Sunday, December 13, 2009

FICTION: "The Charismatic, Catholic, Christmas Choir"-A Smile for the Christmas Season

"The Charismatic, Catholic, Christmas Choir" is a little fiction piece meant for:Catholics; folks with a sense of humor; people who like Christmas; Those of us just needing a big smile for the season.

For the choir really meant well when it embarked on the ferry to entertain its passengers. The dunk into the bay of sopranos, altos and tenors and the resulting confusion was never part of the plan.

Pic of the Day

The Charismatic, Catholic, Christmas Choir

It wasn’t the entire choir of Most Holy Blessed Sacrament that agreed to participate in the Christmas party at the Leonardtown Ferry terminal. Which is no matter because so far as the public in Warren county, Washington and locale of the Most Holy Blessed Sacrament Catholic church knew, it was the entirety of the Most Holy Blessed Sacrament choir that got all mixed up and ended up with five members-, an alto, two sopranos, a bass and one tenor, in the waters of the Monogasat Bay,- swimming for their very lives as the Leonardtown Ferry merrily sailed away unmindful of the desperate choir members struggling in the waters below.

This did not make Father George happy because, as he explained that night after the incident, the local newspapers referred to the choir members overboard as the choir of the Most Holy Blessed Sacrament and this incident did not reflect well on the parish of the Most Holy Blessed Sacrament. Father George was ever mindful of public relations in Warren county as he’d just had two spanking new buildings erected next to the Most Holy Blessed Sacrament church, a Parish life center and Religious Education Center. Father George promised Bishop Wright that he thought he could sign up maybe three thousand more parishioners at Most Holy Blessed Sacrament but now, what with the choir taking a dunk in the Monogasat Bay and the bizarre story behind it all he was not at all pleased for having to calm down Bishop Wright.

“I expect each and every one of you to sign up a new parishioner by the end of this month,” Father George told us through tight angry lips. “Maybe then I’ll forget that whole sad episode and the insanity of doing such a thing without the blessing of the church.”

Father George then gave Judd Turner a quick glance and walked off in a huff.

Actually it was Judd Turner, the music director of the Most Holy Blessed Sacrament church, who was responsible for all the confusion of the now infamous choral performance of the MHBS choir on the Leonardtown Ferry which was supposed to be at the Leonardtown Ferry TERMINAL, not on the actual Ferry and if Judd hadn’t messed up that little piece of information at the very least none of us would have fallen in the Monogasat Bay while singing “The First Noel/Pachebel’s Canon” on the rolling deck of the Leonardtown Ferry. Saddest of all, while Elsie, our flute player, didn’t fall into the Mongasat Bay, she lost her flute, just another victim of what has come to be known at MHBS as the Mongasat Bay Choir Massacre, dubbed so by a few wisenheimers on the pastoral council.

The whole thing began when Judd sent us all an email advising us that a parishioner heard us singing at the 7 am mass and inquired as to whether we might like to perform for the Leonardtown Ferry Christmas party scheduled in early December. I thought it was a great idea and returned the email telling Judd to count me in. The Ferry Christmas party was scheduled on a Wednesday night while our choir practice was on Thursday nights. At the next choir practice, Judd said he thought the Wednesday night date would interfere with our practice and with the Christmas program of MHBS so close to the date of the Ferry Christmas party he didn’t think the choir participation to be a good idea.

I was disappointed at Judd’s announcement but not surprised. Judd had been the music director of MHBS since the church was built, then some ten years, and Judd was not known far and wide for his vigor and enthusiasm to try anything new or expand his horizons.

“It’s too bad about the Ferry Christmas party,” Wendy, the choir’s song conductor and her words stopped me as I packed up my music to head home after practice. John Ryan, the choir’s best tenor, and Allen Markham, our most dependable bass, looked up.

“I don’t know why he won’t let the choir participate in some of these local events,” Nancy Ryan, John’s wife, said. “Last year we were asked to sing at Sunfest and Judd turned them down flat. Sunfest is in the Fall, hardly any busy time for our choir. Now Judd has the excuse of the church Christmas program being so close to the Ferry party but that’s all it is, an excuse.”

By now about ten members of our choir were standing around, grumping and complaining about Judd’s decision to not allow the choir to participate in the Ferry Christmas program. Seems I wasn’t the only one disgruntled by Judd’s iron hand and besides I had no idea he’d blocked us from singing at the big Sunfest event, a huge local event designed to bring tourists to our local beach areas after the summer season had passed.

