you as well, if we let him. As far as Christianity goes there are two heresies: (1) God does it for me or (2) I do it for God. Nor is it half one and half the other. God empowers each of us to grow in Him and Him in us. That’s what growing up in Christ means. Or another even better way to put it is “It’s no longer I that liveth, but Christ that liveth in me” (Galatians 2:20). That old life, that old way of thinking has nothing to offer. The new way is infinite!
I like this analogy (maybe you’ve heard it?): A company manufactures weapons. They are bought out by a company that makes agricultural equipment. As soon as the papers are signed, the ownership has changed. But the machinery has to be retooled and the employees retrained. That is what the new birth is: our spirit is reborn at once. Our mind requires continual renewal. At least that was my experience when I accepted Jesus in 1974. Something inside me was different (my Spirit). But my mind is still being worked on. Now if you didn’t have a one day event that changed you, I recognize that FAITH in Jesus is what saves us, and whatever facilitates and increases that faith (including an altar call) is good, but is never the end, but the beginning. We are not superior or inferior, but equal in Jesus Christ, in His forgiveness, His love, and His potential to grow us up on all things into Christ.
We live in a challenging time. We live in the time we’re supposed to live in. In a world that needs hope and doesn’t find it, we need to be salt and light. In this time, for that effort, through His empowerment, may God bless each of us and make us a blessing.

William Vollinger writes mostly vocal music,  performed by the Gregg Smith Singers and NY Vocal Arts Ensemble. Their performance of “Three Songs About the Resurrection” won first prize at the Geneva International Competition. “Violinist in the Mall” won the 2005 Friends and Enemies of New Music competition. “Sound Portraits” is on Capstone Records. He has collaborated with poets Jenny Joseph and Richard Leach. Tennessee Technological University presented an entire concert of his works. His music has been performed and broadcast worldwide, published by Abingdon, API, Heritage, Lawson-Gould, and Laurendale. Five works have been editor’s choices in the J.W. Pepper Catalogue.

– – –  SOLI DEO GLORIA!  – – –

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