Christmas Music Around the World (with Mary Prather)

Christmas Music Around the World Mary Prather Homeschool Conversations podcast
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Mary Prather from SQUILT and Homegrown Learners joins me today to discuss Christmas music and traditions from around the world. It’s a special bonus episode to get us excited and prepared for the upcoming Advent season in our homeschools. Be sure you’re subscribed to “Homeschool Conversations with Humility and Doxology” wherever you get your podcasts so you don’t miss the special Advent Audioblog season that will start after Thanksgiving! I have some special guests you will not want to miss!

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Christmas Music Around the World Mary Prather Homeschool Conversations podcast

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Amy Sloan: Hello, friends. Today, I am joined by Mary Prather, who believes that children flourish with good books, plenty of time to explore, consistency, discipline, and ample time for fun. Although Mary taught in the public schools for nearly 10 years, their family made the decision to start homeschooling when her oldest daughter was in the third grade. That daughter graduated from their homeschool and is now in college, and their son is currently being homeschooled through high school.

Besides having a passion for encouraging homeschool moms, Mary also loves sharing her love of music. She teaches live online music appreciation lessons and has written a complete music appreciation curriculum which you can find at squiltmusic.com. You can find her writing about other homeschool topics at homegrownlearners.com.

Mary is actually a previous podcast guest. I always love chatting with you. Thank you for coming. I know I gave the official little intro there, but just tell us a little bit about yourself, your family, and how you got started homeschooling, especially with that public school background.

Mary Prather: Sure. I have been married to my husband, Hal, for 25 years. He actually works in Homegrown Learners and SQUILT with me, so that’s really exciting. We never, ever, ever thought that we would homeschool our kids, that we would own our own business, that we would be working together.

It’s a testament to what homeschooling does for changing your mindset about those systems, but we discovered that we wanted to homeschool our daughter when she was in the third grade. First, we pulled her out and we never sent her back. She will be graduating from college this May and she wants to be an occupational therapist, so she is going on to graduate school for occupational therapy.

Our son will be graduating from high school this May as well, and he is going to college. He says, for sports broadcasting, so we’ll see. I’m going to be out of a job schooling my kids next year at this time, but it’s been the biggest blessing.

Amy: My oldest is graduating from our homeschool this spring and there’s so many mixed emotions. It’s so exciting to see them growing and becoming their own person, but it’s bittersweet too.

Mary: It is. Last night my husband looked at me, my son came in, told us goodnight. He walked out the door and my husband goes, “Oh, it’s going to stink when he leaves. It’s going to be awful.”

Amy: Stop making me cry.

Mary: I know. I said, “Oh, I know, I’m choosing not to think about that right now because I just think we have such good relationships with our children because we do homeschool them. They want to hug us. They want to be around us.” I just can’t imagine it any other way.

Amy: I agree. The relationships we form are such a beautiful gift that homeschooling gives us.

Mary: Yes.

Christmas Music Memories

Amy: I will just segue with that. Of course, one of the things that I think about when I think about our fun family memories are those special memories and traditions that we have established in the holidays.

The Christmas season is upon us now and it brings some of the most nostalgic music and songs into our homes every year. My husband is a stickler, we do not start listening to Christmas music before Thanksgiving. I will admit to sometimes sneaking a few Christmas songs here and there when he’s not around.

I wanted to know, when does your family start listening to Christmas music? Is there a particular carol or piece of music that you just eagerly anticipate each year listening to?

Mary: We are in a Liturgical Lutheran Church, so technically, we’re really not supposed to be listening to or singing our Christmas music until Christmas Eve. During advent, it’s that time of waiting, but because I teach music online and I love Christmas music and I taught little kids for so long, I’ll start right after Christmas.

My favorite carol of all time is O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, because it does have that, that anticipatory, that waiting feel to it, and we also love The Messiah. I found a score of The Messiah at Goodwill for 50 cents a couple weeks ago. I’m going to be excited to listen to it and follow through the score. I would say those are our two favorites.

Amy: We listen through The Messiah every year as part of our morning time in the advent season. We’ve done that for a few years now, and it’s such a joy. It actually is nice to break it up into those smaller pieces where you just listen to a couple tracks a day because you’re able to really focus on it. It’s such a majestic, grand piece of music that when you listen to it all at once, it’s almost overwhelming and it’s sheer splendor. We enjoy breaking it into small pieces.

