by EMILY ORTON on DECEMBER 7, 2016
We usually love playing music together. Whether spontaneous or planned, at home or at an open mic, we love it. Even better is opening our home for Live Music Night every few months. Encouraging others and sharing what we create is our family love language. But the idea of performing in a huge Christmas concert, makes sitting at home on our couch look pretty good.
So how did we end up in the Christmas concert every year for the past four years? I imagine the movie trailer narrator booming, “In a family where everyone wants to sit at home on the couch, one dad coaxes his kids onstage at Christmas.” There is nothing forceful about Erik's leadership. He’s gentle as a breeze.
His first unconscious step is generating the idea. It would be fun if the whole family sang and played something together in the concert. Next, he quietly responds to the email seeking volunteers. He's not keeping a secret. It's not worth mentioning at this point. We could back out, or he could play with someone else.
As the holidays approach, he asks, “What do you guys want to sing in the Christmas concert this year?” Casual, but assumptive.
“I think the deadline already passed to sign up for that.” I say.
“I signed us up, so we’re good.” Erik tosses out generally.
We shift from uninvolved to slightly obligated and slightly uncomfortable. Erik has made his move. He wouldn't call it a "move." It’s more of a lifestyle. Make a commitment and then work up to it.
This isn't always successful. In 2015, Jane defiantly sat in the audience. She was thirteen.
I see which way the wind is blowing because we all start wondering aloud, “What are we going to sing?”
In 2013 we performed the only boat related Christmas song we knew, I Saw Three Ships. That was one month before we left New York City to live aboard s/v Fezywig. It's easier to say goodbye when you have something to give.
In 2014 Erik assured us it would be, “…the last time we do the Christmas concert as a family.” Karina started far-away college the next fall. We covered a song she heard in a McDonald’s commercial, Keep Me Warm. We'd been away for most of the year. The audience welcomed us home by clapping along.
In 2015 it was Thanksgiving and we still didn’t have a song. Wasn't 2014 our last year? But we were signed up to perform, so Erik and Alison each wrote a Christmas song that day. Alison’s song seemed too mellow. (I’ll come back to that.). Erik’s song didn’t sound very Christmas-sy.
We couldn’t cancel so close to the concert. In desperation, I presented a super lame idea. “What if we shout, ‘For Christmas’ at the end of every line in the chorus?” I asked. The kids were dubious, but gave it a try. Nine days later we sang, "Going Home" (For Christmas!) onstage. The huge hassle of rehearsals and kid wrangling shrank compared with the opportunity to bring happiness to others. Surely, that was our swan song.
This year Erik signed us up again. Our family name was on the detailed tech rehearsal schedule. Erik had included song length and instruments. We didn’t have a song. I half-heartedly “researched” Christmas playlists on iTunes. If only we could pull off a Motown sound…
Erik suggested Alison’s Christmas song, but she was diligently preparing to take the SAT and the ACT back to back weekends. She’s hoping to go to far-away college, too. She was in no hurry to dig one year backwards into her handwritten song journal.
It was now the Sunday past Thanksgiving and 1,500 people would be watching the Christmas concert in six days. Alison fished out her Christmas song. She couldn’t remember the chords. Fortunately, Erik had saved a recording from last year.
He said, “We don’t have to perform. Let’s just sing through it together.”
He and Alison played it through on the piano and ukulele. We gathered around the music like a campfire. Once it was presented, we all had opinions. Suddenly, we weren’t silently wondering how we were going to get out of this. We were talking about how we could add dialogue, repeat the chorus, or arrange harmonies. Spending some time every evening rehearsing, I've Got What I Need, set the perfect tone for Christmas this year.
That’s how it happens. Erik gently fans the idea-spark, giving it plenty of room to grow, until we each warm to it. I imagine the movie trailer narrator booming, "In a family with couch-induced amnesia, one dad reminds them how good it feels to give."