How I missed the spirit of the Christmas holiday
The holidays are upon us, and my husband and I wanted to capture some of that festive, warm spirit. Having moved from Florida a year and a half ago, many of our holiday traditions were left behind with our family and friends. In Orlando, we have enjoyed the Orlando Ballet Company’s A Nutcracker Suite and the Orlando Theater Project’s Scrooged for many years. There were numerous tree decorating, cookie baking and bonfire parties we would be missing. We needed good cheer and a twinkle of magic to help us in our new home. My husband and I decided to attend the City of Gatlinburg 20th Annual Community Chorale A Traditional Christmas. It had been advertised as a living Christmas tree performance, and we felt it would be an excellent start to our new holiday preparations. Many of our coworkers belong to various choirs and had been talking for weeks about their Christmas programs, but they occur later in the season. We wanted some holiday cheer NOW! So with great anticipation we set off to find our holiday spirit.
We arrived at the Gatlinburg Convention Center, just as the lights were dimming. As we stole along the back of the chairs to find a comfortable place to sit, we noticed the huge holiday lit, 6 tier, 40 foot Christmas tree, and in front to the left, a baby grand piano. The accompanist, Jana Stiles, was playing a soft medley of Christmas songs. We looked over the program and were amazed by the number of choir members-25! How would they all fit on that tree? The musical selections combined religious and secular songs, some of which we hadn’t heard before–or so we thought. The choir began its procession to the tree, amid much confusion, while the accompanist played a melody I couldn’t place. It soon became apparent that there was a shortage of choir members, because the tree was barren of singers in spots, and the top two tiers were completely empty. They were missing nine members. My hopes were beginning to descend.
The program began with Sing a Song of Merry Christmas by W.A. Mozart/ W. Ehret. I was still looking forward to hearing joyous voices singing about the comforts of the season, but had to lower my expectations as my husband reminded me this was not a professional group, but a community group. With that understanding clear in my mind, I sat back to enjoy what I could of the performance. Soon, my ears were assaulted by an off-key rendition of Christmas Grace, which was Christmas-tized version of Amazing Grace. The program began to get better with the piano duet of All Alone Beneath The Mistletoe/Ring Those Christmas Bells. My husband laughed at me because I preferred a non-vocal performance to the choir. A duet between the chorale director Mark Cheramie, and Sandra Pinkoski of Vivaldi’s Laudamus Te was the highlight of the show. His operatic tenor and her soprano soared the glorious music around the room, and filled the space with peace and joy. Finally, some spirit, some cheer! And that’s when it hit me: this chorale group lacked spirit and joy in their voices. They were singing as if their hearts had been taken out, and their souls stomped upon. Why? Could it have been because they were missing so many of their number? They had lost their confidence, I imagined. It didn’t help that the audience was slowly sneaking out. The rest of the performance was lackluster, with one or two exceptions; a solo from the divine voice of Mark Cheramie of Gesu Bambino and a warm group rendition of Still, Still, Still.
Well, we hadn’t quite received the Christmas spirit we were looking for, but on the drive home, my husband remarked that he had been thinking about what my late father’s reaction to this performance might have been. We both agreed he would have groused about as much as I did, but he would have ended up singing along-whether anyone else in the audience did or not. He would have enjoyed it just for the sake of the people and the music-not whether they were on key or off; or if a young man’s voice was changing amid his solo. (It did!) It was the spirit of coming together that he would have enjoyed so much. I was shamed, because I had missed the spirit all together.