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December 31, 2017

What I Did On My Holiday

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On this last day of a moody year, I think it would be a good exercise for me to review all the good things about the spin cycle of the last month, otherwise known as the holiday season.

The holidays begin in October when I start the fall quarter of the OK Chorale and All Present. We’re singing “Deck the Hall” before Halloween.

October is the month I finish making the liqueur I sell at the Dibble House Holiday Sale. I drag out my big jars of raspberry and currant infused vodka. I strain my patience and the berries at the same time. I make a sugar syrup, stir everything together and pour most of the liquid into bottles I have been collecting all year. The remainder of sticky, red liqueur I wipe off the floor, the counters, the walls, my fingers, the soles of my shoes and door knobs as far away as the house across the street.

If that isn’t enough trouble, I used to make a different label for each jar, writing on old scraps of watercolor paintings: “Northwest Berry Liqueur. organic raspberries, organic currants, organic sugar, cheap vodka.” But this year I made a label from a favorite watercolor and had my guy Vince at Fed-Ex make me a bunch of gummed labels. That gave me more time to wipe up excess liqueur that had belatedly and mysteriously gotten smeared on the mirror in the bedroom and inside the medicine cabinet.

Artemis contemplates her existence (One of my favorite watercolors)

But I digress. Back to all the good things of the past season: The holiday is fully airborne the day after Thanksgiving with the Dibble House Holiday Sale. This tradition is about 25 years old and a lot of us do it year after year so it’s always a reunion. We set up during the day and the “preview” is that evening. The sale runs all weekend but what makes the preview different is the wine. Also I play the piano amidst effusive thanks and very few tips. There’s a warm and festive atmosphere and lots of memories from years past.

The day after the preview, the OK Chorale sang at what I refer to as the Monkey Lighting at the Phinney Neighborhood Center but I believe its official name is the Glow Cone lighting. The PNA is just down the street from the Woodland Park Zoo, which was the inspiration to light the long stretch from Phinney and 50th all the way to Greenwood and 87th with lighted monkey figures. The big light-off happens at the Phinney Air Raid tower (yes, you read that correctly) on Thanksgiving weekend.  The Chorale has been the entertainment for the past four years. By the Monkey Lighting we are still in rehearsals so we sing whatever we can manage without dropping our music. Four years ago at out debut gig, it was 13 degrees outside. The next two years it poured rain. This year it was a beautiful clear cold night on which to die happy.

Two weeks later we sang at the Green Lake Pathway of Lights, which we called The Luminaries until it was pointed out (by my friend Nina, rhymes with Dinah) that luminaries are people and the pathway of 3000 lighted candles are luminarias. For at least fifteen years we have sung at the aqua theater at the south west corner of the lake but this year, for some reason, we were scheduled outside the Community Center.  The parking was even more insane than across the lake when they open up the soccer field parking. I always hate the getting there but once we are on stage and singing, it is magical, especially on another cold, bright evening.

The week before Christmas, The OK Chorale and All Present, my song circle for people with memory loss, join forces and sing a concert. By this time in the season I would much prefer to stay home in my pajamas, eat potato chips and watch stupid television for a week straight but as with the Luminarias, once I get to the concert and get past everyone needing to tell me about their experience in high school glee club and the time they sang with Dickens carolers in Duluth, I thoroughly enjoy myself. We had a huge audience. When everyone joined in the singing at the end, it sounded like I had a whole cathedral of people behind me.

Of all the warm, nostalgic and happy experiences, the one that shines most brightly was what happened after this particular concert. One of our long-time altos did not sing this quarter because she was heavily into chemo therapy for a particularly vicious cancer. A dozen of us (and a quorum, thanks to Chris who held the tenor section) planted ourselves in her living room, gave her a music book and together we sang our program.

When I set up this engagement, Shelley had at first declined, saying, “I would probably cry all the way through.”

“And what would be the problem with that?” I asked. “We’ll all be doing the same thing.”

I know I cried. Shelley has a magnificent grand piano and I love playing it but I could hardly see the music through my tears. At the end when we sang “Auld Lang Syne,” I put my arms around one of our sopranos who is in a difficult patch and very nearly sobbed down her back.

It’s been such a difficult year for so many of us. The holiday as it approached seemed like just another difficult thing to get through. (And quite often for musicians, it is. We work hard so you can have nostalgic experiences. Sorry, I had to say it.) But singing at Shelley’s house, a little private audience for someone we love, whose absence doesn’t bear thinking of, was the center that still holds.

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