Wednesday, December 12, 2007

So Proud I Could Burst

It's that time of year again.

The time when parents gather their resources in order to hurl them at shopkeepers who provide the essential Xmas adjuncts: loot. The time when certain people have to climb ladders in all weathers just so a bunch of freeloaders can have a house that looks like a Blackpool Tram parked in the garden. The time when the church and school events are scheduled, with mandatory attendance by parents in general and Dads in particular.

I'm not a particularly avid fan of the church. For one thing I do not believe that a person has an undying part, and for another, as God is my witness, I am an atheist. I manage to avoid the place for most of the year, justifying my absence to Mrs Stevie 1 as possible blasphemy that could get her excommunicated, but attendance at two festivals is mandatory under pain of unthinkable sanctions possibly including a good, hard kick in the plums: Santa Lucia and the Xmas Special.

Santa Lucia is a Swedish festival commemorating the martyrdom of some poor woman who died for her beliefs, probably the heretical notion that women should be allowed to lie down during childbirth or that floggings should be confined to only double digit lash-counts. I honestly don't know. The festival is a highlighted by a ceremony performed by a selection of the congregation's children, and I described it in enough detail for you, dear reader, to grasp the essentials (providing you've not gone overboard on the Xmas Atmos already) here. Last year, the Stevieling was the star attraction, Lucia, and paraded around the church sporting a fir wreath headdress/candelabra2 and singing her heart out. This year, she inaugurated a new church tradition by giving the reading in which the history of the ceremony is described. This used to be done by a member of the congregation who came from Sweden and helped found the church itself, but sadly, the old lady passed away a couple of years ago. The church asked a couple of people to guest the spot, then hit on the idea last year of making it the outgoing Lucia's job. Thus the Stevieling got put in the frame for it.

She performed flawlessly, even though she was obviously embarrassed that her mother had dressed her in victorianesque clothes for some unfathomable reason (Mrs Stevie is on the cusp of finding out that the Stevieling is no longer a sort of mobile, life-sized Barbie doll to be dressed in whimsical fashion whenever the mood takes her. I don't want to be there when the levee breaks, I can tell you). She carried with her an "American Girl" doll from her collection that was dressed in the Santa Lucia costume, and used it to illustrate her short talk on the festival in the same way that the late church member had used a straw "Lucia Doll", part of the Swedish tradition.

The only fly in the ointment was that the whole ceremony had to be held in the gymnasium since the church has been gutted for renovations and isn't finished yet. The builder had sworn it would be ready during the summer, but then a series of delays such as always happen in the construction business ("Well, we could have finished, but your ceiling calls for it being covered in plaster and you just can't get it these days. It'll have to come from the plaster mills in Korea. Say, two weeks. We're also having trouble sourcing these brick things your architect asked for.") had slowed thing down until the date for Xmas beat the date for finishing the church renovations to the finishing line. Pastor Hellfire has excommunicated the lot of them and put a curse on their three-ton truck too, calling for the most dreadful divine intervention in the thing's maintenance history.

Thus went Saturday.

Last night, Tuesday, I was forcéd to attend a "musical evening" at the high school.

Understand that I've watched many of these young people suffer with their art for a number of years. Sometimes it's been a toss up who was suffering more, the players or the audience, but this time the evening started with a bang.

The high school has a swing/jazz "big" band, heavy on the saxes and horns, and they are bloody good. professional quality and I'm not kidding. It was an all-too-short pleasure to listen to these young musicians strut their stuff. They still have a ways to go before they individually become the jazz stars they so obviously want to be, but by the cringe, they are good. I don't remember ever hearing a band sound this good with young people of this age supplying the talent, outside of those national televised contests you sometimes come across. These young men and women will go far.

The rest of the evening was about what I expected. Strings played by kids with a slightly less approximate idea of where the fingers should be than they had the last time I saw them, hesitant wind instruments and so forth. The whole thing was made infinitely more tedious by the groups of their peers who had come to watch but then proceeded to yap through the entire thing, not shutting up even during the quiet passages. They learn this from their parents, some of whom were showing them how it was done that night too.

Why do people come to these events if they don't want to listen? I didn't have a kid on stage until the end of a two hour plus performance, yet I would rather leave the auditorium than gab throughout the performance. How can holding a conversation during a recital be satisfying? You can't hear what the other ignorant git is saying to you without asking them in a loud, carrying voice to speak up, after all. Why go to all the trouble and annoyance of attending the damn thing if you aren't interested in the slightest in what is going on during it?

It's a good job I'm not packing heat at times like this.

The last to come up to bat were the choir, featuring the Stevieling and about 100 others, and they were wonderful with a capital won. I thought I couldn't be more impressed, then they finished with The Hallelujah Chorus from Handel's Messiah and they blew my socks off. Literally. Shoes blown to smithereens3, socks last seen leaving the auditorium at just under the speed of sound, trouser cuffs severely shredded in backblast revealing embarrassing ankle tattoo to all and sundry and everyone picking eyelets and bits of shoelace out of their hair. I didn't even notice. It was beautiful to hear and see.

Even if the video we got of the Stevieling was "utter crap" and could have been shot better by "A monkey with ADD and Parkinson's disease"4.

  1. Founder member of the Lutheran Ladies Auxiliary Militant, a sort of coffee-club come Inquisition who believe in putting people to The Question over a plate of sugar cookies
  2. Candelabrum? I'm not sure but I think that candelabrum is the proper name for the amount of light given off by the City of Birmingham and it's suburbs after dark
  3. A small village in The Republic of Ireland
  4. All opinions © Mrs Stevie. Permission to tell anyone who will listen granted to anyone who wants to have a go, provided it is clear who was in charge and who was given only one task: the simple job of recording a once in a lifetime event for posterity on a camera so simple Consumer Reports recommended it for ages 3 and above

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