Now that I have successfully tired myself out by journaling all the stuff that tired me out so that I couldn’t journal, I am going to go find a book and curl up with some Christmas chocolate. HRH and the boy have gone out for some sooper-sekrit shopping, and I have no idea when they’ll be home. I ought to wrap presents while I can, but my back aches. Maybe tonight instead.
(I was also amused by the subsequent offerings of “On the first day of Christmas/ My true love gave to me/ A Owldaughter in a pear tree”, “Of all the trees/ That are in the wood/ The Owldaughter bears the crown”, and my personal favourite, “See the blazing Owldaughter before us/ Fa la la la la, la la la la.”)
Dress rehearsal on the Friday night went well enough that I left in a relatively positive mood, looking forward to the actual concert on Saturday. There was a minor kerfuffle over transportation as we realised that I’d indeed have to leave before Liam went to bed and the neighbours couldn’t put him down, as they were hosting a party (nor had they ever done it before, and Liam was overtired by dinner, having been at the aforementioned party during the afternoon), which meant I might have to take the car alone and leave HRH at home, a solution no one wanted to employ. My in-laws came to the rescue, picking me up and dropping me off on their way to a dinner engagement nearby. As a result I got there very early, and was able to set up and relax by wandering around the dim church for a while. I used to sing in this particular church a decade or so ago, and the decorations and lighting brought back a lot of memories of processional hymns and Christmas concerts past.
Being there early meant I also had the opportunity to chat with some other members of the orchestra with whom I don’t usually converse, being on a tight schedule most of the time. Also, I am painfully shy, and talking to people I don’t know is hard. I’m especially unsocial before a performance of any kind, because I’m getting into the headspace the performance requires. Saturday night was lovely, though. And while I was chatting with them I came face to face with a dear friend from high school whom I hadn’t seen in about fifteen years, who has moved back from Kingston and now lives and works nearby again. We caught up as much as we could in the five minutes or so before he had to see to his duties, being property manager of the church, and I had to pick my way through the forest of music stands and prepare for the warm-up.
There were forty choir members, and thirty-one musicians in the orchestra. The choir was tidily seated in their regular stalls behind the sanctuary, but the musicians were set up like sardines with instruments in the sactuary itself. It was a challenge, but also interesting in that we all got to hear different sections playing because our regular seating was completely rearranged. For example, the second violins sat opposite the first violins where the celli usually sit, and the violas were seated in the second violins’ usual place, and the celli occupied the violas’ regular seats. The flutes and clarinets sat off to one side, and the trumpet and horn sat behind me. (It now belatedly occurs to me that a very loopy joke could be made about playing musical chairs.) As I mentioned before I ended up sitting at the back of the space but directly in front of the conductor, which meant I was facing the audience, a very odd position to be in when one is used to having the audience on one’s left. We were all very cosy, which is a polite way of saying that bows knocked into other instruments or musicians now and again. Fortunately everyone took it in good spirits.
We’d been warned that our warm-up would begin and finish early in order to open the doors for the audience, and while a number of us secretly thought this a bit optimistic we went along with it. When our conductor declared the warm-up over at 6:45 the doors were indeed opened, and the church was half-filled before all the musicians were off the stage. By 7:10 the church was filled to capacity and those doors were closed, later arrivals being directed to the church hall where chairs had been set up facing a monitor on which the concert would be broadcast. Most of us didn’t know this, as we were wandering around trying to find ways to occupy the forty-five minutes before the concert would begin. (Any performer will tell you that the time before going on is interminable to begin with, resulting in what many of my circle call the “Will it never be day?” effect [see Henry V, act iii sc vi], but forty-five minutes is positively torturous.) It gave me the opportunity to catch up with a couple of people in the choir with whom I’d sung on stage or in choirs before, which occupied my mind nicely.
When we finally went out and settled ourselves on the stage we were amazed to see that the church wasn’t only full, it was packed and there were people standing in the back. We’re used to playing to audiences less than half that size. I didn’t know about the overflow in the hall until later, or that people had to be turned away because there was simply no more room. HRH ended up shoehorned into the overflow hall himself, while the poor Preston-Leblancs had to turn around and go out for ice cream instead because a monitor and speakers just can’t substitute for the live experience when you’re almost five years old (and yes, I completely understand, I probably would have done the same).
I don’t remember much about the music itself. As usual, I played some tricky bits better in performance than I ever had in rehearsal, and muffed perfectly easy things that I’ve never tripped over before. It was loud, very loud, and long too, because we didn’t have an intermission. The sheer volume hindered me a bit because I couldn’t hear what I was playing, so I have no idea what my intonation was like, although I remember being happy with my precision and fingering in certain places as well as hearing my bow stick buzz against my strings at one point due to too much pressure (oops). By the time the carols rolled around we’d pretty much lost any finesse we’d demonstated earlier in rehearsal, and everything had devolved to simply loud due to being tired and losing the ability to hear subtlety. I was in the middle of the orchestra, and the choir was right behind me. That, plus the natural tendency of everyone to play louder and more passionately when swept away by the larger-then-life energy produced by eighty-ish people performing together and hundreds of people in the audience, made for a headache that established itself very early on. I managed to ignore it most of the time, although by halfway through the carols it became a matter of gritting my teeth to do so. I swallowed an extra-strength Advil before I even put my cello down after we had taken our bows.
The audience was wonderful. They loved us even before we started playing, which is a delightful way to begin any concert, and they gave us a standing ovation as soon as Douglas lowered his hands. I am told that the hundred and fifty-ish people in the overflow hall also gave a standing ovation, despite not being able to do so in the presence of the choir and orchestra. I would be very interested to know how much money was collected for the charities for whom the benefit was staged.
