March is a multi-faceted month. It offers tantalizing hints of mild weather followed by raw storminess. It is a Lenten month, the month of Bach’s birthday, St. Patrick’s Day and the official first day of spring. But for a lot of people, especially here in Connecticut, it is above all the month of intense basketball craziness called “March Madness.” In case you have been living on another planet and don’t know what this is, it is the single elimination competition, played during the month of March, which caps the college basketball season and, with great hoopla, crowns the champion. It does resemble a form of madness, because people who know nothing about sports, who haven’t watched a game all year, suddenly start peppering their conversation with nuggets of basketball trivia and spouting learned opinions about the teams and players. More annoyingly, previously docile choir members suddenly balk at the suggestion of any rehearsal that might conflict with an important match-up.
This year I will also be following the “Tournament of Books” presented by The Morning News, an online arts and culture magazine. This interesting competition, now in its eleventh year, has adopted a format loosely based on the basket-ball prototype; it selects 16 of the previous year’s finest books, seeding and arranging them in brackets, pitting one against another until by the end of March a single winner emerges. It seems that almost anything nowadays can become a spectator sport!
Which started me thinking – what about a “Tournament of Hymns”? (It could be held before or after the service so as not to mess with the lectionary.) People would submit entries, and the top 16 would be paired in competitive brackets. Judges would be selected and the fun would begin. To keep things fresh and sporting, each week’s judging would be based on a single live performance of each hymn. Advocates for the hymn would be responsible for presenting or procuring the definitive interpretation. The head-to-heads could be riveting! Just imagine “Sweet Hour of Prayer” vs. “Here I Am, Lord” or “Be Thou My Vision” vs. “The Old Rugged Cross.”The excitement and drama would build week by week, the church finally packed to the rafters on the concluding day of competition, with everyone wanting to know: which really is the greatest hymn of all time (this year’s winner, anyway)? It might also be prudent to appoint a few referees in case things start to get ugly.
I am, of course, kidding, but it’s always fun to indulge in that time-honored winter pastime of day- dreaming. Many a perfect garden has been planned, planted and harvested from a cozy armchair,
no dirt or sweat or mosquitos. And many an artistic endeavor has been envisioned, performed and celebrated, all in front of a crackling fire. It is a solace when the physical world is inhospitable to amuse ourselves by creating whole worlds in our heads. Right now, though – I am ready for spring!