Twas the Night Before Finals

I have been on both sides of a performance since way before I can mentally remember, and likely somewhere around the time I was first forming eyelids.

My mom was a musician.

Her children all became musicians.

She married a man who was not a musician, but was a better musician than many musicians I have come to know.

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Sitting in the audience is hard if you go to a concert and you are “a musician.”

You really, really, REALLY want the performance to go well. Better than well. Spectacular. You want to be moved in a way that would have you offering a kidney to any one of the participants afterward as a way of saying thank you for sharing their skill, talent and soul with you.

I know very few musicians who actually attend other people’s concerts with their fingers crossed that the show will suck and it will get slammed by the press. Yes, I know a few, but they’re miserable, unhappy people who are constipated and suffer from halitosis. They have no friends. It’s a sad life, but they deserve it.

I went to a concert last night. It was a holiday concert I attend nearly every year. And it’s something I look forward to with as much excitement as the first winter snowflake, the first winter hearth fire, and the first moment I realize it’s futile to keep fighting my body’s desperate need to bulk up for the upcoming season. Winter pudge is a fact of life, and I’ve come to heartily embrace it.

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Almost as much as I relish this annual concert.

Every year, this particular performance spotlights the talents of our local university’s divine male voices, corralled into polished control. It must be a massive undertaking, as these dulcet tones are more accustomed to swilling caustic liquids and belching out the alphabet when not rooting for their home sports team like caterwauling hooligans. The transformation is magical. But I imagine they convert to factory default settings faster than a taxed rubber band snapping back to form.

Two hours of intense and focused concentration is a lot to ask of a young lad aged 18—22. Especially as it was finals week. The fixed determination on these collegiate faces revealed the end of a long semester with nothing more than one more toilsome week in front of them. They were tired.

But the boys sang on.

On top of everything else, they were required to decorate the hall before the event. It really should have come as no surprise to anyone then that having asked said young men to make the hall look festive, they would use whatever adroit ingenuity they could scare up. To describe the auditorium as merry and bright would be accurate, but deficient. More precise would be to point out that much of the décor was likely nicked from neighborhood lawns and secured with whatever supplies found in the hallway janitorial cupboard.

Strings of lights were pinned up with duct tape. Plastic garland was tossed around podiums. Miniature multi-colored trees were plopped in random places across the stage and plugged in with long extension cords that snaked to available outlets. And large pink flamingos stood guard like stand-ins for the life-sized nutcrackers that never quite made it for Showtime.

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It was award worthy.

For a frat house.

And yet, strangely, this was part of the charm.

They walked in like tuxedo draped monks, holding candles and chanting O Come O Come Emmanuel, and filled the darkened hall with an incantation that transferred goose bumps from one arm rest to the next.

What also seemed to be contagious was the persisting, remarkable coughing that rippled through the crowd. With each new piece, another audience member began clearing their throat, hacking through a tickle, and then hawking up something demonic. At one point I began to wonder if the entire hall was coming down with croup.

I thought that perhaps at intermission I should dash out to the nearest drug store, buy a few bags of cough suppressants and hand them out as folks filed back in. The war cry of windpipes continued.

But the boys sang on.

Directed by a man who was world weary himself, whose lines to the audience were as deeply ingrained as a piece of old driftwood, and who struggled to recall the names of the soloists, simply relying upon a finger to point them out among a sea of youthful faces, the boys did their best to follow the slushy command of their leader.

At any given moment, something was always falling, burning out, or beginning to smolder and spark. Not one singer’s head turned, no one dashed out to catch the collapsed trimming, and the new sound of a tittering crowd accompanied the carols, canticles and chorus.

But the boys sang on.

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Angelic and earnest, exhausted yet joyful, those young chaps persevered, delighted to share and be part of the university’s 74 years of bestowing song to those who were hungering to hear it. Clearly their intent was to lay their acoustic offering at the foot of the stage, gift wrapped in a bright and festive bow.

