Memories of Christmas concerts
Parents, siblings, grandparents, friends and neighbours applauded the young entertainers
My mother always treasured family mementos.
She kept individual scrapbooks for my two brothers and me that include report cards, newspaper clippings, birthday cards, and numerous other items of interest from our formative years.
A few weeks back, I was flipping through one of them, and a newspaper clipping about the 1959 Gowrie school concert caught my eye. It was my primary year and I was mentioned as a participant. Next to the clipping I found my actual recitation, handwritten by my primary teacher Margie Campbell.
Little did I know that when I stood on that stage in 1959 to recite “So It Is” about Santa trying to squeeze down a chimney, it would be the first of probably 50 or more Christmas concerts and pageants that I would attend as a student, a parent or a teacher.
One Christmas, there were five school and church concerts that involved someone from our own family.
Christmas concerts in small schools like Gowrie or Albert Bridge when I was principal, were community events. Parents, siblings, grandparents, friends and neighbours attended to applaud performances of the young entertainers.
When I taught at Mira Road school, space in the gym was limited, so each student was allotted a certain number of tickets. The afternoon rehearsal was always well attended. One teacher jokingly remarked that there were ticket scalpers outside the school on the night of the concert.
When I was teaching, concert preparation in elementary schools started as early as October, but really picked up after Remembrance Day. By the week before, the school was consumed by concert preparations. Music teachers practised on their scheduled days, with classroom teachers and sometimes parents faithfully rehearsing with the children each day leading up to the concert.
Most Christmas concerts followed the same format with each class contributing group or individual songs or verses, or maybe a skit. The Grade Primary class usually stole the show. Dressed in their finest, there always seemed to be one youngster waving or talking to parents in the audience from the stage or singing at the top of his or her lungs, usually off key, drowning out the best vocal efforts of classmates. Then there was always one (who always seemed to be in the front row) proudly picking his nose in full view of family and friends.
Despite initial trepidation, the kids always came through. One of my Grade 6 classes played “Jingle Bells” by blowing into pop bottles filled with varying amounts of water to produce different musical notes. Another year, as a class, we wrote our own lyrics for the “Twelve Days of Christmas.”
One of the bigger boys good naturedly volunteered to squeeze into a tiny Grade Primary desk on centre stage, in front of the class, facing the audience and finishing off each verse by singing, “... and a desk that doesn’t fit me.”
There were glitches. One year, the classroom music teacher told me he wouldn’t be doing the concert because he was too busy, luckily for me, the band teacher came to my rescue and stepped forward to help.
My good friend Irene Lahey, who taught elementary school for more than 45 years at Catalone and Riverside schools, remembers the time the power went out during a concert. The hall was a total blackout. One man saved the day by lighting his cigarette lighter. Another parent went home to get a Coleman lantern, and the concert finished by lamp light. Another time, one storm after another led to the permanent cancellation of the concert before Christmas.
It was 10 years ago this month that I attended my last Christmas concert at Riverside school, and I vowed that I had enough and I would never attend another. I was adamant.
Then along came the grandchildren. Oh well, I guess a few more in the future wouldn’t hurt. I might even save their recitations.
I hope that you all have a very Merry Christmas, and should you attend a Christmas concert, may the pint-size performers get you in the Christmas spirit.
The Grade 2 class performs at the Gowrie school Christmas concert in 1986, the last concert held in the building. At Gowrie, a sliding door opened up two classrooms to provide space for public seating. CONTRIBUTED
Ken MacDonald Port Morien