So tonight was the first performance of our Easter cantata, "No More Night," at church. It went very well, and we have another one tomorrow night. You should understand, this is the single most emotional holy day of the year, for me. I get weepy at the slightest. One word, a fleeting mental image. If I'm sitting in the congregation, that's fine. Tomorrow morning, I can sit and boo-hoo all I want. But tomorrow night, it'll be time to put on my game-face again. It's been this way since about 20 years ago, when I played Mary (mother of Jesus) in a long-ago Easter musical, and had to sing "Carry Him Gently." * I broke down, couldn't get through it. So what I learned from that was, when it comes to Easter singing, I pretty much have to go somewhere else, a little bit, in my head, to get through it and do a good job. No dwelling on the words, or even the message, until it's over.
Only got choked up a couple times tonight. The dress rehearsals helped a lot, because I was able to get a lot of distracting mental patter going that I could call upon later. Lest you think I'm being irreverent, because I'm not. But I'll give you an idea what I'm talking about--how my brain stays on task, but keeps itself distracted.
Every time we sing the line "Evil is banished..." I cannot help, in my head, dramatically pronouncing the word "Eeeeevilllllll!" like Ernest Borgnine as Mermaid Man on SpongeBob. The fact that when I needed Band-Aids before we left tonight, and the only ones I could find were Bella's SpongeBob ones...did not help.
Our guy that plays Jesus is good. REALLY good. His wig, however, it is bad. Really bad. It was bad at Christmas, it's still bad now. I am going to offer to buy a new Jesus wig next time around. Call me a stickler, I'm just doubting that Jesus had big thick bangs like a Miss Clairol ad from the '70's. Just sayin'.
There's one number in which the instrumental accompaniment sounds eerily similar to Loreena McKinnett's "The Mummer's Dance," which is one of my favorite songs of ALL TIME, but not very Easter-y...although it is about springtime. It is good that this falls during a particularly tragic part of the musical.
Also good for the horrible-est scene, is that one of the actresses playing a mourner at Golgotha has a really high-pitched voice, and when she screams, "OH, NOOOO!" it sounds just like Mr. Bill from the old Saturday Night Live shows. I have my MOTHER to thank for pointing that one out, which she can do usually with merely a LOOK, but it's good that she did.
During the Last Supper scene, it took me about three run-throughs to realize that the dude sprinting off the stage wasn't just sick or something. He was playing Judas. We can't really hear the dialogue or see the drama unfolding, so I totally missed that it was the moment when Jesus says, "One of you will betray me..." and he's OFF. And I'm not sure who is playing Judas, because I haven't had any glasses or contacts in the last year, but he is FAST.
There is a transition that we had a terrible time with, timing-wise. Jesus had to get from downstage, out the doors, around the outer corridors, up into the baptistry, have an entire costume-change (from his crucifixion wrap-around-the-waist-thing to his glorious resurrection robes), and he has to be lying down so he can arise from his tomb. There are actresses playing angels in attendance, and while everything is pitch-dark, they're helping him get his royal robes on while narration and sound effects are happening. We could NOT give the poor guy enough time, and either the lights and music were coming up before he was ready, or there would just be dead space while we all held our breaths in the dark waiting. The best moment came at the last dress rehearsal, when the drama director yelled, "Y'all have got to be ready for the lights to come up when that line is spoken! Jesus has to be in place!" To which the fine Southern ladies who are playing the attending angels responded, almost in unison, "Well, if the lights come up that fast, he's gonna be here, but he'll still be nekkid!" This caused Alex to run through a hilarious gamut of reaction expressions as if he were witnessing just such a thing. So now every time that part comes, I'm standing there wondering if they're going to get him dressed in time (he's not actually "nekkid," he just has to put robes on over his previous garb).
Speaking of this scene, the sanctuary goes pitch-black. And I mean DARK. The only thing you can see are the tiny bits of glow-tape stuck around on the floor to mark stairs and safe places to walk...and my SpongeBob Band-Aids. I have to remember to keep my hand closed in a fist. (And I still deeply regret, for just one of the dress-rehearsals, failing to organize a mass prank on Doug, our director, and obtaining some of this glow-tape so that seven of us on the top row could have spelled out the message, "GO JESUS" on the fronts of our white angel-robes, which would have glowed in the dark when the lights went down. Alex was in favor of a mass of glowing smiley-faces.)
And during the blackness, there are sound-effects. Awesome sound-effects. The earthquake, the curtain being torn, huge rolling thunder...and then howling wind. It's all very scary. Unless you grew up watching the Rankin-Bass production of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," in which case the howling wind part sounds EXACTLY like the scene in which Rudolph sets out on his own and runs into the Yeti-like "Bumble" during a blizzard. And it does not help when Alex is struck by the exact same thought, and turns around and says, "Look out, it's The Bumble!"