They finished their celebrated recital as they had begun it; candles in hand, they drifted out single file, ignoring the buckled adornments and the coughing crowd, and on toward a long night of study. With the last haunting notes of the Dona Nobis Pacem round disappearing behind the stage, the audience sat still for the first time in two hours, holding on to the precious musical moments as they lazily slithered away.

But thankfully, the boys sang on.


PS. Rob and I would like to wish everyone the very happiest of holidays! Next week, all will be silent and dark, as Rob’s hands will be filled with grog and nog, and I’ll likely be buried beneath four months’ worth of laundry that came home from “someone’s” dormitory. We’ll be back the first week in January with a very SPECIAL EDITION of Peak Perspective and look forward to seeing all of you upon our return. Happy New Year, Peakers!

Don’t forget to check out what we’re cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all talked about down in the pub. Plus, you can see more of Robin Gott‘s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone.

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74 thoughts on “Twas the Night Before Finals

  1. I almost had goosebumps myself then Mrs P. In my minds eye I can see those young lads trailing out singing the haunting Dona Nobis Pacem. In the face of all, those boys sang on. A beautiful, witty last post with (once again), amusing and clever cartoons. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Enjoy your extra winter layer whilst you can. ☺️

    • Thank you, my southern hemisphere friend. I wasn’t sure if that piece would ring familiarly in many folks head, but you’ve put my mind at rest. And just like Clement Moore’s protagonist, I’m looking forward to popping on my night cap and settling in for a long winter’s rest–not that it will truly occur, but just the thought can be buoying.
      I wish you, your munchkins and the well-fed yak a very happy holiday. See you on the flipside!

  2. Brilliant! I could almost smell the gym shoes and old socks! Isn’t music the most fantastic thing! I used to regularly pass by and listen to the choir boys at their Wednesday evening rehearsal in the cathedral – they sang like angels! The minute the choir master dismissed them out they would rip, hooting and hollering and fighting and yelling – kids and teens again. I enjoyed the transformation immensely 🙂 Have a wonderful time with your family!

    • Oh! Choir boy choruses are a knee weakening affair for me. I want to squish them all. I just melt like a puddle hearing those sweet, high voices. Lucky you, Pauline! (And that’s a perfect visual of their ‘release.’) 😛
      Happy Holidays!

  3. Lovely post Shelley, I can see and almost hear it all! Just goes to show how music really does transcend everything though I think the notion that it ‘hath charms to soothe a savage breast’ clearly does not apply to those with winter coughs and colds 🙂 Wishing you and yours a really great and festive Christmas! 🙂 🙂

  4. Beautiful and funny, as I would expect! I’ve not been around much as without a computer and hopelessly struggling with data roaming on an appalling mobile. There are a couple of lines in the early paras that made me hoot but impossible to copy and paste. Infuriating! Have a fabulous Christmas and New Year and see you in 2015!
    Sarah x

    • Thank you, thank you, Sarah. So kind of you to say. And I feel your struggles. It’s clear I’m rather hopeless and hand-tied when I try to do anything other than answer a call on my smart phone. Too tiny!
      Happy Holidays!

  5. What is it with males and duct tape?
    As a musical naïf, I can enjoy concerts without the worries that actual knowledge might bring. I never realized before that this can be an advantage 🙂 But choruses of coughing drive me nuts too. It’s diabolical how they find exactly the right moment to “contribute.”
    Happy Holidays to you and Rob! See you in January.

    • Exactly! Oh, Linnet I think you totally nailed it. It’s almost as if everyone is holding back for that ‘you could hear a pin drop’ moment and then whammo — a cacophony of less than symphonic sound.
      I wish you a holiday filled with a Ciarán Hinds marathon of movies and perfect bottle of wine to fit each film. Happy New Year!

