And Saints and Angels Sing

Here in Salt Lake, the hottest holiday ticket in town is for the Christmas on Temple Square concert.  It’s free, but do dadgum popular that the tickets are issued via an online lottery.  This year over a million people entered.

Brian and I didn’t win, but our friends James and Laura did (er, rather, Laura’s dad won, but passed the tickets on to his daughter), and they invited us!

Whee!  A big, spectacular musical extravaganza!  This is what it looked like:

Big, brassy and sassy.  There’s the big choir, and and orchestra and a handbell choir (who, bless them, wore the dorkiest vests imaginable.  They made my heist-movie gloves look positively stylish).  Also featuring: the most modest dancewear money can buy!

Yup, the theme was “Christmas Stories,” which somehow translates to “Renaissance Faire Folke.”  Hence, a stage decorated to look like a castle, and heralds playing trumpets, etc.  I did think a line was crossed when a guy in chain mail started doing ballet.

But, whatever.  The choir (along with Jane Seymour) did a lovely “story-behind-the-story” monologue/choral arrangement of “Good King Wenceslas,” which is one of my favorite carols.  Brian and I did have a bit of a snicker when we noticed that the choir changed a line in one of the verses.  Instead of “bring me flesh and bring me wine,” they sang, “bring me flesh and fruit so fine.”

So, now “fruit so fine” is our codeword for any kind of alcoholic drink.  (“Dude!  That guy on the corner totally reeks of fruit so fine!”)

Believe it or not, though, my favorite part of the evening was just hanging out with our friends James and Laura.  It’s been ages since I’ve been on any kind of double date, and it was plain old fun to sit and chat while waiting for the concert to begin, and stroll through Temple Square before and afterwards.   If you’re reading this, J&L, thank you again so much!  It was just the right amount of holiday cheer to get me through a very busy, stressful week.

Quasimodo vs. Frankenstien

So, I play in this handbell choir at Christmastime.  This is what the bells look like:

These are the four bells that are in my charge:

This is me and my mom just before a performance (although I will admit that the black gloves don’t say “holiday music concert” so much as “bad heist movie.”  C’mon, Mom!  Grab your F7 and we’ll knock over a casino!):

And THIS is the text message I got from Brian 2 minutes before that performance:

We are at PCMC ER getting Wim stitches

ME: Whaaaaaa???  Also, WHAAAAA?!?!?

There was just enough time before the performance began for me to call and find out the details.  While Brian was getting the children in the car to take Jeffrey to his Tae Kwon Do class, Wimmy tripped and bashed his head against the corner of the big coffee table in our living room.

It wasn’t a big wound, but it was deep.  Off to the ER, ho!  With Jeffrey still in his Tae Kwon Do uniform, huzzah!

I raced home as soon as the performance was over (hope you enjoyed it, residents of Valley Mental Health).  They were just leaving the hospital when I got back to Salt Lake.  Wimmy had a nasty raw-looking thing on his forehead, laced up with that horrible black surgical thread.  Everyone praised him for his bravery (he didn’t cry a bit while the doctor sewed him up) and he was whisked off to bed.

Brian was the real hero, juggling four kids in the ER by himself.  I am so thankful for such a resourceful, trustworthy husband.  And I’m also so thankful that William was Frankenstien for Halloween.  It’s just a little too delicious that the kid with fake stitches is now the kid with real stitches.

Christmas With Bells On

It isn’t too late to write about the holidays, right?

I spent much of this past Christmas season lifting dumbbells.  Or, rather, these:

English handbells!  Owing to an out-of-the-blue phone call from a family I knew in high school (but hadn’t had contact with for 15 years), I became part of a handbell choir in late October.  The bells are owned by Steve and Renee, who lived in Virginia back when I did, but have since retired and moved to Sandy.  For decades, Steve has hauled out his bells every holiday season and rounds up a bunch of music enthusiasts to practice and play carols here and there.  I was part of his bell choir when I was a teenager and absolutely adored it.  It was thrilling to have the chance to play them again.

Each member of the choir is assigned two bells and its accompanying accidentals.  My job was to mind the bass E and F — two of the heaviest bells, hence the name “dumbbells” — which were assigned to me because I can read bass clef.  The clappers of each bell are held silent by a rubber “spring” (I think you can kind of see it in the picture.)  That way, the bell only makes sound when the ringer flicks his or her wrist hard enough to overcome the spring, allowing for accurate note-playing.  To silence the bells, you hold them against your chest, which means I had two little sore spots just below my breastbone after the first rehearsal.

The bells are made of brass, which can tarnish easily if they are touched often, so everyone wears little white cotton gloves during rehearsals and performances.  It always made me feel like a magician ready to pull a rabbit out of something.

It’s fun to play something so percussive, especially with all the various techniques we use to achieve different sounds out of the bells.  Bells are shaken, hit with mallets, muted with thumbs, swung up and down, waved back and forth, plucked, “marked” — this is when you slam the bell down on a table covered with foam to make a staccato — and “mark-lifted,” where you slam the bell down and then immediately lift it to make a kind of pluck-echo.  My favorite technique that I got to do involved ringing the bell, and then gently brushing it against the table in circles, making a kind of dinnnnng-wing-wing-wing sound.

My favorite performace of the season was on Christmas Eve.  We played for a community sing-in at the “rock church,” an old LDS chapel just west of the state Capitol buliding.  The chapel is old-fashioned and lovely, with a high arched ceiling delicately edged with swirls of gilding and paintings of flowers.  People from the neighborhood (as well as the “bell choir groupies,” as our families were called) came in street clothes to sing carols and hear the bells.  Afterwards, we all got to drink cider.  In the choir, you have to wear all black for performances (thank heavens it’s easy to find maternity shirts in that color) and one of the other choir members handed out little crocheted pins that looked like Christmas wreaths that she had made for us.

My entire family was able to be there, excepting my sister, whose daughters hadn’t been feeling well that day.  My stand partner, Mike, and I had fun pointing out our families’ various teenage hairstyles to each other.  (His son is fifteen and lanky; my brother is fifteen and has a wicked ‘fro.)  Eleanor was excited to sing the two or three carols that she had learned in church this year, and I could hear her little voice singing out loud and clear.

Afterwards, Jeffrey held my hand as I helped carry whatever lightweight choir-related objects I could out to Steve’s truck.  He was both excited and hushed at the same time, in that way that can somehow only be accomplished on Christmas Eve.  It was a wonderful evening.