Benjamin Britten writes in his introductory notes to Saint Nicolas: “The conductor must be cool-headed and should turn to the audience to conduct them in the two hymns.” I needed that sound advice on Sunday afternoon as we began our Pax Christi concert, only to discover the organ at Grace Church on-the-Hill would not start up. The first half of the concert could be sung largely without the organ, but the prospect of performing a half-hearted St. Nicolas without the “King of Instruments” was a dreadful disappointment to both choir and audience. But apparently miracles still happen. Why was Tom Fitches in the audience that afternoon? One of the only men in the city who could solve our crisis came forward, and with the help of some probing minds, tools and hands managed to get the organ working. A triumphant chord from Simon, and audience and musicians let out a great cheer. What followed was a performance I will never forget. It was as if we had smashed that dreadful imagined wall that separates listeners and performers. We re-created something wonderful that old Ben Britten would have reveled in.
One of my singers put it far better than I ever could:
“Yesterday’s concert will stand out as a long-time high watermark. It’s not so much the drama of the organ failure as the music making in the midst of challenge. While it was heartening to see engineers and organists come out of the woodwork and work together – it was the conductors’ and choirs’ responses which moved me to tears. It’s as if for a few moments we were one body breathing together, one will willing together, one voice singing together. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced that degree of ensemble before – it could sustain me the rest of my days, and it’s got me wanting more.
I’m so grateful for poetry’s many gifts! Cori’s poem in particular has given me a new place to stand as I look ahead to celebrating Christmas. Now I have new ‘friends’ in my imagination – images of hopeful children tipping across the dark barnyard, embodying their faith in their brave excursion, looking to see the cattle, and brave enough to observe.”
Thanks to everyone, and happy Saint Nicolas Day.