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December 16, 2014

Christmas Lights and Glitches

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It’s been two weeks since I’ve written.  If you follow my blog, I bet you thought I was reading David Copperfield all this time. Not even close. I haven’t begun to look for my copy of it yet.

No, I’ve been Doing Christmas.  I tried making divinity and ended up with vanilla soup.  Only then did I buy a candy thermometer.  I don’t have enough experience to be able to judge hard ball stage the way my mother did.  Still, even she had soupy divinity years accompanied by her classic stage line, “Oh no, I did a dumb thing.”

I wrapped presents the day after Thanksgiving.  I love wrapping gifts but I usually put it off to the final hour, the idea being to save the best for last.  But by the final hour I am usually so tired of everything that I want to just throw unwrapped gifts at people, turn and run away.  So this year I did it first thing and that put me in a good mood.

Then there were the holiday sales: the now infamous one that was annexed by a funeral, and then the Dibble House bazaar.  I played the piano for the opening preview at Dibble House and checked in every day because it was hard to stay away.  It’s a fun tradition and I like seeing everyone year after year.

And now the performances have begun.  The OK Chorale had a really splendid last rehearsal and a first performance fraught with unexpected glitches.  In a tradition that began years ago we sang at University House Wallingford prior to singing at the Green Lake Pathway of Lights.  Everyone dresses in layers.  Closest to the skin are the party clothes, as thin as possible because it’s hot at the retirement home.  Then come the sweaters, hats, gloves, and down coats because it’s usually freezing cold at the lake.

University House has a baby grand electric piano which is easy to maneuver and fun to play, and means I don’t have to bring my keyboard.  We launched into our first song, “Winter Wonderland,” after which the tenors and sopranos murmured that it seemed awfully low.  Jessi, soprano had a pitch pipe with her.  (I have no idea why she travels with a pitch pipe but maybe it has something to do with being a regular of the Gilbert and Sullivan Society.)  We checked the tuning and discovered the piano had been cranked down a minor third.  I scrutinized the buttons on the piano.  Some keyboards are easy to tune up or down.  Others need tools and the instruction manual.  This was one of the latter.

I wish now we had sung everything a cappella using the pitch pipe to get us started.  It’s not what we do best but we aren’t called The OK Chorale for nothing.  Instead we burrowed down into the music and I think some of the women tenors scraped their voices raw by the end.  On the plus side, two of the songs are unusually high for all the parts so this made for an easy warm up to when we had to sing them in the cold night air.  But I didn’t think fast enough to change course and I think it threw everyone.

So I was primed for everything to get either worse or better.  Nina—my dear friend Nina—is the most cheerful of chauffeurs.  I do know how to drive and though the keyboard is heavy and cumbersome, I can get it in and out of my car.  But Nina picks me up for rehearsals and performances and we have a chance to catch up with each other on the drive.  Nina picked up me and Ruthie, another soprano, at my house and was the chauffeur for the evening.  Green Lake is only about a quarter of a mile away from University House but on this particular night it took us nearly fifteen minutes to get from one to the other because the Green Lake Pathway of Lights has become so popular that traffic clogs every street emanating from the lake.

Nina dropped us, the keyboard, and the OK Chorale sign at a load zone and drove off to park the car.  We made our way through the crowd to the stage at the Aqua Theater where the superb “Five O’ Clock Shadows” were performing ahead of us.  A cold crisp night, it was more importantly dry.  That meant the 3000 candles that ring the lake are real candles, not LED lights.

The “Five O’ Clock Shadows” finished their set and the Chorale got into place.  Nina hadn’t yet arrived. We sang “Winter Wonderland.”  No Nina. I looked for her after every song.  Halfway through the show I knew she had been in an accident.  Then I calmed myself by imagining that she had arrived but for some reason–that she never would have credited– had decided to stand back and listen. I had to keep calling my mind back to what I doing: directing, playing the keyboard, looking intelligent.  The Chorale sang beautifully.  Their faces–-the ones not buried in the music—are so dear to me.  I love watching this group sing.  But I missed Nina.

At the end of our set, Nickie, soprano, said to me.  “Nina texted me.  She had parked and was on her way here when she realized she wasn’t going to make it so she turned around and went back for the car.”

I almost burst into tears. “Oh god, I use her like a commodity.  And for god’s sake, isn’t it time I got a cell phone!”

Ruthie and I waited in the load zone with the keyboard and sign while revelers streamed passed us and parking places opened up before our very eyes. I asked Nickie and her niece Marie to stay with us because neither Ruthie or I had a cell phone.  Ruthie hadn’t brought hers but when Marie understood me to say I didn’t own one, she looked at me like I was some kind of relic.  I was feeling like one.

Nina was only a few blocks away but she was stuck in traffic and pointing away from the lake. When I talked to her on Nickie’s phone she sounded about as harassed as I have ever heard her sound.

“I’m never doing this again!” she said.

I told her to go home and have an Old Fashioned and we’d get Nickie to take us to my house.

“But you have stuff in my car.”

“I can get it tomorrow.”

“No, I’ll wait for you at your house.  It’ll give me a chance to calm down.”

And so ended our 18th year singing at the Green Lake Pathway of Lights.  Oh, the internal drama of performing.  Everyone has such a different internal experience.  Ruthie who was experiencing the Pathway of Lights for the first time declared it magical.  I felt distracted.  The audience was big and enthusiastic.

Performing is like sex.  Sometimes the performer works hard and the audience has an ecstatic experience.  Sometimes the performer gets lost in her own bliss and the audience is unmoved.  Sometimes it’s a rush for everyone.   They also serve in absentia who are parking the goddamn car.

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