(Continued from the previous two days’ posts)
Then Dr Rieppel strode in with his coat-tails flying and a beaming face, and the people, seeing him for whom they looked, began to clap with right good will. Kayla and I slipped into the very back pew on the left side and settled down. Now everything that could possibly have been in my hands was out of them, if anything went wrong other people would be able to take care of it — I could sit and listen to the music, with one ear open for inside jokes, and rest. For the first time all day I wasn’t counting minutes till I had to be somewhere, or trying to hurry up and finish an assignment before the next time I had to drop it. I could breathe again. It was dark where we sat, but lit up under the dome, where the orchestra was.
Dr Rieppel reached the stand, picked up his baton, and gave the downbeat. The Farandole began.
The President of the university, whom I never seem to be in the same room with unless something embarrassing happens, came down the aisle next to us, looked down, saw me, and whispered “Hi”. I gave the deep nod so common among SCAdians. A few other people came in late, some of whom knelt before going into a pew, or crossed themselves at the doors, reminding us that this might be a concert hall for the night, but first it’s a church.
When the Farandole was finished Dr Rieppel turned and thanked the audience and announced the next piece, Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on Greensleeves. Olivia found out afterward that Pastor live-streamed that one on Fakebook. The wind quintet followed with arrangements of Christmas carols.
The Toy Symphony may or may not have been written by Leopold Mozart, Wolfgang Mozart, or Haydn. Nobody knows, and the attribution is extremely inconsistent. So when, on a sort of whim, Dr Rieppel decided to add it to the concert, and sent LauraLee and me to look for it, it was a sort of wild-goose chase. First, the orchestra library is small, crowded, and disorganized; secondly, we didn’t know whether to look for it under H or M; and thirdly, the way things are in that closet, it might very well be in with the P’s or the D’s or something else completely unrelated. And once we found it and made the necessary copies and got parts out to people, we had trouble with the percussion. We had one girl doing all the birds, quail, nightingale, and cuckoo, until we found out that one part calls for all three at once. So she had to get helpers for just that bit, and it was a bit of a mess generally.
Tonight things were going pretty well, until during the pause at the end of the second movement, everyone started clapping. It wasn’t even scattered our-neighbour-is-clapping-and-we-all-pretend-we-don’t-know-him clapping, it was everyone doing it. The audience clapping between movements is a musician’s nightmare. In the back, I was simply shocked and annoyed and hoped whoever started it wouldn’t get a wink of sleep that night and other such kind wishes. Olivia said afterward that Dr Rieppel actually laid down his baton at the end of that movement as if he meant for them to clap. Either way, whether it was planned or only a good way of saving the situation, he turned around and said, “But wait, there’s more!” and then turned back and gave the signal for the finale.
The program (Kayla had one) said “SMO Student Quartet Selections” by “J. S. Bach, et. [sic] al.” were next, but I had it on good authourity that neither group was a quartet.
“Oh, is this Joel’s trio?” Kayla said. We had the following conversation while the members of the trio and duet were coming forward and making room and getting settled: Olivia and Anni moved at the same time, though their piece was afterward, to make things smoother.
“Yes,” I said.
“He’s been talking about it a lot,” she said. “I work with him at Music Street.”
“Oh!” I said.
“You know him too?”
“Yes,” I said.
“You look awfully eager for something.”
“I think there’s an inside joke from a rehearsal about to come up,” I said.
Kayla watched them arranging things and laughed. “Joel cracks me up, you know. He doesn’t blast rap in his car, he doesn’t blast rock or pop or country — no, he blasts Vivaldi. And the other night I was coming into the library late, eight o’clock, and I heard classical music on the lower floor, and I just leaned down and said ‘Joel!’ and sure enough he was there.”
“Oh yes,” I said, “and we say at school that if it sounds like someone’s playing a piano and coming down the hall toward you, you know Joel’s coming.”
