Elizabeth Willis Barrett………January 2014
Enjoying Christmas with twenty-one family members takes a bit of orchestration. And that means that someone has to be the conductor. I look around for volunteers but there are none. So, I stand upon the podium, baton in hand and raise my arms for the down beat. Ah, I see that not everyone is ready. I tap the music stand to get their attention. I tap again.
“Ready?” I ask. There are no dissenters. Down come my arms and from the first notes, I realize with dismay that we are not all playing the same song. Some are attempting a waltz, others a dirge and still others are tooting away at what must be a new Miley Cyrus original.
“Wait, wait, wait.” I whack the baton and take precious time to see that we are all playing the same piece–a happy, march-like tune that if Sousa didn’t write, he should have.
Another down beat and the improvement is palpable. It helps to be on the same song on the same page. Hope glimmers. Several measures have promise. Then….
“Cellos, [the young fathers of our family who seem to be constantly riveted on football] I think I’m only hearing one note from you. Could you look a little more closely? I think you have other notes besides B [which stands for ball, which usually means football] in your score.”
“Flutes, [the little girls] I really appreciate your ability to dance all over the music, but we have to make everything fit together. Keep with the rhythm, OK?”
“Trombones, [the teenage boys] this is a happy part.” I whack the baton against the stand a few times until the trombones look at me with a “What?” lurking in their faces. It’s a good thing I like myself well enough or I just might crumble under one or two of these looks. “Play it with joy,” I say. “Yes. Yes you can,” I add to their objections. This job is exhausting.
“Come on, you guys. Now we have to start all over. OK, once again. All eyes on me. Good.”
I hear a slight improvement. Things are looking up.
“Oh, oh. Everyone pause for just a minute. Piccolo [the baby] is screeching. Now, now. It’s going to be all right, little Piccolo. No one lose your place. Hang on. We just need to guide Piccolo over a few rough measures.”
“Violins, [the young moms] I know you have more notes to negotiate than anyone else, but you’re so capable, so dependable, so lovely.”
“Bass, [my other half, the Grandfather] we haven’t heard from you in awhile. Oh, I see why. Wake up! Wake up, Bass! We need you. Your deep tones are our foundation. I heard that, Bass. Absolutely no grumbling.”
“Ok, once more from the top. A one, a two a…….”
“No, Snares, not yet. Bells, hold it. Cymbal…..The whole percussion section [the little boys] is trying to race us through to the next century. Patience. Read your notes. You don’t come in yet.”
“A little loud there, Trumpets [the middle boys]. I know you have lots to say. Blend, just blend. This is not a trumpet solo. Every part is as important as the next.”
“I think we’re all a little keyed up at the moment. Let’s just pause, slow down, catch our breaths. Let’s work on this march, but if it ain’t “baroque” we won’t need to fix it. Ha, Ha. Just a little humor. Thought we could use it. Never mind. You will all have a chance for solos, but right now we are trying to create a masterpiece together. A musical harmonious masterpiece.”
We play and we play. Intermittently the baton comes down–whack, whack, whack. They’ve heard that sound so often that they don’t pay attention anymore and I let them continue–stray notes intersecting at the corner of Common Time and 3/4, pianissimo always succumbing to forte. We are into the music. And though we miss some notes and sour others, there are times, many times, when the music we create is superb. Soul reaching. Beautiful.
After we have performed and regrouped and performed again–made mistakes and repented of sorts–we look back on our orchestration of Christmas. There are no words but “Bravo! Bravo!” and “Encore! Encore!” With all our imperfections we have outdone ourselves.
I reverently put down the baton, wipe away a joyful tear and vow to make someone else do at least some of the conducting in the future.