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December 14, 2011

Christmas With The OK Chorale

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The full moon is waning and I am following it down the backside of my Christmas schedule.  Three performances were crushed into this past weekend and my book launch was scheduled for Monday, or in other words, on the day I would typically expect to crash.  Just as I was about to cry “uncle,” on the events that had accumulated, a college friend who I hadn’t seen in 35 years wrote to me out of the blue that he would be in Seattle on this busy weekend.

I sat down and breathed.  I often have a hard time living in the moment.  It’s easy for me to get exercised about something I imagine might happen (read: go wrong) in the days that are yet to come.  I have had many moments in the past three weeks when I have heard myself say something in this vein: “You know what?  Nothing is happening.  You are sitting here knitting.  There’s nothing going on to be anxious about.”

I managed to convince myself that what I was calling anxiety could just as accurately be termed excitement.  My body might not know the difference but my mind knows and it makes life more manageable.  I told myself that since I am 57 years old, there wasn’t all that much coming up that I hadn’t been through at least 150 times.   The only surprises left were either the fun ones—like if someone farts during a music rest– or the gratifying experience of knowing I could get through a disaster –if I am the one who farts–philosophically and with humor.

The Chorale did its usual fearless job at the church concert on Friday night.  When the Chorale was in its early years and I told people to dress casually and wear Santa hats and elf tights, one or two brave souls came partially costumed.  Friday night nearly everyone had reindeer antlers, angel haloes, elf hats, santa hats, or bobblies of some kind. When we sang Cool Yule, out came the sunglasses and straw fedoras.

The Maccabean tenors (always the tenors) had cigarette lighter apps on their i-phones for “Light the Legend” and socks for “When shepherds washed their socks by night, all seated round the tub, the angel of the Lord came down and they began to scrub.”  The tenors plan these things when I am working with the other parts.  It’s why they like to sit as far from the piano as possible.

“Carol of the Bells” is the song with the soprano ostinato:  Harkhowthebells,sweetsilverbells, allseemtosay, throwcaresaway, Christmasishere, and so on.  You’d recognize it if you heard it. The other voices join in one by one, building in excitement to the moment the sopranos break out of their pattern and cut loose with “Gaily they ring” on a high G.  Except that what so often comes out is not a glorious ringing of a soprano’s most beloved note, but a series of little bat squeaks.  I don’t just mean in my choir, I mean in many choirs.  It’s a difficult passage.

The problem is that the note is high and exposed and singers lose their nerves at the 59th second and back away from it.  One rehearsal I told them all to fling their arms in the air when they sang the G.  The sound reverberated through the sanctuary.  It was stunning.  I encouraged them to fling their arms every time we practiced the song.  Some did, some didn’t.  If at least one soprano threw her arms in the air, the note rang like a bell.  I was pretty certain I could count on Susan (in her second career as domestic goddess), to come through in the performance.  After all she once brought down the house prancing around like a chicken while we sang “The Hen’s Duet” in the Charlotte Martin Theater at Seattle Center.  This was chicken feed compared to that.  She didn’t disappoint, the sopranos were marvelous and I have never worried less about that piece.

The night after the church concert we sang at University House where I heard a resident say “Look, it’s a herd of reindeer!”  I told the tenors that if they were going to brandish their socks they ought to go all out and hang them on their antlers whereby Jean, the civic minded tenor, threw her pair at me, civic minded not being the same as civil. So I backed off.

From University House we trooped down to our annual stake-out of the 6:00 time slot at the aqua theatre and the Green Lake luminaria.  This is my favorite December activity, baking Christmas bread running a close second.  The lake is lined with 3,000 tea-lights sunk in sand and housed in plain brown paper lunch bags.  Music groups are scheduled at three locations along the pathway.  On a warm-ish dry night like last Saturday, 10,000 people were expected to walk along at least part of the three-mile lake.

The OK Chorale has sung at the luminarias for 15 years.  For most of those years, it’s rained.  The poor little candles go out and the bags wilt but we carry on.  True Northwesterners come out in their rain gear.  One year it snowed big, fat flakes. Another year we sang on a full moon.

My first experience of the luminarias was magical.  It was a clear, cold night.  This is what people did before TV, I thought.  That was in the nineties.  Now I think it’s what people did before the Internet.  It’s a different kind of magic with the tenors lighting their Smart Phone candles.

Cool Yule


At the Green Lake Luminarias

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