One of my favorite parts from The Messiah actually is The Trumpet Shall Sound, which is from the second half. That was the recessional in my wedding, my husband and I recessed to that. Special place of my heart.

Mary: I know we’ve taken a month a couple years ago in SQUILT Live and we studied Messiah and I even put the Hallelujah chorus in there, although technically that’s really not until Easter, but we put it in there.

I was amazed how many people don’t realize the very, very intentional biblical connections, how we can follow through all of the scripture that goes along with what Handel wrote, how many people just don’t know that story. It’s always a lot of fun to teach that.

Christmas Around the World in our Homeschools

Amy: Oh, definitely. Beyond those more familiar songs and traditions that we experience every year, I think the Christmas season, the advent season, also provides a really wonderful and unique opportunity for us to explore traditions and cultures around the world.

I remember when I was a homeschooled student myself, I think I was like 11 or 12 years old, my mom let me create a little mini unit study for my brother and it was a Christmas around the world unit study. I went to the library and got my books and made our little activities and taught the little lessons and we just had so much fun.

Now, I don’t know if he remembers it because he was four years younger than I am, but I certainly remember that as a really special memory.

I know you are in the middle of prepping for a Christmas around the world time for SQUILT Live, your music program. I wanted to get a little sneak peek and I would love for you to tell us a little bit about why you wanted to teach these lessons and maybe if there’s been something that has surprised you as you’ve prepared for this topic.

Mary: One of the biggest reasons I wanted to teach it is because now we have members from all over the world. I have to remember when I have a theme like music of Colonial America, a lot of my British people might feel a little bit left out during that time.

When we do our music around the world just in the summer times, which is traditionally what I do, we have explored Australia with a lot of success because we have a lot of Australian members. This past summer, we also did Asia and that was fun just because the kids don’t know a lot about Asian music, it seems to mystify a lot of people, they don’t really understand it.

Those were two of the big reasons that I wanted to do that for our Christmas theme. Then also this year, there are parts of the world that are heavy on my heart right now. I think we’ll probably talk about the Ukraine and it makes me think about what people are doing over there and can we build an affection for people in those cultures by teaching our children about their music and their traditions at Christmas time.

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Amy: I would think it would be fun to give people a little taste of the Christmas around the world. Could you give us a little brief introduction or let us in on some of the things you’ve been learning?

Ukraine

Mary: Sure. You’ll see I’ve got a lot of these books in the background because we use books as a jumping-off point, really. I love to find some books and then we’ll craft a lesson around that. As we’re in the Ukraine, the first thing, and I don’t know if you think about this, but the first thing when I think of the Ukraine and Christmas is Carol of the Bells. We are going to talk about Carol of the Bells and how Carol of the Bells really has a completely different meaning in Ukraine than it does here, and a completely different translation but it still sung at Christmas time.

In Ukraine, they really don’t start celebrating Christmas until January 6th. It has a difference in their Julian and Gregorian calendars. That can get a little bit complicated but we’ll dive into that.

Then Tchaikovsky was also from Ukraine. He spent a lot of time in Ukraine. In fact, when the invasion started happening, his home was destroyed in that invasion. We’re going to talk about some of the Christmas music that Tchaikovsky has that is not Nutcracker. He has a piece called Winter, that was for piano, and he also has, I believe it’s his sixth symphony, but don’t quote me that has a Winter section to it that we will learn about.

Sweden

Then I didn’t make it a whole lot further around the world. I just went to Sweden. I’ve always loved Santa Lucia. It’s their winter solstice and they call it, I think, the longest night. We’ll talk about that song, Santa Lucia. I’ll just show you. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen this book, Christmas in Noisy Village.

Amy: I’m familiar with it. I haven’t read that one, but I’m familiar with it. It’s the same author who wrote Pippi Longstocking, right?

Mary: Yes. It’s just adorable. We will probably look at this book. I have the words and music for the Santa Lucia song that I’ll be playing for the kids, and they’ll sing along with me while I play piano. We’ll talk about some of the carols that they sing in Sweden, some of the foods they eat, and of course, why they dress up with all the candles around their heads, and things like that.

