Small Town and the like have these lovely Christmas parades, with lighted floats and the town squares full of happy people, hot chocolate, tree lighting ceremonies. You get the idea. Last year, I thought it would be great if the orchestra were to participate in these parades. We’re always talking about how to get the attention of the community, so I say get involved in the community outside of the hall. Make yourself be seen in a way that doesn’t necessarily mean people have to buy tickets to see you, and then maybe that will translate into people actually buying tickets to see you. I suspect they forget we’re here because we only perform six or seven times a year, and we’re tucked away in a performance hall, not out in the open.
A couple of weeks ago, we filled a big red sleigh on wheels with nearly 40 kids from our children’s chorus, and we rolled along with one of these parades. The weather was ideal, the streets were packed, everyone had a great time, and the parade announcer plugged our Christmas concert that will feature these singing kids.
Last weekend, we set out to recreate the event for the next big town parade. We worked out all the details and proceeded according to plan. One of the board members arranged for us to borrow a farmer’s hay wagon, and several of us spent an evening decorating it with lights and garland. We worked out the number of straw bales we would need to seat all the kids who had signed up, all 25 of them. The driver, our board president, was ready to go with a nice truck and hitch, Husband helped set up outdoor speakers and a receiver, we rented a generator and we were ready to go.
And all the while, we kept a wary eye on the weather. It called for rain. The night before, I lay awake worrying about the hitch and the speakers, and then I heard the driving rain hit the roof and pool cover outside, and all I could do was close my eyes and try to go back to sleep. It was set to rain all the next day with no sign of letting up, so in the morning, I called every parent on the list to remind them we would go on rain or shine. Bring umbrellas for your children, I told them, and be at the park at 5:00.
Among those of us planning the thing, we discussed whether or not to cancel and decided to only if enough parents said their children wouldn’t ride. Only six did, so we went ahead expecting 19 kids to arrive on schedule. We all got to the park, attached a plastic tarp to the top for at least a little protection from the rain, set up the speakers and the receiver that was safely tucked away in a plywood box a friend had made for the occasion, and we waited for the kids. And we waited. A few trickled in, and we waited. Conductor Eric arrived, and we waited. We’d see mothers with kids in tow walking in our direction, and we would smile and then sigh as they kept right on walking. In the end, all of six kids showed up—apparently the parents of all the others didn’t think it was necessary to let us know they’d be skipping the parade—or to be courteous.
Well, it goes on, doesn’t it, and you can’t just walk away from the hardy souls who want to ride in the wagon and sing songs they’ve been practicing since October, so OK. At start time, we took our place in line and proceeded down the street with all the other drenched floats, kids singing, music blaring, accompanying adults laughing. I looked at my friend Katy and said, “We find ourselves in the most unusual circumstances, don’t’ we?” We really do, she agreed, because in what scenario would we have predicted we would be sitting in a hay wagon on a rainy night in a parade with kids singing Jingle Bells?
Surprisingly, there were small groups of people scattered here and there under umbrellas or standing on their front porches, and we sang to them, and they waved to us, and then something smelled foul. Within an instant I saw smoke coming from one of the speakers—what I really saw in my mind’s eye was a spark shooting into one of those straw bales and lighting us all on fire—so I sprang up to see what was the matter (sorry, I couldn’t resist), and the speaker shorted out and put an end to our sound. Eric switched gears and immediately started singing one of the songs, Tom Paxton’s “The Marvelous Toy,” acapella and waving happily to the people on the street. What else could he do?
We approached the square, which is the pinnacle of these events, in silence and listened to the announcer plug our concert once again, and to whom was he speaking? Himself, apparently, because there was hardly anyone out there on that dark and miserable night with broken equipment and a handful of kids and rain pouring through the drainage holes we had had to cut in our tarp to keep it from crashing down on our sorry heads.
We made it back to the park to find our tarp had blown off on one end and had been trailing us for blocks like a giant tail. We unloaded as quickly as possible and matched the kids with their parents, and dripping wet, we high-tailed it to a restaurant for some consolation wine and dinner. Well, not all of us—in fact, the driver and hay wagon connection, Mary, drove the wagon back to its farm, and in their bleary-eyed exhaustion pulled the pin on the hitch before blocking the wagon wheels. Well, you can imagine the muddy chase as the wagon rolled away.
This is a story I felt I had to tell, although this is not the story you can tell to the fan base of your orchestra, is it? Don’t you have to be positive, and don’t you have to refine your telling and choose your words carefully? So, on Facebook, I called the evening a “logistics challenge.” Not a nightmare, not a fiasco, not an evening in which I hated the black souls of all the parents who didn’t call me to cancel so that we had to go on with this wretched wagon ride.
No, it was a challenge, and maybe having to put a good face on it was a healthful exercise, because as I have learned over the years, and as I have tried to do in everything, putting a positive spin on even the circumstances that seem doomed can help shed light into the darker corners. It’s not a matter of glossing over the warts. It’s a matter of focusing on what works.
This is what the evening looked like from my bale of straw:
Although this is what it felt like to me:
I think the little girl had the better approach. What do you think?