Growing up in the DC area, we were afforded easy access to events in the city. My favorite Christmas memory came the year I got to participate in one of the holiday events.
When I was 9, in 1985, a little 4th grader, I tried out for our school chorus. Only two 4th graders made it in, and that was the year we "toured", a big deal when you live in a small town. The other kid, Carl, and I were so excited, because we got to leave school early.
One of our concerts was at the Bethesda Naval Hospital, where we sang, I think, for the officer's wives. I remember a large group of ladies at the concert, all prettily-dressed, smiling, in a nicely-decorated room. They gave us candy to thank us for singing for them.
But that wasn't the best part.
We got to sing at the Pageant of Peace. I didn't realize then, how important it really was, but it was more the idea of riding a school bus down to the city, seeing each other after dark, outside! Now I realize what a great honor it was.
I remember my gloves didn't match. I lost one of each pair and forgot we had to clap during one of the songs, but I knew people would see, and I was so worried. I wore the mismatched pair anyway. It was cold that night.
Our chorus teacher/music teacher was someone who loved music, loved teaching us music. Had eclectic tastes. He liked to teach us sign language so we could sign along when we sang, and I still remember a lot of the signs he taught us. He was such an enthusiastic teacher, and he brought out my love of singing.
And he chose the best songs to teach us. They probably do a lot of this now, but how many elementary school kids were singing "Ode to Joy" in German in the 1980s, at least in Maryland public schools? I still know the words. He'd mix that with show tunes, with spirituals, with Christmas carols, and we'd sing with such jubilation.
Our program that year was pretty diverse: "Go Tell It on the Mountain," in call and response form (the clapping song) and "We Need a Little Christmas," among others. He had chosen "One Tin Soldier," from the movie, "The Legend of Billy Jack," as well. Looking back now, I realize that is not a very Christmassy song, but oh, you should have heard us sing it.
We stepped out on stage. It was so cold. Our voices rang in the frosty night air. My parents were in the audience. They had driven downtown to hear me sing. So I stuck my mismatched gloves up and clapped, I called and responded, I sang for them. And then it was time for "One Tin Soldier."
We sang with just a flute for accompaniment. It was a slower arrangement than the radio version. 60 voices and that lone flute rang out across the ellipse in the frosty air, singing our song of peace. Our little prayer. And it was beautiful. My father cried.
I've never heard that song played for Christmas again. Today I Facebooked my music teacher to thank him for that memory, to let him know I still remember, 26 years later, and what a profound musical moment that he created. Maybe it doesn't work as a carol. But I thought it did, and there is never a Christmas where I don't sing it, and I don't remember that beautiful, magical night. One day, I'll teach it to my child, hoping it has the same effect on him or her that it did on me.
Hoping you have a song this season that brings you joy and reminds you of a landmark event many Christmases ago.