I found a lot of resources for African Christmas celebrations. Going further around the world, but we’re only going to have a month, so we may have to make this Christmas around the world this year and then Christmas continued around the world next year.

Amy: As part one and part two or maybe even part three.

Mary: Right. Our around the world music has gone two maybe two and a half summers now, we could just never cover everything.

Amy: Because I think you’ve done music in the Summer Around the World series from every continent except for Antarctica, right?

Mary: Right. If I have anybody that’s listening that knows anything about the music of Antarctica, you can contact me. I have a prize for you.

Amy: Oh, maybe some penguin calls.

Mary: Right. Happy Feet. I don’t know.

Learning from other cultures in our homeschool

Amy: Mary, as we think about the music of these other cultures and their holiday traditions, what can we learn about other countries and cultures as we experience those from a distance?

Mary: Obviously, it will be Christmas. We’re going to focus on the birth of Christ and how different cultures will celebrate that. I think we can learn that in some places, it seems to be extremely like in Ukraine, I’m just getting such a reverence from their traditions and such a seriousness from their traditions that I think maybe we can benefit from here, learning about that.

Also, I just think kids, they love to know what other kids their own age like, and to see, I have a book about Tchaikovsky when he was a child, to see what life was like or is like for children in another culture as well.

There’s just so much. I don’t know if I’m articulating it quite as well as I want to, but I just think we’re going to be able to take so much out of it.

Amy: I think sometimes it can seem maybe big or overwhelming. We want to expose our children to people who are the same as us but also different from us. We want to see that shared humanity but also really appreciate and delight in different traditions and different cultures. Sometimes it’s as simple as reading a picture book and listening to some music. You really can begin to understand and at least learn and appreciate in such a simple way.

Children are so excited, I think, just to learn about traditions that are a little different from theirs. Like, “Wait, they use wooden shoes instead of– Why do they put straw in the shoes for camels? That’s so different from our stockings.” Depending on what country’s traditions you’re studying. I think it’s just so great that you’re providing this little tiny peek into just a few things, and hopefully, it will whet the children’s curiosity to go to the library and explore more on their own. “That was different in this country. I wonder what it’s like over here.”

Mary: It makes me think, this is a really cute story from the summer. When we were talking about Australia, one of the songs we learned about was Waltzing Matilda. Waltzing Matilda is about a traveling person in the Outback in Australia. After we finished that lesson and we finished that month, a mom wrote to me and said they had just bought a camper. When they were talking about naming their camper, her oldest child wanted to name it the Waltzing Matilda. That’s what they called it.

Now, she’ll send me adventures from Waltzing Matilda. They’re never going to forget that. They’re going to feel that connection and they always will have that knowledge about Australia from really just a very little bit of time but it struck a chord with him, obviously.

Amy: Yes. Music and story I think both have that power to get in our hearts in a very unique way.

Mary: Yes. Exactly.

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Find out more about Christmas Around the World with SQUILT Live

Amy: If anyone wanted to come join you this Christmas for your Christmas around the world music, where should they go to find out more about that or more about you in general?

Mary: Sure. To join us at SQUILT Live, you can actually go to squiltlive.com. There you can find the different options for joining. You can come for live lessons.

Some people just like to purchase a listening calendar, which will have a different piece of music from around the world for every single day in December. With five minutes every day, you can get so much exposure. You can find out about that at squiltlive.com.

If you want to learn about any other kind of Christmas music, carols, the Nutcracker, things like that, you can visit our store at squiltmusic.com, and then you can look at our different PDF volumes that are do-it-yourself type of things.

Amy: All of those, I think the listening calendar, as well as the DIY things that you have set up, those would be perfect for someone to add into their morning time routine. Just something really simple. It doesn’t have to change everything up, but just a little thing to add some holiday flare to your morning routine. I will have links for all of those things in the show notes for this episode over at www.humilityanddoxology.com.

Mary, thank you for taking the time to chat with me today and for kicking off this advent special series on the podcast. Thank you for bearing with our various technological challenges today.

Mary: Part and parcel of what we do.

Amy: Yes, indeed. I look forward to chatting with you again.

Check out all the other interviews in my Homeschool Conversations series!

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