Dr Rieppel got a microphone and said, “That Farandole was the perfect piece to start off tonight’s concert with, and although I always heard it at Christmas concerts I never knew why, but it’s because it’s a piece about the Three Kings.” He’s often mentioned during rehearsals what a good piece it is, usually followed by, “I’m so glad I had the idea to do it,” which, since it was actually Joel’s idea, always made the boy fume, and entertained the rest of us. “It was a perfect choice to open the night with,” Dr Rieppel was now saying, “and I’m going to hand off the mic to the guy whose idea it was.” Joel, upon finding the microphone thrust in his face, said, “I’m Joel, and this is JP and David, and we’re playing a trio by Corelli in C Major.”
“Isn’t Olivia in your quartet too?” Dr Rieppel said, as Olivia and Anni were sort of on the outskirts of the group, waiting.
“No, they’re doing a duet,” someone said.
“Oh,” said Dr Rieppel, forcing the microphone on Olivia, despite her protests. “And what are you playing?”
Olivia was far too quiet to be heard, at least in the back where we were, but I happen to know that it was a Bach piece originally for piano, arranged for violin and cello.
“So in other words, you’re stealing my repertoire,” Dr Rieppel said, and Olivia laughed and said “Yes.”
“Got to watch out for those little whippersnappers,” Dr Rieppel now said to us. “They’re coming up so fast. I love them all so much, and they’re all seniors, and they’ll be going away and I want to change their high-school records so they have to stay around another three years.”
He got out of the way, and the boys began. The Corelli fit the space we were in, much more stately and less tinselly than what came before. I shifted to my right a little to better see JP, who was on the left. The lights didn’t extend very far beyond where they were sitting, in a sort of oval directly under the crucifix in the center of the room. The Christ’s head was bent as if he too were listening — listening to the lovely music of two Catholics and a very un-Lutheran Lutheran (who’s a Communist before Lutheran, at that). So close, so far away.
At one point the cello came across a bit more strongly than I suspected it was supposed to. When David is too loud in ordinary life, Joel says “Be quiet, peasant!” but just now they were all three working together, in (dare I say it) harmony, one of the only times Joel and David get along.
Olivia and Anni’s Bach came next, and while the boys were making way for them, when Anni had sat down but Olivia remained standing, I whispered to Kayla, “That’s my sister.”
“How old is she?” Kayla asked, and after a brief scramble through my mind I said, “Sixteen.”
They started off and presently Kayla whispered back, “She’s good!”
I’d heard them practice better than they performed, but it wasn’t a bad job, and especially considering all they’d both been through to get to this point today, it was good. (Bacco had given her back her own bow just in time for the concert.) Also it was Johann Sebastian Bach, which is hard to beat, and it was another of the pieces that fit the space so well.
When they’d done, and Anni stood up and they grinned at each other and bowed, Kayla added, “My first instrument was a violin, and I sold it and got my guitar. I’m not sorry I got the guitar, but now I’m kind of wishing I’d kept the violin. Does she play anything else?”
“Oh, anything she touches,” I said, as usual. “Piano, mandolin, guitar, harp, recorder, viola da gamba. . .”
“We should jam sometime,” she said thoughtfully.
Dr Rieppel came back to his stand and after a brief scramble to rearrange things, Sleigh Ride began. Every year the orchestra plays Sleigh Ride because the audience likes it so much. The joke goes that “Kurt insists” although Kurt, a second violinist who’s been with the orchestra for forty years, hates it. And with good reason. One rehearsal Dr Rieppel said “Let’s go back to the development section” and several people said “There is no development section!” which is a perfectly reasonable criticism.
Every year, also, a “guest conductor” has the dubious honour of taking Dr Rieppel’s place. So at every rehearsal we — or rather they — make sure to practice it because they’re never actually paying any attention to the guest conductor. Last year it was the retiring Dean; this year Dr Rieppel announced the most honourable Mayor would be joining him. He handed over his baton and said, “Now you must be very careful because the orchestra will be following everything you do. It’s a wonderful feeling of power.” Having thus terrified the Mayor, who didn’t know that we’d been told every week “We’ve got to get this down so you can play without a conductor, because there’s no guarantee whoever we get will ever have conducted before”, Dr Rieppel stepped down and picked up the “whip” — two two-by-fours put together at one end.