Look, I'm really not a bad, sacrilegious person, it's just that if I dwell on the message while the singing's going on, I will simply never get through it. I can't even sing the "Heaven's gates are open wide" HAPPY part without choking up. And I HAVE to be able to direct my thoughts, because if they just wander, they're going to wander to places like, "Oh, Bella would like to be in here watching this instead of having to stay in the nursery," which leads to thoughts like, "If Dad was here, she'd be sitting with him," which leads to thoughts like, "For so many years, that was why I did my best up here, because it made my Dad so happy to see and hear 'his girls' singing..." and then I might as well pack it up and lie down in a fetal position on the risers, because I'm DONE, and just wishing for my Daddy.
So yeah...if I'm cutting up in rehearsals, or looking off into space, or just seeming...weird and sad, well, now you know why. I'm doing my best to glorify God without falling to pieces or disrespecting the message, and it's a FINE LINE.
And did I mention there's a mass costume-change? Where the entire choir has to file off of these insanely steep risers in COMPLETE DARKNESS, get out into an outer corridor (what I think of as the church's "secret passageways," because I quite honestly got lost in one the other day), then into one of two tiny fitting rooms and change out of our choir robes and into our "heavenly" garb? Which includes bare feet? OK, that part I like. I'd actually like to sing barefooted in choir all the time, because my chief complaint about being in the choir loft with everyone looking at us is that I can't slip my shoes off during the sermon, and my feet hurt. Anyway. I don't even know how many men I'm grabbing onto besides my husband to get down and out of there, but it's quite a few. Of course, it's so dark, they don't know who I am, either, so it's all good.
When we come back in, we're all in our "heavenly" garb, these lovely white robes, which, by the way, if that's the actual wardrobe in Heaven? I am totally cool with that, because these things are comfy. Especially with the no shoes. At this point, it is still pitch-black, but there is a laser-light show. Specifially, starlight. Starlight everywhere, which is so awesome and cool and all over the walls and ceilings, that I'm waiting for the pews to recline and some Pink Floyd music to kick in. The stars are created by two machines called "Laser Stars," and we were warned during rehearsals to "not look directly into the beam," at which point Alex was forced to say, "I looked into the beam, Ray." So now I can barely stand up there among the stars without LOOKING DIRECTLY INTO THE BEAM. If I'm blinded, blame my husband for just having to do a "Ghostbusters" joke.
There's one entrance toward the end, where the director is obscured by the actors in front of the choir, and he is totally lost to me. I can't see him at all, so I'm never quite sure where to come in. So I watch, with my peripheral vision, the woman beside me, who happens to be his wife, and who, I think, CAN see him, thinking that when I see her take a breath, it'll be GO TIME. I'm watching, I'm watching...and she apparently breathes out of her nose. I'm watching someone else tomorrow.
Speaking of our choir director, I just have to say: This man is honestly one of the best choir directors I've ever worked under, in high school, college, Governor's school, ASO Chorus, Opera Theater, anywhere. Why? Because he knows every second of every part of every bit of the music, and every word, and all the entrances, all the cutoffs, all the dynamics, the tricky rhythms, everything--and he spoon-feeds it to you in a way that is SO incredibly easy to follow, that if you have decent eyesight and at least half a brain, if you're just WATCHING him, you can. not. go. wrong. That, my friends, is a rare and priceless thing in a director. Sing under a few sloppy ones, and you'll know.Well, there's my weird Easter deal. It's important to me, more so than any other holy day of the year, and so I have to goof on everything just to survive it, if I'm performing. Thank Heavens I didn't have a solo this year, or I'd just have to be on I.V. Versed. In which case I'm sure I'd sound fantastic, at least to myself. Happy Easter to everyone, and I'm sure I'll be posting adorable pictures of some random little girl in an adorable Easter dress sometime tomorrow. You know, if I happen to run into one. 'Til then, there's some new stuff up on flickr. Go there.
Oh, and church and the people there are fun, folks. You should go. If you happen to be at my church, I'll see you after the show, when you'll have to pass through the formidable Angel Brigade in order to leave the building. I'll be the one sitting on the floor hyperventilating into a heavenly paper sack.
*Just a small part of the solo that nearly killed me as a young thing. It is to be sung as Jesus' body is being lifted down from the cross, by his mother, who is there watching. Thank Heaven I didn't try it after I'd become a mother myself:
"Carry Him gently, my baby;
Carry Him softly, my child;
Carry Him far from suff'ring;
Let Him rest, let Him rest
For a while...for a while."