I told you about Small Town's Christmas Parade and how the orchestra was involved in it to promote our children's chorus and upcoming concert, so let me tell you about the concert itself. It happened Saturday.
We perform at the Performing Arts Center at Small Town's branch of Kent State, and the place is a sight to behold. This is what it looked like all dressed for the holiday as I approached it from the parking lot. When I was little, my sisters taught me an odd thing—they would turn on a flashlight, place it up to one eye and say, "Oh look, a party!" Seeing the PAC from the outside is a little like that. There's a party going on inside, so you better hurry up and get in.
Orchestra members take our seats at will with no specified time as long as we are ready to play at 7:30. The concert master comes on stage, and we tune. The board president comes on stage and gives some announcements. (or maybe their entrances are the other way around). And then the conductor joins us to kick off the first piece. We played a rousing "Carol of the Bells," which moves along at a pretty good clip. And then we went straight into an arrangement of "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring," which felt like a brass chorale. Lovely. And we played a few more standards—"The Christmas Song," "Sleigh Ride"...
We finished the first half with "A Carol Cantata" composed by Conductor Eric as a sing-along. People like to sing, you know, especially Christmas carols because they are familiar and inspire all the warm, fuzzy feelings we miss in other parts of the year. I think singing with a group inspires all the warm, fuzzy feelings we miss in other parts of life—neurologists can tell you why that is. The orchestration was Bach-ish, so there was rarely a break, and at the end, you felt as though you'd had a work out. But the horns, at least, had a few spots with long rest measures to count, and I was able to look out at the audience and listen to their joined voices. The house was sold out, so there were about a thousand people singing beautifully toward the stage, and at one point I closed my eyes and just listened.
After the intermission, we took our seats again and prepared ourselves for the next half of the show. Alex Bevan is a well-known folk singer and songwriter from Cleveland. He's also an accomplished guitar player, a poet, a story teller. Several years ago he wrote a series of Christmas songs for his nieces and nephews and called it "As A Child Looks At Christmas Eve." The story begins this way—a young one and an old one from a family are sifting through decorations stored in the attic, looking for things to take down to trim the tree. They discover a box labeled "My Favorites," and find it filled with saved Christmas cards. Each song in the suite describes one of those cards. Our conductor orchestrated the songs and added a children's chorus, which, handily, we perform with each Christmas.
I won't spell out the entire suite here—you can buy a recording of it in a couple of weeks, if that interests you—but let me say that what began as a jumbled circus of fidgety children at Friday night's rehearsal became a magical performance as polished as anything on Saturday night. The orchestra was in tune with the conductor—you know, emotionally and musically—and the children were in tune with the him as well and with their rehearsal conductors who were seated out of sight of the audience displaying cue cards and quiet instruction.
We performed a raucous "Jingle Jingle" that put you in mind of a bouncy and purposeful sleigh ride, and a nativity story song with the kids singing like a unified chorus of well-trained vocalists. We played and sang about wrapping paper and ribbons, stuffed animals reindeer, sparrows under the watchful eye of their creator—with a 17-year-old soloist who sang with the voice of an angel—and ice skaters. There were moments in each song—the harmonized "ooos" from the chorus, the cracker-jack storytelling of Alex, the ice skater jumping—you can tell her skates have left the ice because the music stops for three quick counts, and you can tell she has made her landing because it begins again with a clean beat. Genius.
The whole thing was inspired—by a muse, by nostalgia, by life experience, by something greater—who's to say. And the audience awarded us with a standing ovation. Alex bowed at least twice, and we were washed over by waves of applause and cheers. I cannot overstate the pure satisfaction of that moment when we stood to receive thanks and to give it before calling it a day. A day well served.
Yep, a concert happened. And it was a good one.