From having listened to the piece over and over again in rehearsal, I could tell by the changes in the music when the first whip-crack was coming. The Mayor, however, did not. Dr Rieppel raised the whip and cracked it in his face.
The Most Honourable Mayor jumped back, visibly startled even from our seat so far in the back. Olivia had a good view of his face and said his reactions were pretty funny. The second time Dr Rieppel raised the whip before cracking it, he flinched before its sides even met. The third time he put up his left hand to shield himself. The last time he didn’t know it was coming because the music didn’t change the way it had been, though those of us who’d been at rehearsals knew it was coming because the ending so often had to be re-done. So Dr Rieppel very slowly turned back toward him (he’d been doing a fair bit of conducting-without-conducting throughout), and all at once raised the whip and cracked it once more right in his face. The Mayor jumped back with a great start. The strings went bumm bum! and stopped. People liked that one, as usual, and laughed and clapped a great deal.
The quartet played next, a piece which I found out the next day was Beethoven — I don’t know why I didn’t just look at the program, since Kayla had it right there, but oh well. She, by the way, was planning to go up during the Messiah pieces, which came right before Sarajevo, so as to tune up her electric guitar under cover of something else. I didn’t know it was Beethoven, but I liked it all right, and they seemed to be enjoying it in spite of the day they’d had. Actually I think even the audience, if they’d known what we’d all been through to get to that point, would have seen why the orchestra put so much emotion into a lot of the pieces.
“I love when musicians really get into their thing,” Kayla said when they finished and bowed.
Then Dr Rieppel told the audience how nearly the quartet didn’t make it, and how they were flown in at almost the last minute thanks to friends in the community and Schwans, and announced the chorale would be doing a piece on their own. “I’m excited to work with them again, I haven’t in about a decade — it took them that long to have enough of me — I have a lot more white hair now than I did then. Not,” he told us, “that the Chorale is responsible for that. That would be my colleagues in the Music department.”
The chorale, who’d been sitting in the front rows, came and stood in the cleared spot between and behind the second violins and the violas. The program said “O Magnum Mysterium, Morten Lauridsen” which I had a vague memory of having heard before. And then — they started. Some music is just right for that space, like the Corelli. This, for some reason, I could see while I heard it, the way steam curls up from a teapot or something else on the stove until it reaches the ceiling, and then spreads out sideways to fill the rest of the room. This was white and misty and went up to the golden height of the dome and out into the alcoves and rolled up the nave toward us, far-away and shivery and at the same time familiar.
“I love this one,” Kayla sighed about a minute into it — an odd speech for one whose chief instrument is the electric guitar, but also understandable under the circumstances.
So you will know why, when I felt a sneeze building inexorably inside my head, and remembered that in all the haste I hadn’t gotten my allergy medicine at supper, I knew it would be a disaster. To sneeze, in such a space, during such a song — as I said later, “Inconceivable!” Somehow it came out silently. Someone else’s phone went off, but that wasn’t my problem, though it would go on and on and somehow was never silenced until it simply stopped.
Well, the next piece was in the program, as Dr Rieppel said, “Because what’s Christmas without Handel?” and this was one I’d been waiting to hear in Holy Redeemer ever since the first rehearsal. Kayla slipped out during the applause for the chorale and went up to the front to tune up, and I, on a whim, hurried up the stairs to the balcony. I’d never been up there before, and it might not be the kind where I’d get sick from the height (as in a Lutheran church we were at for a funeral once, and the Colosseum in the Cities).
Also I hadn’t seen Cole come in, though it didn’t mean he hadn’t come, because at times I’d been so busy giving programs to the people who came in through my side that I wouldn’t have noticed if he came in by the other. Down where I was sitting it was dark and would also be hard for one short person to spy another. But I’m pretty good at recognizing the top of his head, thanks to seeing him through the hole in the floor at school.
