Friday, December 15, 2006

#157 - What It's All About

It's been a busy season. I'm singing with a group again, which means having concerts to deal with during a very busy time of the year. It would be reasonable to assume that I am quite insane, but I can't help myself. Gotta sing.

In fact, I've been in one concert or another every weekend since mid-November, and I am tired. The group I sing with is a busy one: they do gigs all around Orange County. Generally for Church events of one type or another, but with a fair smattering of community gigs as well. For instance, we kicked off November with an interfaith concert as one of about a dozen church choirs that all performed separately and then together for a couple of big production numbers. Think in terms of a gospel-choir version of "We Are the World" and you'll get the right mental image.

Every year I do our community "Messiah Sing-Along" at the Nixon Library. They've been gracious enough to keep inviting me back as the tenor soloist, and who am I to argue with their obviously good taste?

But tonight was wonderful. Tonight we took about half of our regulars and did a full concert at the Canyon Hills Club Assisted Living Center. Evidently this group has been visiting this center every year for the last sixteen or seventeen Christmases, and it's one of the highlights of their holiday entertainment. We do this for free, inasmuch as we most definitely qualify as a "not for profit" organization, but the activity director tonight slipped our director a "little something" as a donation. They always appreciate having us come and perform for them.

I can see why. It's not that we are necessarily the best collection of voices around. We are all volunteer singists, and we certainly have our rough spots. What we have, though, is a sincere appreciation for the music that we're performing at any given moment. We all of us have testimonies of the importance of uplifting music in our Father's kingdom, and I'd like to think that we invite the Spirit to help deliver that message to our audiences.

Tonight was a little different, though. This was an appreciative audience, but so are many of our audiences. The difference here, I think, is what this music means to folks who live in these centers as they near the end of their mortal journeys. As I often do during a concert (probably somewhat more than would be considered "professional" at any rate) I did some people-watching in between numbers or whenever someone was doing a solo. All of these wonderful grandparents, parents, and loved ones sat in rapt attention and practically cheered after every number. I could easily imagine these same reactions from my own departed grandparents, and that image gave me warm feelings throughout the set.

We were only there for an hour tonight, but afterward we had a chance to mingle with the residents. ("It means so much to them," our director had said.) So I mingled. I didn't get very far. "Oh, that was wonderful!" one bright-faced grandma gushed. "I love to listen to you folks every year." "I loved your song, young man," chimed another. (I'd performed "What Child is This" as a solo this evening.) "I've always loved that song, and you did it beautifully!" Might've turned my head a bit if not for the fact that they were really commenting on the concert as a whole. "Young man," she called me. Heh.

I had a chance to chat briefly with one gal who'd been sitting in the back with her husband. She'd had the sweetest smile on her face throughout the entire concert, and I accused her of just that. The smile broadened as she replied, "I couldn't help it. You people always make me smile!" Another regular customer.

Of course, it's easy to fall into the trap of pitying folks who live in these facilities. You wonder if all of them receive regular visitors. You wonder how many aren't here tonight who've been here in past years. There was momentary panic at the front desk when one resident hadn't shown up for the concert who had strongly indicated that she'd be there. I never did find out if everything was okay, but I know I'll worry about her.

But looking at their shining faces tonight, I couldn't help but feel good about the event. These folks have lived good lives, by the looks of them. I saw the deep wrinkles of long experience, and the cares of all parents who love their children and worry about them. I watched those wrinkles disappear as they closed their eyes and listened to "Silent Night." I saw aches and discomfort give way to wistful memories of Christmas Past as we sang melodies they've known their entire lives, and the wonderment of hearing something perhaps they've never heard before.

Above all, it was the excitement I felt in that hall tonight that really got to me. This was the same excitement I've seen in my children as the Big Day approaches and they just can't wait to see what presents they've gotten. This was the same excitement my daughters showed when we finished decorating the tree and all they wanted to do was lay underneath it and look up at the bright lights and beautiful ornaments. That's the excitement I saw in the care-worn faces of these wonderful people tonight.

God bless them for making my own Christmas that much sweeter.