  6. I discovered this annual performance with fist born in a snuggly and we walked the circumfrence of Cabel Hall to keep him quiet throughout the traditional and participatory programming. Year after year, dressed in Christmas finery our family and their friends would join in this eventeven into high school, pretty sure the decorations and the rendition of twelve days of Christmas kept them coming back. It is the candlelit opening and closing that rests with my soul even today. So glad that you brought this to our attention this busy, heartfelt time of year. Merry Christmas

    • Oh, I wish I would have known you were there, Kathy! It’s been too long, but I suppose I shall take comfort in the fact that we shared the same goosebump-filled experience. It truly is one of those yearly experiences not to be missed. I hope to see you in the new year, but until then, a very Merry Christmas to you too!

  7. Christmas choirs are sublime. Although not in the same calibre at all, I look forward to the performances of high school kids at my children’s school. Their enthusiasm for songs I’ve heard sung too often in malls and by Justin Bieber et al rejuvenates the tunes for me, too. A wonderful, evocative post. I felt like I was there, coughs and all.

    • I’m totally with you, Susanne. The live and exuberant performances belted out by glowing, heartfelt minstrels somehow melts away your troubles for those brief and beautiful minutes. I’m so glad you liked the essay. Happy Holidays to you!

  8. Once again Shelley your entertaining post was so very descriptive and filled with, hmm… anticipation, questions, hope, mental pictures of endings I thought would come to fruition yet you turned to a different angle.

    To me, (in my simple mind, and that’s giving myself a plethora of undue credit), it was as if I was listening to a baseball game on the radio with Bob Uecker (The Milwaukee Brewers “Mr. Baseball”, remember listening to games on the radio while grilling burgers?, I digress). Bob, calling a game between Babe Ruth, the pitcher, pitching fastballs, screwballs, knuckleballs, curve-balls… to Babe Ruth, the hitter, of which you never knew where the hit was going to go… until the end, when The Great Bambino pointed his bat up toward the sky, as you did, as they lazily slithered away.

    Ok, perhaps that analogy was a tad odd, but it was mine. Either that, or the fact that you made me feel as if I was sitting in a concert at Hogwarts Great Hall, after my children had a go at it. Perhaps the second was a more realistic fantasy.

    Merry Hanukkahchristymaskwannza to everyone,


  9. Music. Ain’t it grand? I love it. Have no talent or training what so ever,but that’s part of it’s charm isn’t it. You don’t have to be a mechanic to appreciate a beautiful car. In college I was madly in love with a soprano. She could play the piano, though not well. I think Christmas songs should be given more air time,year round. But then I think the Holiday has been twisted over the years. More joyful songs the better. Right? Well thanks for all the pleasure from your posts and A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you and Rob and your family. On to 2015.

    • Well, despite what you say, Benson, your comments have always been ‘music to my ears,’ so yes, I’d say you’ve got some talent in that department. And you get my vote for more of these joyful tunes to be spread out over the year — times when we are quite desperate to hear their messages.
      Thank you for continuing to read and leave your own joyful messages, Benson. Happy Holidays to you too!

  10. Delightful read, Shelley. I found myself holding my breath till the end. You are a good soul, an amazing talent and a musician as well!!! Good gravy, woman how do you manage to stay humble?

    ….oh I know…it’s all that laundry. 😉

  11. My dearest Rob,

    Ah yes, the McTrapp Family Bagpipe Band is soooooo true! It’s as if you’ve been there in person. Christmas, Easter, Mothers Day, celebrating the English holiday of the the 4th of July, all four children picked up dishes after breakfast for once… that’s what weeeeeeeeee did, God bless my mother! We played music to celebrate… anything! Hey, tis a holiday, let’s play our instruments and help the town celebrate with music!

    The Von Trapp family has nothing on us… ok, well, ya… they’ve got that whole WW2 survival thing I guess. I should have stopped complaining at a younger age if I only knew better.

