This is the time of the season in a parochial school when the three R's became Rehearsal Rehearsal Rehearsal. The Christmas program was coming up - the Big One. This one packed TWO services so full you could hear the floors creak and all the normal echoes were absorbed by the intently listening crowds. We didn't know all this at the time - we would have been terrified. We were just in first grade, but we could sense that something very very important was in the works.
Even the first grade was expected to pull its own weight. The relentless pressure and inter-class competition was on. The regular memory work (you had to memorize a Bible passage or hymn verse and recite it on demand in class) was replaced by recitations and song lyrics from the upcoming program. And this stuff, you HAD to know. This wasn't just the Bible, this was something far more important. Parents were alerted, and my mother heeded the call. Home became a boot camp of Christmas parts, my brother and sister and I had to recite the day's allotment perfectly, or there would be no peace..
The time normally spent on many other classroom subjects was now spent in drilling the recitations and songs relentlessly. Group rehearsals over in the church were a new thing. The director (Mr. Matthes) was shouting instructions from the balcony, and the school children were arranged by classes in the pews. It was the first time we had been in the church without being at a service. We stood and faced the back of the church as our parts came up. Our teacher motioned when we were to rise, and we were all to turn around together, the same way, the same speed, so it looked nice.
And there were numbers in which ALL the classes were involved. Different age groups learned different vocal parts. The middle grades did the alto part, or "second voice" as it was called, and the upper grades did the tenor part ("third voice"). We could hear the other classes practicing their parts through the hallway - it was strange that they sang the same songs we were learning but they sang a different melody. I concluded of course that as one grew older, the melodies one was allowed or perhaps compelled to sing would change. It was such a revelation the first time we, the "first voice" sang the song in the church, and the other grades sang the song with their melody, and together, it was just beautiful. To be part of something so grand was thrilling to me. We were all singing the same song, but it sounded so, well, angelic when the three voices harmonized. Forget that some of us were singing "glerrrrria" and some were slurring the notes together, sounding sloppy, as the director was quick to point out. Couldn't he hear how great we sounded? Let's sing it again! Gloria in Excelsis Deo!
As my friend Norman, who was also there at the time, said: "We've provided people with a lot of musical "entertainment", and entertained ourselves along the way. I think it's been a harder life than I ever imagined it would be, but we got music as the gift, the guide, the goodwill, and the blessing that keeps on giving (on both sides of that coin, if you get my drift). No good deed goes unpunished. But for every time it blows up in your face, if you get one smile that wasn't there before, it's worth it. Plus we got coffee, beer, and tobacco as consolation prizes. Not bad at all." And I quote him out of context, and without his permission! Pay as You Go, Dude!
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