Beautiful music stirs my arms to goose bumps. Maybe that’s why I always feel cold. One of the most challenging things I’ve done with my musical talent is participating in an organ/piano duet from Handel’s “Messiah” while Dad directed the Draper 4th Ward choir. Dad committed mother and I to do it long before we knew about it, let alone were convinced it could be done. I’d played the piano part with Marilee Sjoblom on the organ a few years earlier for a special ward talent night program, and mother and I had played it together at home for easy to impress friends and relatives, but to play it while the choir was singing and the congregation sat with high expectations seemed more than a little formidable to us both. I didn’t like feeling I could mess it up for THAT many people. It would take hours and hours and hours of practice … and then it would still take a miracle.
At just about any given evening hour either Mother or I would be sitting alone at the piano or organ, or we would be sitting there together, carefully counting and practicing together … sometimes crying … always encouraging each other … as we tried to learn our parts well enough to accompany the choir. By the time we started practicing with the choir we both felt it would take more than a Christmas miracle for Dad to pull this one a off. If we got off, the choir would get mixed up. If the choir got mixed up it would throw one or both of us off. Through it all Dad just kept telling us, “You can do it, there’s plenty of time. If you do all you can do to prepare for this program, angels will fill in the gaps.” I thought he was asking a lot from the angels. “Choir members began to pat our backs after choir telling us not to stress, that it was “coming together so … nicely”. Well, of course, we stressed anyway. It’s in our genes.
I would dare say we played that song four hundred times over the next four weeks and by the week before the performance we could play it together “good enough” most of the time, and more frequently we each played it “very well” … but never at the same time. We had not once achieved what either of us considered “excellent”, either alone or together. At our final, dress rehearsal (our choir practices were at 6:00 AM Saturday mornings) with dad conducting and the full choir singing, we each made one mistake after another. It was disheartening to say the least. We didn’t think our nerves, or our bowels, would survive. I secretly wished I would slip on the ice and break my arm.
On the day of the performance, the choir bowed their heads while Dad offered a simple prayer that went something like, “We are just humble children who want to do our best on this joyous occasion. We have diligently practiced, putting in many hours privately and together. Please send angels who can buoy us up and fill in any gaps, that those who have come to worship the birth and the life of thy Son, Jesus Christ may feel of Thy spirit.”
Well, we did receive a miracle that day. Our choir of thirty five members sounded like a host of heavenly angels and Mom and I didn’t miss a note. What ecstatic joy we all felt as we played the last booming chords exactly together. For a moment the choir stood silently in awe while Dad, who was limp with emotion, stepped from his little raised podium and sat down, wiping the tears from his face with his folded handkerchief. “Mom whispered, “Lewy, LEWY … you forgot to have them sit down again!” (This was something he often forgot to do and the choir members had threatened to remain standing until he got back up and sat them down.) He stood and turned to face the patiently waiting choir members once more and opened the lapels of his coat to reveal a sign he’d pinned to his stiffly starched, white shirt that read, “You may be seated.” (My Dad never failed to bring a smile to people’s faces and this was no exception.)
It was a marvelous experience for a teenager and one I think of every year when I pull out my box of Christmas music. Thank you Mom and Dad for always believing in me and pushing me to reach beyond what I think I am capable of.