The stairs were narrow in both width and depth, and went rather spirally at the top. I came through the opening and unexpectedly almost ran into Isaiah from behind. Levi was sitting on the railing, which is wide, but he has a habit of falling asleep at random moments, so I wouldn’t have recommended that seat for him. If he fell, he’d fall onto plain wooden benches with no padding whatsoever; that, or a solid uncarpeted floor. I went forward to a place where the railing curved back, and it was just at the right height for me to lean my arms on it. I gathered my breath and then deliberately looked down.
It wasn’t bad; there was a ledge about two feet below that was wide enough for me to stand on, if by some chance I found myself on the wrong edge of the railing. I saw my coat in the pew a little to the left, directly under Levi, and hoped he didn’t fall when Kayla and I were sitting there again, being at the same time glad so far that hadn’t happened.
“We are playing the Overture and ‘For Unto Us’, the latter in collaboration with the Chorale, which we are so glad is here with us tonight,” Dr Rieppel said, “and after that we’ll finish with the rousing Carol Sing-Along.”
The Sarajevo comes between them. He’s forgotten the Sarajevo.
At one rehearsal they went from Handel to the Sarajevo, and a certain nameless second violinist who shall not be named, but who is called Joel, played the first note of the Sarajevo in the Handel’s key at the same time Olivia played the correct one. The effect was nightmarish enough that even I could tell something was wrong, and Dr Rieppel exclaimed “We are not doing the Halloween version, Joel!” and then shook his score with an adjuration to any resident demons to get out. It would be the Halloween version of the Carol Sing-Along, if Dr Rieppel went to it and everybody else, or mostly everybody, went into the beginning of the Sarajevo. And if they all played along with him, the Sarajevo would be left out entirely and Kayla would be sitting up there doing nothing.
But for the present, as I came back to listening to the music, Handel was another of those pieces that fit the place just right, and if the first violins made a bit of a mistake with their entrance in the second movement, the seconds made allowance for them and those who weren’t at rehearsals (which was, to be fair, the vast majority of the audience) wouldn’t have noticed. And at the part where Dr Rieppel always says “Shh. . . now grow and grow and GROW!!”, though he didn’t actually say that this time, of course, I heard him out of habit. (His voice did not come from upstairs, in this case, because I was upstairs, but it was an extremely strong memory, at least, and the cello part at that place sounds a lot like his voice when he says it.)
I didn’t see Cole anywhere in the audience, which was perplexing, and a bit worrying, as I remembered Olivia’s frustrated comment as I was changing and we had no supper and it was late and everything was going wrong, “If he forgets I want his head on a platter!” But I had a pretty good view of the orchestra now that I was up above the audience, and Olivia seemed to be enjoying it. I could only assume, at that point, as she’d had no chance to tell me yet, that she had her bow back.
“For Unto Us” was fun to listen to, as always. When it finished we came to a moment of truth, in plot terms: was Dr Rieppel going to remember? When the applause died down, would the first notes we heard be the subtle opening of Sarajevo, or the cascading cymbals and trumpets of the Sing-Along?
He turned to the audience and said, “My cellist just now reminded me that Christmas Eve, also known as Sarajevo, actually comes next on the program, which is fortunate, as otherwise I would have given the entirely wrong downbeat.” (Yes it is, and yes you would have, and we’d have all died. . . probably.) “This piece is dedicated to Kurt Wagner, who has been with the orchestra for forty years, and Gretchen, who has been — as long? Kurt says forty-eight. Oh, so then you really have been with us since our first season. You’ve really been the longest-standing members of the orchestra — see, this is proof that we can get and retain members even when I’m in charge — has anyone else been here a really long time too? Diane, how about you?”
“Seventy-seven,” said she, a violist.
“Seventy-seven years — that’s — oh, since seventy-seven. Well, that’s a long time too.”
Sarajevo went off without a hitch that I could tell. Whether for good or ill, the electric guitar was noticeable, at least from my distance, only if you knew where to look for it.
