-by Kari Miller
The other day I saw a message in my inbox from a music publisher, with the heading: “when holiday obligations leave you stressed and scattered…” I absentmindedly clicked on it, expecting to be presented with yet another collection of peaceful, uplifting holiday music or a book of seasonal meditations. Instead I found myself staring at “The Advent Coloring Calendar: a Coloring Book to Bless and De-Stress through the Season.”
In case you haven’t heard, coloring books for adults are the latest, hottest craze. It began a couple of years ago, with the publication of “Secret Garden” by Scottish illustrator Johanna Basford. The initial, modest printing exploded into an international bestseller, selling nearly 6 million copies. Walk into a Barnes and Noble today and you will see a huge selection of coloring books with every imaginable theme, complete with celebrity authors and marketed with claims of therapeutic effects from stress reduction to increased creativity and concentration. And now that the coloring craze has reached the rarefied world of church music, it will probably only be a matter of time until it sweeps into the choir loft and supplants knitting or surreptitious newspaper reading as the preferred form of amusement during a long, cold Sunday service.
Crayon-wielding enthusiasts say that besides being fun and relaxing, coloring can also be a form of meditation which helps them to switch off their brains and focus on the moment. The simple, repetitive act of filling in the lines with colors has a soothing effect. The need to concentrate on the intricacies of the pattern keeps the mind from dwelling on other anxieties. Just a couple of hours of coloring and they feel calm and refreshed. It is these claims of therapeutic benefits that have kept the coloring books flying off the shelves.
So, am I going to buy that Advent coloring calendar? My answer is no. And the reason is — call me crazy if you will — I get the same benefits from practicing the organ! I am not talking here about the utilitarian practice we all need to fulfill our daily or weekly obligations. But haven’t you ever been so absorbed in learning, relearning, exploring or fooling around with a piece of music that when you stop practicing (maybe as you suddenly realize you have lost all track of time) you are aware that your mind is free of the clutter and worry and stress you felt when you began? These felicitous encounters may come unexpectedly, but I find that they do occur regularly and reliably if I simply set aside the time to engage with music and patiently practice my art. No deadlines, no particular expectations, just some practicing. That makes a lot more sense to me than taking up coloring, and has the additional advantage of occupying absolutely no space on my refrigerator door.