It was an incredible experience. I wish I could have been more in the moment to fully appreciate it while it was happening, but much of the time I was in the cello zone (a good thing) and riding the music. I think someone made a recording, but it would never be the same as sitting right in the midst of all of that music and energy. It was a very joyful experience, and a very spiritual one as well. Excellent music celebrating love and joy like that should be played more often. (It’s a good thing that the first part of the Messiah is my favourite bit, because I played and listened to it an awful lot for three weeks.) It was also demanding, because Baroque music requires different technique than the chamber music I usually play (or Leonard Cohen, Metallica, and Loreena McKennitt, for that matter, being band-related), and because one must simultaneously ignore the singers and listen to them in order to provide the right sort of balance between voice and accompaniment.
It was a remarkable evening, and I hope the orchestra will do other events like this with vocal groups.
Hmm, what next. Oh; the camera.
We took the camera in to a local shop to consult with someone about the popped-off lens, and were told that it would cost as much to fix it as to buy a new camera. When I expressed incredulity because the rest of the camera is fine, the clerk said apologetically that the lens was the most expensive part of a camera, and we’d need a new one. It was going to cost us somewhere in the range of $150 to $180, as well as losing our camera for six to eight weeks.
At this time of year? No thanks. So I did my homework and read reviews until I was cross-eyed, and bought a Canon A430 4.0mpx Powershot. It takes lovely pictures, and the lag time between shots is minimal, as all the reviews said — so long as you’re not using the flash. If the flash is being used (which, let’s face it, is most of the time for me because I do a lot of indoor photography and it’s December, for heaven’s sake, which means there’s next to no light anyway), depending on the ambient light it can take up to 15 seconds to recharge. I’m wondering if this has something to do with the level of the rechargeable batteries that I put in the camera, so I’ll be experimenting with other batteries over the next little while to see if that affects the wait time as the troubleshooting section of the manual said that low battery power can slow the flash down.
A marvellous redeeming feature, however, is the continuous shooting option. When set to this function, the camera will take pictures about every half-second for as long as you hold down the shutter (or until you run out of room on your memory card). (The flash still needs to recharge though, damn it.) And the focusing half-step before pressing the shutter down completely is great too.
Overall, I’m very pleased with it. It’s got a lot of terrific settings and modes, equivalent to or greater than our Olympus camera had. In lag time between when the shutter is pressed and the picture taken, it’s faster than the other camera in capturing a moment; but the other camera was quicker at recharging the flash and being ready to take a second photo. Win some, lose some. December light isn’t exactly ideal for photography anyway, so that can only get better.
I think I’ll start with the tree.
Because HRH was home on Thursday, we took the opportunity to go get the Chistmas tree. We decided to go to the IKEA lot, because hey, twenty dollars for a tree is a good deal, and so is the coupon for $20 off a purchase in-store as of January 1. And you can’t beat the promise that IKEA will donate a seedling to a tree-planting project for every tree sold. We’ve had good experiences with IKEA trees in the past.
Despite the weather being very warm, we were in a very seasonal mood as all three of us bundled into the car and drove up. All the trees were still wrapped up, so we couldn’t see what shape they were, which was only a very mild handicap to the process because all trees change shape radically once they’re in stands for a few days, I find. Besides, wrapped trees are easier to transport. All of them were green green green and very fresh, and the lot smelled wonderful. HRH pulled a tree up and looked at it, and I picked one up and looked at it, and then we made polite noises at one another about how we really didn’t have a preference. (We honestly didn’t — well, at least I didn’t.) The decision was made by Liam in the end, and he chose mine. (Toddlers point a lot.)
It fit in our car, and Liam talked to it all the way home. HRH set it up in the stand and we cut the string that held it all together, and when released the branches began to settle into an interesting shape — it’s kind of an oval. It’s wider than it is deep, and it fits right up against our bookcases.
Liam was all for stroking the branches, and we kept saying “no no no, look don’t touch” in the sing-song way that means “you’re not being bad per se, you’re just doing something that we don’t want to encourage”. By Friday he would walk up to the tree, put his hands behind his back, and say “no no no” in the same sing-song fashion, showing us how good he was!
Sunday afternoon was the day we had blocked on the calendar to decorate it. HRH did the lights in the late afternoon, which excited Liam to no end, and I started to hang ornaments. I stopped, however, when Liam darted in and grabbed a life-sized apple ornament rolled in tiny artificial ice crystals, brought it to his mouth, and tried to take a big bite. He froze, released it and handed it back to me with a look of distaste, saying “no no no” before walking away. I laughed so hard that I was almost in tears, holding the ornament with a set of teeth marks in it. I will keep this apple and years from now I will pull it out and show him how at the first Christmas he could walk, he tried to eat the first ornament he got his hands on. Although I can’t blame him; it looks exactly like a real apple with ice on it, size, colour, and all.
We finished decorating it after he went to bed. I put the old pompom ornaments from my childhood tree on the lower branches, along with Jan’s ice-drop ornaments, because he can’t break those. Yesterday morning he came out of his room and stared at the tree, then ran up to it. We reminded him that the tree was for looking not touching, and we have had to remind him several times, but overall he’s been good. He does have to be reminded every morning again, though, and when he gets overexcited because he’s tired or hungry. And I caught him kissing a wooden penguin ornament today, and later he tried to feed it a cracker. He absolutely loves it all.