Even now, a full five weeks after the unfortunate event it’s been difficult to compile, correlate and calculate just how the confusion came about but as best as I can tell, it was Nancy Ryan who began the email game of “gossip” that made an original email stating that Judd was thinking about relenting to her pleas to allow the choir to sing at the ferry terminal, that, if so, we should be there at 7:00 pm on Dec. 6, and we would probably be singing “Mary Did You Know?” and “Praise to the Newborn King” as we already knew these songs to turn into an email stipulating that Judd had definitely agreed to allow the choir to sing on the Leonardtown Ferry, that we should be there for take off at 7:30 pm, that we would be singing “The First Noel/Pachebel’s Canon”, a song we barely knew.

There were other factors that contributed to the big mix-up, not the least of which was the fact that Nancy did not have the correct email addresses of all the choir members so she sent out to those whose email she knew and asked us to forward the emails to those not included on the original email list. Jane Martin got an email from Bob Doyle that an email was being sent out about singing on the Ferry. Jane sent an email to Joe Tang asking about it and Jane got Joe’s email address wrong so it was returned to her. Jane saw Joe’s wife the next day at the grocery and asked what was going on with the Ferry. Joe’s wife didn’t know a thing about it so she emailed Barbara Wooden who said she couldn’t make it that night but she’d just talked to Allen Barker and he wanted to know what song the choir was singing so he could bring the right music. All of this email-go-round went on after our weekly Thursday choir practice on the week proceeding the Wednesday when we were scheduled to sing on the Ferry so Judd Turner was essentially, out of the loop.

And so on December 6, eight members of the choir of Most Holy Blessed Sacrament boarded the Leonardtown Ferry. We were surprised that we had to pay for the trip across Monogasat Bay but then again no one ever addressed the matter one way or the other. We were also surprised that only eight of us showed up what with all the email and excitement but we shrugged and said we’d carry on, that we made a commitment. A trip across the Monogasat Bay is not cheap, however, coming in at about $15.00 per passenger and we were all in a bit of a snit over having to put up our money when we were, essentially, providing the entertainment. At least as we saw it and no one knew the name of the parishioner who originally suggested we sing on the ferry at any rate, no one knew who had come up with the song choice, no one knew, for that matter, where the hell the other 15 members of the Most Holy Blessed Sacrament Choir were that night and, of course, it was windy and rainy and the ferry was rocking.

It did turn out that Santa Claus was to be on the ferry that night so we all figured we were in the right place. We went to the ferry’s lounge but there was no room anywhere for a choir what with the big Santa seat set up, the roped lines for the children to wait their turn to sit on Santa’s lap and goodness all the photography equipment.

John Ryan, the only tenor to show up that night, along with Alan Markham, the only bass, found someone who was in charge of the social activities on the ferry but she had no idea where the choir was to stand as it seemed, ahem, there was no room at the inn. She also did not know why we had to pay to get on the ferry so we dropped that issue and decided to deal with it later.

The ferry’s social director did find a roped off area out on the deck of the ferry and she directed us all to it. “When we get close to the Cape Jerome shore the ferry captain is going to summon all the passengers out to this area so we can see the pretty lights of the decorated Victorian homes as the ferry pulls into the Cape Jerome terminal. I’m thinking this is when the choir would be singing Christmas carols, to entertain the passengers as they watch the lights.” The ferry social director wiped her face and apologized for the awful weather but explained that this is the nature of planning activities so susceptible to unpredictable weather.

All eight of us began to grouse about having to sing in the pouring and blowing rain. We went on to moan about the fifteen bucks we had to pay then, now worked up to an angry rage, we all vowed to quit the Most Holy Blessed Sacrament Choir and we vowed to give that lazy Judd Turner some gigantic pieces of our minds.

Nancy Ryan finally shushed us all up and gave us a lecture on doing what we promised to do, that Christ the Savior would be born this month, that Mary gave birth in a cold manger in nasty weather herself and here all we had to do was sing. I found a little fold up umbrella in my purse that I’d forgotten I had and we all managed to get under it and in due course we got to laughing about our predicament but it was in the spirit of the season so we decided to brave on and deal with the problems later.

The fact that only two people even bothered to come out on the deck at the behest of the ferry’s pilot urging over the boat’s PA system was a bit disheartening but we all huddled under that little flimsy umbrella and decided we would entertain those two brave folk with the best rendition of “The First Noel/Pachebel’s Canon” they’d ever hear coming from the mouths of eight wet, cold and seasick people. We didn’t even let the fact that we didn’t know that song save the first two of ten pages stop us from our quest.

It was when the ferry let out a huge belch of smoke and rolled up over a huge wave that came out of nowhere that the real problems began. And there we were singing our anthem bravely and not doing half bad except for the roaring wind which drowned us out and a couple of us got to coughing when a wind gust swept a cupful of water into our mouths unexpectedly. This took alto Nancy Ryan out of the harmony along with our tenor and bass. The sopranos were able to continue on which is why we probably missed the ferry’s dip into the Monogasat Bay that sent five of us overboard plus Elsie’s flute.