    As always, my respect to your amusing sketches. I love your artistry sir Rob. Please, don’t stop. I enjoy how you draw with reflections to Shelley’s pros. I hope soon to have your drawings on my wall.

    Best regards and I do hope the sun shines for at least two hours for your need of vitamin D. We may not live as far north as you sir, but as of our season, we’re lucky to see the sun crest through the clouds for an hour merely once per week.

    Best regards Sir Rob and Happy Boxing Day,


    • Boxing Day? Now there’s a thought. I’m in Sweden where Boxing Day doesn’t exist as a concept. They do have boxes, of course. Especially if you take a trip out to the local IKEA where they have excelled themselves to the ninth degree in boxes and the packing-of said boxes.
      But Boxing Day as a day where you give something to the postman, milkman and other local trades folk? No, not here in Sweden. It’s just called “The Second Day of Christmas”. Furthermore, they celebrate Christmas on the 24th (thye’re not alone in this). It’s a kind of pre-emptive society.
      Happy holidays to you and yours
      Sir Robalot 🙂

  12. Love it, i could see it all so vividly through your words Shelley. Im glad im not the only one embracing winter pudge!! Merry Christmas to you and yours, and all best wishes for the new year 🙂

    • And I’m planning to embrace the idea of an everyday siesta too. Truthfully, I’d like to have one and not the other, and sadly I think I’m only going to get the one I’m least excited about.
      Merry Christmas, Janice!

    • How could it not, Kate?! What a brilliant night–of course made more brilliant by sharing it. Next year? THE 75TH ANNIVERSARY! We may have to get our tickets in June.
      Happy Christmas! Look forward to seeing you soon. 😀

  13. Grinch that I am, I would have loved to have attended this performance! (Although I would have been hunkered down in my seat, coat hood pulled over my head in a futile attempt to shield myself from the germs of all those coughing people around me.)

    • Apparently, Miranda, my mom was so mesmerized by the hallowed, seraphic voices that she did not hear all the hacking. Next time I’m bringing a can of Lysol.
      And you are invited. 😀
      We’ll bring two cans.

  14. Since it’s summer here, may I embrace my Christmas pudge? I blame figgy pudding….and mince pies, trifle, pavlova…..mmmm…is the pavlova celebrated in Christmas carols? Not sure. 😉

  15. tiz reigning in P, OR azzeye typerrate this … but hearin’ ACAPELLA done right, done good, is, well, one of the bestest forms of music there is. buttcha knew that — pure. sans embellishments. the essential stuff. glad you told us about this.

  16. You have a wonderful talent with words … this was so much fun to read!

    As a mother of two boys, I could relate to the line “they convert to factory default settings faster than a taxed rubber band snapping back to form” LOL
    I don’t have a musical bone in my body, but both of my sons do … piano, cello, choir. The oldest a tenor, the youngest a baritone. Their concerts gave me goosebumps. I might have actually shed a tear or two 😉

    Thank you for triggering the warmest of memories! Hope your holiday was equally warm 🙂

    • Oh, Joanne, what a lovely comment to read. Thank you. Your words are such a gift.

      And how fortunate that you’ve got two terrific sounding musicians to fill your home with merry sounds. I have leaked a few bucketloads in my lifetime of concerts as well and I’m not ashamed to admit it. That’s the beauty of music.

      Happy New Year to you and your family, Joanne!

    • Wow, Adrianna, what an incredibly gracious thing to say. Thank you, thank you.
      And Funny and Sincere are two muses I’m constantly trying to lasso a rope around and drag onto the page. They can be unwilling little creatures, but I promise them candy and occasionally they are duped into cooperating. 😛

  17. A very Merry (and Beltaed) Christmas to you, and Happy New Year! Sounds like it was a fun concert…. I’ve been in Canada for the last two weeks and I have so appreciated being in a place where I can understand everything… so much, in fact, that we’re probably moving to Vancouver. I’ve got such a new found appreciation for shows and operas and museums that I think I’ll never take them for granted again.

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