Thursday, December 23, 2010

Confessions of a reluctant shepherd

Doing something I haven't done in a long time, sitting back with the stereo loud and listening and thinking. I guess it's normal this time of year to want some Christmas music and I don't listen to the radio much so I am not sick of it yet. Though I am not religious at all, it is the Christian songs i want to hear. And nobody does it better than the Mormons... "Christmas with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir." Some of it reaches the extent of emotionalism, there are a couple of songs on this recording that raise it. One of them is "Oh Holy Night." Again, I have never been much of a fan of operatic sopranos, but the woman who sings the solo on that carol gives me goose bumps. It starts out with pretty much just her and gradually builds to the whole choir, but she is so strong a singer she even overwhelms that whole Tabernacle Choir.

Part of that song takes me so far back. It goes to the that little Lutheran Church in my home town where every year all of us kids had to participate in the Christmas pageant. We formed a creche and sang some of these songs while someone narrated the Christmas story. It was my first experience with type casting and I resented it greatly. Year after year i yearned to be Joseph but if not that at least a Wise Man. But, no, such was my lot in life that I was condemned to watch my sheep by night and greet the heavenly host, my burlap sack over my shoulders, my improvised shepherd's crook in hand and stand there doing nothing while i was supposed to be adoring the Christ child.

Who I was adoring was a girl named Bonnie. For the life of me I cannot recall her last name now. She was beautiful and very exotic because she didn't attend the public school the rest of us did. She went to a boarding school somewhere and the only time we saw her was at Christmas and every year from about the age of 8 on she stood in front of that scene and sang Oh Holy Night. And I stood in the back in my burlap knowing i would never be good enough to approach this beautiful girl who sang Oh Holy Night. So, from about the time I walked out onto that little alter stage until the last song was sung and the candy canes were handed out and we were freed from that burlap for another year, the only thing i knew about what was going on was that Bonnie was there and she was singing and nothing else mattered.

I take that back. One other thing mattered. One of the songs all of us sang was "Silent Night." Now this choir director was insistent that we pronounce our "ts" She wanted to hear the "t" in silent and she wanted the hear the "t" in night. We tried but we never did clip that "T" in unison. As a result, our Silent Night came out "Silent -t-t-t-t-t-t Night-t-t-t-t-t, Holy night-t-t-t-t-t-t. All those Tuh tuh tuhs made those of us in the back giggle until we could barely control ourselves. If that director had only let us leave the ts off she would never have had to apologize for us every year like she did. It was always "well I did my best, but these boys are incorrigible." I would have been less so if i could have done something besides herd fake sheep. Maybe be Joseph and stand there next to Bonnie when she sang.

Today though, that experience gave me this appreciation of the beautiful Christian music at Christmas and a lifelong dislike for most other Christmas music. I don't even like "Silver Bells", let alone" Mommy Kissing Santa Claus." Give me "Silenttttt Nightttt" or "Hark the Herald Angels Sing," even "Little Drummer Boy" and "Do You Hear What I Hear." And let me believe that somewhere out there tomorrow night a bunch of kids are trying to enunciate their Ts in unison and somewhere Bonnie is rehearsing tonight for tomorrow night's solo of "Oh Holy Night."

Meanwhile I have the Mormons here and they have whom I can only assume is a beautiful soprano singing "Oh Holy Night."

Here is another take on the same scene from someone else who was there:

It was probably Bonnie Matchulet. Her Mom was the organist. Her brother was my brother, Chip's age. I always got stuck singing because I could sing harmony [alto]. I remember all the guys standing around in their [or their Fathers'] bathrobes, and then when we'd see Bible story movies, the characters always had the same types of robes.
-- Peter Leitzke

1 comment:

  1. Tonight while reading this, I broke into serious chuckles. Too bad you can't remember Bonnie's last name.

    Happy holidays and a very spectacular upcoming year.

    ReplyDelete

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