As much as I enjoy putting on concerts, there are aspects of the enterprise I just don’t like at all. They are mostly the non-musical details. Making the program, copying the program, usually on a copy machine that will jam at least once, getting the office assistant to break open the vault and sneak me a ream of color paper for the programs, filling out the building permit, and on and on it goes. Someone’s name almost always gets left off the program, and someone almost always gets there right at the last moment, usually the child that is going to play or sing an important solo. These are the parts of putting on a concert I don’t enjoy. But beneath all of these things, and there are more than I haven’t mentioned, there is the truth that each of these things means a lot to somebody, and often to most of the children and parents. For example, parents save programs with their child’s name in it. The child who had a solo and didn’t get there until the last minute insisted on getting just the right outfit and on Mom taking him to the store to get it on the way to the concert. The reason I have green paper on which to print my programs each year is because the office assistant keeps the small supply locked up and doesn’t let just anybody use it. All of these details do matter, and because they matter, they warrant my attention, including thanking that mom for getting concert clothes for that boy in my choir.
Then there is decorating the performance space. Years ago I remember staying late after school to decorate the stage. I had a giant red bow and ribbon that I pinned on the black back curtain of the stage, and parents brought poinsettia plants to place on the stage apron. I’d the rush out to grab a bite to eat, and get back to school in time for my pre-concert rituals of tuning, setting up clarinetists with reeds that were not broken, and tying several of the boys ties because their mom didn’t know how, and dad wasn’t there. With age comes wisdom, and I like to think I’m at least a little wiser now. I’ve come to realize that having the stage decorated so that it is worthy of the Boston Pops holiday concert is not a worthwhile goal.
Featuring the children’s art work is a much better approach. So the art teacher devotes a few classes to mass producing wreaths, Christmas trees, dreidels, holly and ivy plants, stars and what ever else I ask for. During and after school the day before and/or of the concert, small groups of children help me stick all of this artwork to the walls around the stage. They love decorating, and it gives them another part of themselves that is invested in the concert. When people walk in it is overwhelming how much artwork is on the walls. And do you know what? Before the concert, many of the children who have made one of those wreaths, trees, dreidels or holly leaves proudly takes his or her parent on a search for their piece, and proudly shows it off when it is found. One year I even had one little one get quite upset when he couldn’t find his art. Above the stage presiding over the presentation is a large paper banner made by the art teacher with the words “winter wonderland, ” capriciously and beautifully scribed and decorated with paint and glitter.
The PTO in my school is great. They provide help at all my events. To support them, I make this concert a fundraiser for them. The PTO raffles off gift baskets. They sell raffle tickets during the evening, and then draw the winners at the end of the concert. The gift baskets are filled with items donated by families in our school, and assembled by classrooms of children and their teachers. After the concert, the PTO serves a cookie dessert in the lobby. The raffle and the goodies after the concert provides incentives for parents of children who perform early in the concert to stay and enjoy the rest of the concert, if for not other reason than so they don’t miss dessert and/or claiming a raffle prize. I mentioned finding wisdom before, and it is that I now do much less of the work and yet have much more accomplished. It is also that my concert is more than a concert, it is a community event where students who sing and play are certainly the main event, but also students who do not perform are still on display in their art work, or in having hung the artwork, or in having helped put a basket together.
By the time all of this is ready, it is time for me to do a few last things. Change into my concert attire, set up and check the microphones and sound system, and check to make sure I have all the music, CDs, instruments, announcements, and notes to myself that I will need. Now all that’s left is to start the concert, and remember to follow my own advice to my students: always remember to smile.