The ferry quickly righted itself and the five of us swimming in those cold waters struggled to keep above water as Elsie screamed at us from the deck of the ferry to save her flute and none of us knew if help would come soon enough.

I was doing an okay doggie paddle and managed to quell my panic enough to notice that we weren’t far from the shore line. Nancy Ryan, however, is a somewhat large woman and she kept going down below the waves. Her husband John, not a small person himself, kept trying to get to her but Monogasat Bay was angry and roiling.

I decided to swim over to both of them with images of proud headlines about the Most Holy Blessed Sacrament’s choir member who managed to swim to the shores of Cape Jerome while pulling over four hundred pounds of human flesh to safety. Except on my second swim stroke my feet touched something odd and I realized it was something solid, not watery at all. I plunked my foot down and stood up and found I was only in water up to my knees at that point. In a few seconds I slipped again but my hands did a Braille type of maneuver and I realized I was on some rocks. I screamed over to John that he should grab Nancy and move forward a couple of feet, that there was a rock jetty right close.

All five of us managed to get atop the rock jetty and I don’t know, we thought maybe there would be a bastion of Coast Guard boats with blinking lights at the ready to pluck us from the cutting rocks and out of the chill air, to safety, perhaps a warm towel. Instead we heard the ferry horn blow hoarsely and watched Elsie as she continued to beg us to save her flute.

We were actually able to walk along the jetty to the ferry terminal at Cape Jerome where the ferry’s social director and a few other ferry personnel awaited us. They were getting ready to summon a rescue for us we were assured.

So it turned out that the Christmas party was at the ferry TERMINAL, on the Leonardtown side, alas, not on the actual ferry and, indeed, about twelve choir members of Most Holy Blessed Sacrament Church were, even as we shivered from the chill and fear, singing “Mary, Did You Know” after receiving a rollicking applause for a few other holiday tunes they’d sung earlier. Judd Turner was also at the Leonardtown ferry terminal and he’d been griping the whole time about where were we , his best alto, bass and tenor, when we’d been the ones complaining about wanting to attend the Christmas party at the very start.

A couple of local reporters happened to be on the ferry that night, one complete with a camera. St. Catherine’s, located across Monogasat Bay in Cape Jerome, is an ersatz rival of Most Holy Blessed Sacrament and the reporter was a St. Catherine’s parishioner. St. Catherine and MHBS are friendly rivals as these things go, to be sure, but given a chance one church will revel in the travails of the other. Which must be against some commandment as I lamented to John Ryan in the aftermath of our disaster. It was the stuff of mockery, the photo of five very wet, bedraggled members of the Most Holy Blessed Sacrament choir not to mention their absurd story to accompany the photo. Alongside the pictures of our five pathetic selves, of course, was a merry picture of the rest of our choir, all dressed festively, laughing, eating snacks, drinking punch, hair perfectly coiffed, enjoying their time at the Leonardtown Ferry terminal’s annual Christmas party.

I managed to coax a parishioner from St. Catherine’s to come join Most Holy Blessed Sacrament church in fulfillment of Father George’s “punishment” for our mess up. Nancy and John Ryan managed to convince the two reporters from Cape Jerome, also parishioners of St. Catherine’s, to sign up for MHBS. “I want to belong to a church which has such brave and audacious choir members,” one told Nancy. After the story of our mishaps was published in the Cape Jerome newspapers, we heard rumors that over fifty people called for information to sign up to be MHBS parishioners.

Judd Turner devised a special email listing, with an email address that would be used ONLY for choir issues. He’d enjoyed the Christmas party at the Leonardtown Ferry terminal so much and like John Ryan said, a little publicity goes a long way in attracting new parishioners.

Not that we made a big deal of it, but a few weeks after it all came down, weeks of mirthful publicity about the dunking taken by the MHBS choir, the pictures of the new buildings on the MHBS church campus, the publishing of a video on the MHBS web site of the concert given at the correct locale- the ferry TERMINAL- on that fateful night, attendance at the church has increased, inquiries about joining the MHBS parish family keep coming in, darn, Elsie was invited on TV for the local cable channel and was gifted with a brand new flute. The Leonardtown Ferry returned to each of us who showed up to sing for the passengers on the Leonardtown Ferry the $15.00 plus two free tickets for a future trip, date of our choice.

Father George has dubbed us the underwater members of the Most Holy Blessed Sacrament Choir and every once in a while has us step forward after the choir sings the anthem for proper introduction.

With a stern but bemused smile on his face, of course.
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