During the applause I went back down the stairs, and, my eyes missing the first turned step, nearly hurled myself down the spiralling part of the case. But that didn’t happen in fact, and I made it back to the pew entirely unharmed, although a little out of breath.
I had thought for sure I’d hear Pastor belting out the one verse we did of “Hark the Herald Angels Sing”, that being one of his favourite hymns, but I couldn’t hear anyone singing louder than the others.
Afterward four of us ended up together at the back end of the center aisle. I was standing against one side, leaning against a pew with a binder Olivia had deposited in my hands before vanishing. Isaiah was across from me, with Joel on the right, explaining to him the symbolism contained in the painting on the ceiling: not only the obvious grapes, wheat, and dove, but things he’d learned from his Greek class, like the Chi Rho (though he accidentally called that a Pi Rho at first — it’s not Pisces Rex). Joel was admiring, and JP, standing on Joel’s other side, was looking pleased, probably because of a fellow home-schooler educating the public-schooled one. Then Isaiah said, “The A and the O stand for Alpha and Omega, the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, like in Revelation.”
“Oh,” Joel said. “I thought maybe it was A for Anarchy.”
I took a step forward and pretended I was about to hit him over the head with the binder.
“Wha — whoa — okay, okay,” he said, putting his hands up.
“I wouldn’t really!” I said.
“I thought for a moment you were going to!”
“Anyway, anarchists couldn’t possibly design a church like this.”
During the reception, at which Olivia’s famous chocolate chip cookies vanished before half the line got to the table, Isaiah and Ariana and I joined the three boys at a round table and talked, not really about serious things. Olivia flitted in and out, too busy being a social butterfly to stay anywhere for long. Isaiah said something about a pre-calculus class, and Joel said, “I was meaning to ask, what grade are you in?”
“He’s home-schooled, we don’t have grades,” I said.
The topic turned naturally to college plans once Isaiah explained that he was doing the math class PSEO, college during high school, like I did and JP is doing now. JP said he’d applied to a school in Texas, and Isaiah said, “Dallas Baptist Theological Seminary?” David seemed to think that very amusing.
At about the same time Levi came over and said something to Isaiah, and Joel, ever the nice one, said, “I haven’t met you before, who are you?” Someone said something about him being the youngest of ten, and Joel fell sideways off his chair.
“Ten?” he said, while David looked smug. “Okay, I’m an only child, I thought your guys’ seven was a lot — I don’t know about these things. Ten?”
“Well, I’m the oldest of nine,” Isaiah said.
Joel was telling Isaiah about our discussions on Tuesdays, and making me out to be more terrifying than I think I actually am, to which I replied, “All I’ve got is a safety pin!” (Olivia had taken her binder back a while before.)
“A safety pin in the hands of death!”
We ended up giving Isaiah and Ariana a ride home, and just when we’d all gotten to the car (“Please excuse the mess, we’ve been homeless and living out of this car all day”) Olivia discovered she’d left her water-bottle inside. So she went back to get it, and we waited for her. While we were sitting there talking about the beauty of the church, Isaiah said, “When Levi and I drove down here we didn’t see it at first, and we almost went to the one next door by accident, but then I saw it was Episcopal, and I told him we don’t want to go in there.”
“How did you not see this one but you saw the teeny tiny one next to it?” I asked.
“He was looking for a sign, I guess.”
“This generation looks for a sign,” I said, because Levi’s two months younger than me (and two feet taller) and I don’t let him forget it, “but no sign shall be given it — save a huge church with a tall spire lit up from underneath, with a cross on top. You would think that would be noticeable.”
Olivia came back at last with all her belongings, and with one last count of our things (water-bottle; violin case, with her bow now safely in it; backpack; her day clothes thrown on the floor; the cooler with her uneaten half-sandwich and a lot of garbage in it; my bookbag; knitting bag; two guests I must not forget to drop off at their house) we said farewell to Holy Redeemer for the time being, and turned toward home in the dark, toward rest after that long, long day.