Amateur concerts can stir emotions in many
Published: Friday, December 15th, 2006
This time of year I’m always reminded of a Christmas season my wife, Marilyn, dragged me to a holiday concert. In fact, it almost erases a previous Christmas memory — the time my wife and I were caught with other travelers in a Wyoming blizzard and spent the night in a Rock Springs bawdy house. But that’s another story. The Christmas concert I’m talking about was free, and even though I warned Marilyn about the pitfalls associated with free lunches, she lugged me there along with our small grandkids. She said it would do us good to absorb some holiday spirit. I told her the only spirits I wanted to absorb during the holidays were — but I digress again. So anyway, I was herded along with my brood into a tiny, stifling auditorium on the campus of the local college, and I sat there grumbling like an Ellis Island immigrant with no way to get back home. That’s when the orchestra decided to warm up, and I had to turn off my hearing aids. Orchestra warmups are always belligerent explosions, a bedlam of simultaneous booms, blasts, trills, squeaks and screeches. They drive me up the wall and over it. I’ve never been told why musicians feel obligated to create pandemonium before performances. The only instruments needing tuning at that late hour are strings, but trumpets blare, clarinets warble, flutes flitter, bassoons womph, drums thunder and trombones wah-wah — all at the same time like a herd of deranged elephants. At the time one of my granddaughters was still pre-school and was experiencing her first concert. She covered her ears, made a face and shouted over the noise, “Grandpa, you said this would be fun, but they sound awful!” I told her to wait a minute. “They’ll eventually get together,” I said. About then the lights dimmed, and onto the podium tripped a grinning, bearded conductor in white tie and tails, and the Little Theater off the Railroad Tracks began its Christmas spectacle. That’s when my evil thoughts about musicians ended. I was impressed. That little college orchestra sounded like Boston Pops. I forgot the stuffy auditorium and the strong aroma of wet tennis shoes while they played their first piece —Leroy Anderson’s “Sleigh Ride.” And that was just the beginning. Joined by a 50-voice chorale, the program swung into Handel’s “Messiah” and a half dozen more Christmas favorites to the point where I wanted to burn my autographed pictures of Mitch Miller and Fred Waring. Yep, I was stirred. In fact, I was dangerously close to an embarrassing outburst of joyful tears. Who would have thought I’d be so moved on a cold winter’s night on the windswept plains of eastern New Mexico, when I’d actually anticipated a peaceful nap in the middle of the first number. Later as we walked away from the auditorium, my mind boggled with the wonder of the evening, and I said to my granddaughter, “That was good, wasn’t it?” She nodded but maintained an air of concern. “It took them too long to get together though,” she said. I’ve been back each year to those Christmas concerts on the campus, and with rare exception they always impress me. I’ll have to say they put me in the spirit of things. They are something special and memorable, like a first kiss. Remember your first kiss? I certainly do. But I digress again.
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