Music has always been important to Ron and me. My parents were professional musicians who had met as rookie violinists in the city symphony. They gave me and my sister piano and violin lessons, took us to concerts, and enrolled us in the local chapter of the National Federation of Music Clubs. I played in the community youth orchestra, sang in my school choral groups, and played in the city symphony for a number of years.
Ron’s father was a vocalist with his brother’s dance orchestra, appearing throughout Pennsylvania during the Big Band era. Ron had accordion lessons (because his Uncle Vic owned one and gave the instruction), formed “The Dark Tops” with three of his friends and cut a record in the 1950s, and has sung with a number of community choral groups. He has been a member of his church choir for fifty years. Indeed, singing sacred music is the only way he prays.
Lynn has had piano and flute instruction and belonged to her school concert band from third grade on. Like her father, she claims singing as her first musical love, and she’s participated in her school’s choral groups and the annual musical. (See a picture of her as a nameless wretch in Les Misérables.)
It was our pleasure from the time she was in ninth grade to attend the candlelight concert her school chorus gives each year about this time. That ninth grade year I arrived at the concert anxious, depressed, and in pain from complications of a knee injury that would require surgery a few weeks later. The simultaneous mediatative and joyful nature of the program did a lot to change my attitude. Indeed, I think it saved the season for me, and I took to planning my party preparation so that nearly everything was done in time for this concert and I could use attendance at it as a reward.
Our small township has a diverse population. Although most of us are Christians, we have a significant Jewish presence (so significant that the schools are closed on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and our neighborhood supermarket’s in-store bakery is certified kosher), as well as people who adhere to Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and some lesser-known African traditions. While some schools in the area (and across the country) have had problems with religious content in December music performances, our school has not. Nor have they taken the easy way out and presented an evening of nothing but “Frosty the Snowman” and “Winter Wonderland.” Lynn has sung programs that included Latin motets, traditional Christmas carols in English, French, and German, secular songs and show tunes with winter themes, Negro spirituals, and songs in Hebrew, Swahili, and Yiddish.
Because her college is only fifty minutes away, she was able to come home last night for her first holiday concert as an alumna. I knew that the event would be bittersweet for her. She hasn’t been able to schedule participation in the chorus at college, and at our Thanksgiving Eve service she became teary when the women’s ensemble performed. She confessed that she misses group singing very much.
The high school concert was everything we have come to expect. We still know many students on the stage, and it was good to be amid all that young energy again. The program was typical, beginning with a hodie, moving through Chanukkah songs, jingly as well as reflective secular songs, traditional carols, and ending with a rousing Moses Hogan arrangement of “Ezekiel Saw De Wheel.” The students sang almost entirely from memory and thanked their Latvian language coach (somebody’s grandmother who helped them with Ziemassvêtku nakts and two other songs) and their Yiddish language coach (somebody else’s grandmother guiding them through Chanuke, Oi Chanuke; a lot of our kids have good Hebrew, but almost nobody speaks Yiddish anymore).
The best part, however, was the traditional finale, Handel’s mighty Hallelujah Chorus done with audience participation, and alumni and parents invited on stage to join their old friends.
I think I miss Lynn’s group singing as much as she does.
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