Saturday, December 20, 2008

MIRACLE 34 --JOY, JOY, JOY -- ONE MORE CHANCE TO SEE IT --Here is a Review from the Stage


I had some complaints and concerns after the final dress rehearsal--felt anxious as though I were the director and aware that lots of things could go wrong. The annual church musical was always like delivering a baby when I used to direct it myself--a labor of love with a lot of anxiety and pain mixed in --I was usually sort of useless domestically during this period and my husband was understanding/long-suffering. It never failed that one or more of my major appliances would fail in December. We figured it was the Devil's oppression and attempt to hinder. This year, the clothes washer is making threatening noises and buzzes --like something is caught in the works. Every aspect of the show except costume and decor used to be mine to administrate --and I was an amateur asking for a level of commitment from other inexperienced people, that they didn't always think was necessary-- but then everything would come together, as though blessed by the Lord, miraculously.

And so tonight, good friend of family Inga said, "Well, we had another miracle! Last night I didn't think things were going so well. I couldn't believe how well the children performed and behaved and how beautiful it was." Inga helps with the children because she values the tradition we have and wants it for her 5 kids. Paul French, music director at a big church near Indiana Weslyan, grew up loving our tradition and this is the first year he's had to miss singing with us. Jon Flory is pianist at the Church on Strayer and we miss him and his family; Lyn Bryant the music director at Heritage Church of God always beautified our soprano section; Sharon Brillhart, music director at West Unity FM --opera singer Amanda Shultz Johnson who moved --they and many others share with us in the memory of musicals at HFM.

We are pleased that Dean Bell of Elmwood music fame sang with us again this year --and Gene Gelsone, a Waterville Playshop veteran, husband of the director at AW, and 2 Sweet Adeline gals Carole Polanski and Shelley Davis, joined us from other churches.

The dream of such annual productions was mine in the early 70's because I had discovered musical theater at the Wagon Wheel Playhouse in Winona Lake, excellent regional theater. I had a friend in the orchestra who got me in free to the dress rehearsals. I LOVED music theater. It was the first I'd seen. And so we try to bring a little of that pizzazz to the greatest story ever told --at our little local church. I also loved the college choir and was never in it. I had a 5 note alto range in those days --but I admired the singers and knew them well. I was a lowly instrumentalist.

When Jon was in med school, I was the main musician for our little FM church plant in St. Louis, headed by a college friend of ours. And I ventured forth to have a Christmas choir there --and since then, we've never missed a year of Christmas choir. It was a good thing that my husband loved to sing and was good at it. WE had no idea how musically fortuitous our union would be --when we gave birth to a soprano, alto, tenor and bass. In that order. Chrissy and Rob can sing high, also. To cultivate their ear and love of music, I rocked and sang to my babies every night, giving the best performances I could muster --including O holy Night--always at least a few lullabyes for bedtime. And the girls, especially, had a repertoire of children's church songs by the time they were 2. They all loved the mic; Rob liked to blow in it for the guaranteed laughs.

TONIGHT ~ The children and the young dancers from grades 4-9 came through beautifully. I was wondering if some weren't cursed with 2 left feet and no sense of artistic grace as they so often stumbled heavy-footed, lumbering on the stage, giggling over errors--and I began to think that what was asked of them was just too hard for the young ages of some of them --but they put their growing pains and everlasting fidgets and giggles aside and did us proud! Grace from the Giver of Grace came out tonight!

And we had a good audience, nearly filling the main floor. 200 of us in the building counting the 27 in the choir, the couple dozen youth and another 8 for the nativity --counting live Baby Jesus --who never rehearsed --not once. Nor did Joseph. Just as in the Bible, his role was supportive and after the fact! And both did fine.

This show was one of the most demanding for the children and the adults --transitions, transitions, transitions --had to be worked over and over -so we would know where to go next, who moves what mic --and so on. It's easier when we just sit in the choir loft and let select people do the moving --but Steph had us working --so that each song is more than just people singing. A few of us have stools --for variety in the staging --and for need. I get to sit. A bench was needed for one of the scenes, so my husband gets to sit in that one. But everyone else is standing throughout --without complaint.

She worked every Wednesday for over 2 months for an hour with these young shepherds, angels and Irish dancers and met the adult choir on thursdays --then Chrissy or I met with whoever could practice Sundays instead of Thursdays. On the Saturday before Thanksgiving, we started having 3 rehearsals a week (except for Thanksgiving Day, of course) Chris choreographed one of the 2 children's numbers and both women met with the Jr. church kids on sundays --which rehearsals were fun to behold. I observed once. Steph planned the lighting and coordinated the people to do it --something we've never had any expertise for and she wouldn't say she's had training in it but that went well. We would still welcome an experienced light tech to use our state of the art equipment and take the burden off the director.

Sound issues are always iffy. We have dedicated people but the sound on stage is different from the house --and we deal with multiple mics and monitors and a sound track. OUr resident expert in sound tech (did music production for a living for awhile) doesn't have time to do it for the church; we asked his opinion --and he noted that we aren't bringing the orchestra up loud enough in places --especially some solos needed more backup. But we are so afraid to tell Tom to change anything now --lest a smidgeon of change overwhelm the singing. Sound techs are typically more prone to drown the singers and Tom isn't doing that. He's been faithful--even bringing a grandbaby to rehearsal when he had to babysit --who sat for hours in a little play chair (whaddaya call 'em?) and didn't let out a peep --2 Saturday mornings.

