When I got to church last Sunday, the sanctuary was swarming with children in their bathrobes with beards made from toilet tank covers. There was a six month old baby rolling around the floor in front of the altar. The pastor’s study, doubling as the green room, was cluttered with props. An eight year old angel in t-shirt and corduroy pants, flew importantly about, fussing with her wings and halo.
The Christmas pageant, what else? I direct the choir at Broadview UCC church and play the piano twice a month. I was on deck for the pageant. My car had broken down the day before and I was in that calm but ignorant state of not yet knowing how much the repair job was going to cost. In the meantime people were chauffeuring me. I had hitched a ride with the prelude soloist who is also my voice student and an artist –Mary Oakland Designs—in several media.
I stepped over the baby and went to the piano. The choir was to rehearse their small part in the service, an advent round sung from the four corners of the sanctuary, but the choir was nowhere to be seen. Mary and I ran through “Ave Maria.” By then it was twenty minutes until show time. The choir gradually, sleepily appeared.
“Can I get the choir in their corners? Let’s run through the round.”
The Access van arrived with Mary Ann and she was wheeled to the front where Jane, who has a relentless supply of energy, appeared with the angel costume that Mary Ann always enjoys wearing in the pageant. Chris, a tenor, materialized behind me to light the altar candles.
“Get back in your corner,” I yelled.
She laughed. She laughed. Chris was in the army once. She’s been through boot camp so I guess I am small potatoes. On the other hand, she told me once that she made it through boot camp by thinking of it as a joke. I expect that’s how she manages me.
The choir eventually got itself organized, evidently not appreciating how critical to the entire 2010 Christmas season our 30 second round was.
“I want everyone to sing the first two lines together, then group one can continue on but group two goes back and starts over. Then we’ll sing it as a round twice,” I said.
“Are you going to play it on the piano”
“I was in a different corner at the rehearsal.”
“Do you mean twice as a round after we go back to the beginning or twice altogether?”
“Just watch me, okay? I will either cut you off or burst into tears, either way you stop singing.”
Five minutes to go. Ave Maria takes longer. People were still milling around, talking.
I would have liked to yell, “Sit down and shut up. Mary has been working on this friggin’ Schubert for over a year and I want you to listen to her.” But I only talk that way to the choir because they don’t take me seriously.
Mary did a beautiful job. Towards the end, people listened.
Then Jane got up to give announcements. She mis-read something and effectively canceled my last choir rehearsal before Christmas Eve. Because I was lost in my fantasies that there was nothing expensive wrong with my car, it didn’t sink in until the choir was in the middle of its advent round.
I thought, “Oh crap, now I have to call everyone before Tuesday.”
When I thought we had sung the round roughly two times, I waved my arms to cut us off. Chris blithely continued for a few ironic beats, soloing on the words, “watching, waiting.”
Of Chris I will say no more because I don’t want to jeopardize my invitation for crab cakes at her house on Boxing Day.
The pageant commenced.
Jane, the ubiquitous, appeared with a blue shawl over her shoulders looking 9 ½ months pregnant. I stood up to get a better look. “Wow,” I thought. “Nice pillow work.”
Mary and Joseph had their tussle with the innkeepers. I played the entr’acte music while the scene changed.
Jane re-appeared, flat as a super-model, holding the baby that had been rolling around in front of the altar when I first got to church.
A shepherd said his line, “And do you hear the music?”
Dead silence. I scanned my script. I saw the shepherd’s line but no instruction to play any music.
The next entrance was for the angel Gabriel who did not materialize.
I tried to think what song might match whatever the shepherds were supposed to hear. All I could think of was “Drive My Car” because it was something I hoped to be doing the next day.
So the answer to the shepherd’s question was No. No one heard the music.
The director hissed, “ANGEL!”
The angel finally stumbled out of the pastor’s study and bellowed, “Do not be afraid!”
The three wise people approached. They were the heart of this wonderfully conceived pageant (written and directed by Marc Hoffman.) The three wise people, Sally, Tom, and Charles, are the oldest members of the church. Their memories of childhood Christmases had been transcribed and were read aloud earlier by the children –stories of Christmas trees with lit candles on them, the gift of a pink coat with a muff, 32 below zero weather for Christmas. They sat in state with gold crowns on their heads and golden mantles around their shoulders until their cue to come forward.
Listening to the eldests’ memories being read by the youngest, I forgot about my car. I felt securely present, linked between past and future. This is the holiday of the winter solstice: a reminder that in the scheme of things our lives are a 30 second advent round. We are all precious and we all go by so quickly.
Have a wonderful week, everyone! This is probably the last you will hear from me before the holiday. Unless I need a ride somewhere.