The All Present/OK Chorale Holiday Concert and Cookie Exchange took place over the weekend. The actual Cookie Exchange was demoted to Cookie Potluck as in the end no one had the stomach for the politics of a formal cookie exchange.
“Whose idea was this cookie exchange anyway?” asked Susan, my lovely assistant with All Present and my copy editor for all writing endeavors except my blog which she stays away from unless my punctuation wakes her up in the middle of the night.
“Mine,” I said.
“Are you crazy?”
Earlier I had gotten a call from Carin, the social worker at the Greenwood Senior Center asking me how the cookie exchange was going to work.
“I’ve never done one before,” she said.
Not only had I, too, never done a cookie exchange, I had only attended one in my life and that was years ago. But as a student of mine once said as she set out to arrange a piece of music into four part harmony, “How hard can it be?”
I put Nina (rhymes with Dinah) in charge of it.
“Just have one table where people can eat all they want while they are here and one where they can fill a plate to take home,” I said.
Nina gave it some thought and declared that there would be no cookie exchange. “I don’t want to have to cope with two tables,” she said.
“Fine,” I said.
Whose idea was this Cookie Exchange thing anyway?
That settled, All Present went through their dress rehearsal, which was mainly a planning period for me, my assistants Susan, Mike and The Other Susan, and a handful of OK Chorale members. The twelve singers in All Present were not going to remember what they did or why. For them it was just another chance to sing. We tried out “Jingle Bells” with jingle bells and “Deck the Hall” with “fa, la, la” signs which I made for the OK Chorale many years ago. I picked out four carols that we could do in the key of C so our harmonica virtuosos, Jim O. and Dennis could play the introductions on their harmonicas.
“We’ve got C and G harmonicas,” they told me.
“We only need the C.” I said
“Ok, but we’ve got both.”
I had had a brainwave that morning that Jim M. might be willing to sing “O Holy Night.” Everyone in All Present sings well but Jim M. has a golden, magnificent voice and a breath capacity that seems to have no end. He also seems to know every word to every song ever written so I had no doubt he knew “O Holy Night.” He was a little hesitant to sing it alone but he said he’d give it a try.
Then I thought of The Other Susan. (I’m calling her that because if I used the first letter of their last names to distinguish them, they would be Susan A and Susan F, which looked like they were being graded for existing.) The Other Susan, one of my voice students, is a lovely lyric soprano as well as both a terrified adult and a spotlight whore. Susan and Jim were just what each other needed. We ran through “O Holy Night” and they sounded splendid together.
Now that I am writing this down, I am amassing the many highlights of the Cookie Concert: The Chorale opened with my arrangement of “Winter Wonderland,” which I am proud of. The rhythm of the bass and tenor and the harmonies in the soprano and alto make me smile. I thank the muses that visited me the day I wrote it.
Eileen, tenor, bought eight candles for “Ocho Candelikas.” Her idea was for designated people to hold up their candles as we sang “una candelika,” then “dos candelikas” etc. until eight candles were held high.
“I don’t know how to assign the candles,” she said
I tried to hide my pity. It was such a lovely idea.
“Here’s how,” I said. “You there—you’re one. You’re two, three, four, five six, seven, eight. Now write down your number and if you’re going to miss a performance, find a substitute. If you tell me you’ve forgotten which number you are, I’ll slap you.”
“Ocho Candelikas” was a hit every time we sang it this year.
We sang the Bach chorale “Break Forth, O Beauteous Heavenly Light,” “Gaudete,” and ended with “A Holiday Feast for a Hungry Choir” (by Lee G. Barrow, music professor at the University of North Georgia.) This final piece was choreographed, cast, and directed by Hal, bass. It opens with a poem explaining that the choir has been so busy performing that it hasn’t had time to eat. Weak with hunger, the choir free associates food into the carols.
Instead of the “ding dong, ding dong” in “Carol of the Bells,” the choir sings about Hostess Ding-Dongs. Instead of “Bring a Torch, Jeannette Isabella,” they sing “Bring a torte, Annette Isabella.” “O come let us adore Him” became “O come let us all gorge then.” Through-out the medley of Christmas songs was a recurring theme of figgy pudding, which necessitated a magnificent prop: a 12-pound non-edible figgy pudding, looking every ounce like the real thing. It cost $75. We took up a collection to defray the expense and I am now the custodian of it along with the OK Chorale’s boar’s head. And this is the year I was hoping to realize my goal of packing Christmas all into one box.
Hal’s two granddaughters played the parts of Annette Isabella and Not Annette Isabella. They produced the figgy pudding on cue and salted the audience with Hostess ding dongs at the end of the song. Two years ago, Hal Played “Good King Wenceslas” and the girls enacted the page and the poor man gathering winter fuel. Next year I want to do songs from the Grinch. But Kelsey and Brianna might have outgrown the fun by then:
“One of you can be Cindy Lou Who and we’ll mousse your hair straight up.”
“No one’s touching my hair,” Brianna said.
After the “Holiday Feast for a Hungry Choir” we got All Present up on the stage. Some of the Chorale arranged chairs for them and some helped them negotiate the step onto the stage. The stage at the Greenwood Senior Center is much shorter than the one at the Phinney Community Hall where Jim O. almost pitched over the edge last summer.
I asked Jim O. and Dennis if they had their harmonicas ready.
“We’ve got C and G,” they said. “Which one do you want?”
“Let’s use the C,” I said.
“OK, what for?”
“Can you play “Jingle Bells?” I asked
“We can play it in C or G.”
“Let’s go with C,” I said.
After “Jingle Bells” The Other Susan helped Jim M. up.
“What am I singing?” he asked
“We’re singing this.” She pointed to the song sheet he was holding.
Susan told me afterwards that she had a moment of anxiety. But as soon as Jim heard the introduction to “O Holy Night,” he touched her hand and said, “OK, let’s go!”
They sang “O Holy Night” and half the room cried, including me.
We started the audience sing-a-long. When we got to “Deck the Hall,” I went up to Dennis and Jim O.
“Can you play “Deck the Hall” now?”
“You want us to play?”
“We can play it in C or G.”
“Let’s go with C.”
We had the same exchange for “Silent Night” and “White Christmas.”
We ended the show with “Auld Lang Syne.” It’s a fascinating phenomenon, short term memory loss. All Present comprises a group of people who can’t remember what they had for breakfast and aren’t always sure who I am or what they are doing in a room at the Greenwood Senior Center. Until we start to sing. Then they remember every word from every song from days gone by. From old long time. From Auld Lang Syne.