Bernhardt column: Not-so-divine night
I like this time of the year, especially here in Rowan County.
I canít tell you why this is, but it just seems like this is one of the best places on earth to spend Christmas. I guess itís because Iíve celebrated them here all my life, and as the song says, ěThereís so much to remember, no wonder I remember Christmas Eve in my hometown.î
Like most older people, I can probably tell you more about a Christmas 40 years ago than I can the last several Christmases. I’m sure it has something to do with the cobwebs in the short-term memory part of my brain versus the cobwebs in the long-term portion.
Included in those memories are the sounds of Christmas music that would fill the air, not only at home but in my church on Christmas Eve.
Our choir would usually prepare and perform a cantata at the Christmas Eve service, but as the years passed and families tended to travel more, that became more difficult to do. Still, there was always special Christmas music, and for a while, it fell to me to perform a personal favorite, ěOh Holy Nightî each Christmas Eve.
I was told that I performed the holiday favorite well, so I was usually happy to do it. I aimed for the ěAndy Williamsî feel, not so much the Robert Merrill operatic sound whenever I sang it.
Most of the time, if I didnít try to go for the killer high note on ě…Oh Night Di-VINE,î could usually pull it off.
On Christmas Eve of 1980, I was feeling particularly bold. I decided that night, I was going to shoot the works. My voice was in good shape for that time of the year, and it was time to show the congregation what I had been hiding all these years.
Our choir director at the time was a wonderful young woman named Susan. Susan was a lot of fun. She had a way of inspiring confidence in singers, though I think she served our choir less than a year before moving away.
Susan was also serving as the organist on that fateful Christmas Eve. Everything was rolling along normally during the service, and the time for my solo had come. I stood confidently by the organ as Susan began to play.
And then, the unthinkable happened.
Someone in the back of the church, on super-secret orders from the pastor, decided to turn out all of the lights in the sanctuary for dramatic effect, leaving only the lighted Christmas tree on the other side of the sanctuary. Visually, Iím sure it was indeed a lovely effect, but no one had told Susan, or me.
I suppose the thinking was that Susan would have a lamp on the organ to illuminate her music. If such a lamp existed, it certainly wasn’t plugged in.
So for the next three-and-a-half minutes, the congregation was treated to a strange, almost comical performance by a soloist who couldnít see his words and an organist who couldn’t see her sheet music. To make matters worse, no one thought to turn the lights back on. They just listened and watched in horror, as one would observe a train wreck.
At the end of this eerie display, I reached up and grabbed that final high note in a desperate attempt to recover a small shred of my dignity. It too slapped me in the face and knocked me back down to reality. I sounded like Green Acresí Mr. Haney with a head cold.
It was certainly no ěnight divineî but it still stands as one of the most eventful performances of my life. To this day, I call the song ěOy Holy Night.î
Susan would continue as our choir director for a short time. The following spring, she would also direct the music for one of the worst shows I ever appeared in, a local production of ěCamelot.î
Though no fault of hers, it too was so bad, the dog cast as Pellinoreís constant companion ran away the night before the final performance and was never seen again. We had to use someoneís French poodle for the final show.
I think Iím beginning to understand why Susan left town. Merry Christmas, everyone.
Kent Bernhardt lives in Salisbury.