The Thing About Holiday Concerts

Carl Bosch attended his last Holiday Concert, and, well, it was glorious.

Exactly 154 eighth-grade students stood on the auditorium stage last week preparing to sing. A packed house watched the massed 13- and 14-year-olds, bedecked in ties and jackets, skirts and dresses. All student eyes focused on their Chorus instructor. It’s the last Holiday Concert that I’ll attend.

Earlier in the day, during a 90-minute rehearsal, we, the handful of staff trying to help our chorus teacher, had our hands full. It felt like trying to keep a herd of 154 cats meowing in unison. Excuse me … their voices were fine (although lacking energy), their behavior was less so. Heads turning, chuckling, silly jokes, inattention, bathroom breaks, flirting, crowding, and general disinterest seemed to envelop the crowd of students. Their teacher somehow found the invisible borderline channeling a mixture of Mary Poppins and Darth Vader. Coaxing, cajoling, and threatening, she put them through their paces. Improvement, in small increments, was revealed. Practicing getting on and off the stage, an exercise in inventive prancing, preening, and pirouetting, slowly transformed into an orderly march. The songs continued to improve and when cautioned with the option of performing at their peak or missing lunch, they rose to the occasion.

And then to the concert that evening. The band delivered excellent versions of tunes well-rehearsed. The orchestra somehow managed to play a set that ran from Tchaikovsky to a Hebrew song to Led Zeppelin. The jazz band kicked some songs including a spirited version of “Louie, Louie.” And the Chorus … would they … could they … deliver?

I sat transfixed, caught between the individual natures and personalities of the students I’ve come to know with all their unique and separate stories, and what, for 20 minutes on this choral evening, they have become. They roll through modern pop tunes, a slowly dramatic turn on “Winter Wonderland,” and a strong, emotional choral tune called “Stand Together.” They sound … simply wonderful. They act … wonderful as well. And they look … well … wonderful. For 20 minutes, there are no academic failures, no broken families, no histrionics, no acting out, no drama. For 20 minutes they leave all that behind. As we have often heard, but seldom get to experience, the sum of their combined efforts is much larger than any single individual. For a brief span, a millisecond on the radar of their life, they produce something akin to art. Their four- and five-part harmony merge in a small miracle.

Most are not aware of what they’ve accomplished. They know they’ve done a good job. They receive the accolades of family, friends, and teachers. In their last song, “Stand Together” they sing, “If we stand together, we will sing forever of the dreams growing in our hearts.” But not really. A beautiful, false sentiment. Most will not continue on in chorus for high school. Many simply aren’t aware of their combined skill. There are very few “togethers” and almost no “forevers”.

But some, perhaps but a few, will return to this experience and future ones like it. They’ll be in band or orchestra or chorus. They’ll play throughout high school and on into college. Perhaps beyond. They’ll come to cherish it and look for it, and possess it fully when it visits them again. But on this night, during this December, for 20 minutes, they all sang together and shared something near to dreams.

10,038 days down, 117 left

—Photo daveparker/Flickr

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About Carl Bosch

Carl Bosch has appeared in publications as varied as the New York Times and Cricket magazine. His books for children have sold over 60,000 copies. An educator for 38 years (soon coming to an end) he's now working on storytelling through MouseMuse Productions and performing marriage ceremonies as a Justice of the Peace.

Comments

  1. I love these stories! I know exactly what you mean about the changes between a rehearsal and a performance. I love seeing the combined group years after I had them in the primary grades, inching their way toward adulthood and dare we hope maturity!? Your magic way with words touches my heart, Mr. Bosch. :)

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