The directors got their start with Amy Gelsone and her excellent program at AWHS and Sandy Kellogg as their private piano teacher starting in grade school and occasional voice coach. From there to Wheaton College Conservatory of Music in Illinois --where they tested in the top 5% in music theory (yes, Mom is boasting)and were honor choral directors of school choirs-and then Chrissy did her masters in choral performance (direction) at BGSU. Stephanie taught and directed children's musicals and one park theater for 7 or so years in Chicago suburban public school --Streamwood--a school with a history of 6th gr. Jr Broadway musicals with parents and teachers going all out. They made a professional sounding CD of School House Rock which I cherish.

Chrissy taught 4 years in inner city Toledo when she graduated and 3 years at Libbey H.S. and also in some of the roughest elementaries. Then did her masters and has been at Elmwood now in her 7th year, directing 5-12, including the Show Choir, the spring musicals for jr. high and h.s., a madrigal banquet, seasonal concerts and solo-ensemble and choir competitions. She's coordinated 2 department trips to NYC and Chicago. Add to that lots of community musical theater experience for both --including the Rep's Young Rep Road Show as teens.

All that gives our church two free professionals. Stephanie especially is the only one we have now who could run our worship ministries. Chrissy would not have time, nor want to be the pianist. Others who did and could have done it in the past are attending and leading music elsewhere. Our former WMD had to move. Steph is very faithful and organized about it --and for a high-strung person (I think, as her mother), she has demonstrated remarkable sanctification in her temperament, working respectfully with all. If she's made anybody mad, I haven't heard of it. The girls are both way more disciplined, skilled, knowledgeable musically and organized than their mother. And probably more diplomatic.

The Annual Church Cantata/Musical has been a family and church tradition since the year we moved here --when Steph was 2 and stood in the pew by her grandma singing with the choir, "Love Transcending, Love Transcending...." Chrissy was then 6 months old when we did our first cantata at Holland Free Methodist Church. I couldn't have imagined then that they would be running the program today.

The Rohrs Kids' Quartet will hopefully sing their acapella "O Little Town of Bethlehem" Sunday morning at the 10:40 service.

Christmas Eve SErvice 6:00 PM -- We will do the traditional favorite, the Gaither's
"Cherish" --but probably without John, as marriage takes him other directions --where his wife's family is also involved in their church music --so we have to share him. You don't hear that song very often in other churches --because the piano part is a bear with 5 sharps. Once I learned it, I've hung on to it. We've been doing it since the girls were teens.

Now that I'm 62, I'm resting on small-church laurels and waxing nostalgic in reminiscences. If you were my or Steph's friend on Facebook, you could see a lot of photos of cantatas gone by.

The amazing creative costuming and set design by Sue Conklin are also a gift to our church that has made these programs and memories much more special than they would otherwise be.

I know, it's small peanuts in the grand scheme of church ministries --but we are making a memory and celebrating and teaching to children this wonderful story of God's love given in a manger, in a stable --the Living Word Incarnate! Jesus Christ --who came as a baby, fully human--and fully Divine. For our salvation. JOY TO THE WORLD! THE LORD HAS COME!

"God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance and have eternal life."--the Bible


Jeanette said...

Wish I could have been there.

We have an annual music fest with the largest Presby church in our town. We're the largest Baptist church and we combine choirs, children's choirs, orchestras, bell choirs and even some congregation singing.

Then we have a dessert theater for three nights where the men are dressed in tuxedos to wait the tables and bring the sweets and drinks (coffee, iced tea and lemonade) at the intermission of the show. Each year it is different and is very professionally done.

I look forward to Christmas Eve when we have our candlelite service. There will be singing, a short message from the pastor and then we light the candles while the lights go down.

Seeing no light but that from hundreds of candles around the sanctuary projected onto the big screen, while everyone sings "Silent Night" is a very heart-warming and touching experience.

Then we go home with our families and have our Christmas traditions.

We used to have a New Year celebration when I was a child and would stay at church until about 1:00 am, snacking, listening to a message, praying and singing. I miss that just as I miss the Easter Sunrise services. They don't seem too popular in the South.

Christian Apologist said...

I was touched at one point while we were singing 'wonderful' I saw an elderly lady sitting in the front row wiping some tears from her eyes.

Antipelagian said...

We'll be there Christmas Eve, Lord willing.

Barb said...

It will be good to see you, A. will brother be home or at his church leading music? One reason Steph is willing to be unpaid music director is that she feels she CAN be absent. when she was paid in Chicago, she felt more tied down--However, as it is, she still knows we're handicapped when she leaves. O we have a couple other pianists, but we don't do it often enough to feel comfortable and proficient (to enjoy doing it) --at least I don't -and Kathy H. who could do it is also unable to be present with regularity due to traveling to her husband's jobs. Steph, like WMD's before her, is very disciplined to meet the group at 8:30 am every sunday, to prepare the month's worship sets and some nice offertories --rhoda kindly does the copying and assembling of the worship sets for the team --gets together with steph once a month to get that done. A lot of time and prep is donated by Steph--as it was by Paul and Ike and Sharon before her. God has provided us new musicians as we lose the old --however, it's time for some more to arrive. We could use another keyboardist and more trained or skilled vocalists as solo performers. If Paul could get a secular or school job, then he could come back and help us. Steph would love the break --and to focus more on vocal specials.

I hear that Toledo Tab (First Alliance) downtown seeks a paid music director. surely Paul knows? They have had an orchestra.