By the way, I played yesterday’s Christmas program in a bit of a fog, thanks to the rotten cold I’ve been trying to kick and the (expired) Robitussin and NyQuil I’ve been been taking. On top of that, we were just enough behind schedule this morning that we had no chance to grab breakfast, so I played all morning on a completely empty stomach. (I think I would rather play a service with fire ants crawling over my body than play on an empty stomach. Those of you who know me well will not find this to be too large a shock.)
I still muscled through fairly well, but two mistakes during first service left me gritting my teeth. First, I started playing “Silent Night” too early, and it was only Kate’s frantic glare in my direction that made me realize my mistake, and I just quietly quit playing after two measures, trying to make it look like I dropped that brief musical interlude in on purpose, for a little extra atmosphere. (Sort of like that immortal moment in Pee Wee Herman’s first movie when he’s riding his beloved bike, hits something and goes flying over the handle bars and into the grass, jumps to his feet, and says to his amused onlookers, “I meant to do that!”) I just wish I’d made that error with something other than Silent Night, which comes at just the right moment in this program – and only afterwards did someone point out that Silent Night so often comes at the very very end of a service or concert – and this particular person said how much they appreciated how Silent Night is really the emotional centerpiece of the program and comes roughly halfway through – and then there I go trying to play it at the wrong time. Grrrrr.
An even more egregious error came a few minutes later, during We Three Kings, when I lost track of how many kings we’d heard from and tried to skip over “myrrh” and jump ahead to “glorious now, behold him arise” – and all I had to do was sing a word or two do generate bewildered looks not just from Kate but from three-fourths of the congregation as well. (No sense in even trying to pretend that I meant to do that.) I don’t remember what Kate said to the congregation at that point, but she said something that got just enough of a laugh to spin a bit of unexpected gold out of my dumb gaffe. The good news is that Brian got to sing his his myrrh verse after all (all three kings did great) and as we all finally sang “Glorious now behold Him arise” people had an extra big smile on their face.
By the way, there is something especially heartwarming about this moment in the program. Kate carefully selects three boys to be the three kings – and in order to be able to make use of various boys of various ages, we don’t limit ourselves to those young men who can sing it in the hymnal key. So Kate listens to auditions and then chooses three boys – and then figures out which key will showcase each singer to their best advantage. (Adolescent male singers often have voices with very limited range, and they also tend to be very self-conscious about singing outside of their most comfortable range. So choosing the key that works best for each is the only way to go.) So sometimes we end up with a rather wild array of keys: maybe d minor, g-flat minor, and b minor . . . . and it’s my job not only to play each verse in those keys, but to find some way to move from key to key without sounding too strange or jarring. It’s a fun challenge- but what I most appreciate about it is the principle of putting this neat opportunity within the grasp of just about any of our boys and young men who are interested in walking down that middle aisle, bearing gold or frankincense or myrrh.
Now if I can only remember not to leave one of them out!
pictured above: the three kings for our 2009 program.