Saturday, December 02, 2006

Ice Gnomes

For he-ere by the fire we defy frost and storm. Aha! We are warm and we have our heart's desire. For he-ere we're good fellows and the beechwood and the bellows and the cup is at the lip in the pledge of fellowshi-i-ip!

It is a classic case of not knowing that something was important until years after it was gone, finding it again. If that is, indeed, a classic case.

Now, for the first time in years, Christmas can finally start.

I have heard a men's choir sing "Winter Song," by Frederic Field Bullard. Specifically, I heard the Windy City Gay Chorus sing it, directed by my friend Alan, who is the best director I have ever worked with. But what is important is that a men's choir sang it. And sang it well. You could practically see the beer mugs swinging back and forth, they had such gusto.

You can hear it here. The tempos are a little different than I'm used to, but it gives you an idea of the infectiousness of this ditty. Now your Christmas can start, too.

Ho, a song by the fire, pass the pipes, pass the bowl. Ho, a song by the fire with a skoal, with a skoal. Ho, a sooooong, by the fiiiiiiire, pass the pipes with a skoal.

When I was three years old, my oldest brother Paul joined Dick Whitecotton's Freshmen Boy's Choir at Glenbard West High School.

And an era was begun.

I don't remember that first Christmas concert, but I know for a fact that Paul sang "Winter Song." How do I know this? Because every Freshman Boys Choir sang the song every Christmas for probably the entire tenure of Dr. Whitecotton's 30 year reign at West. There are two generations of Glen Ellyn men drifting around the world in a diaspora that upon meeting could burst into four-part harmony singing "Winter Song" without having to pause for recollection. I know this because my three brothers have done and because Daniel and I sang along with the choir last night. Daniel didn't even realize that he knew the song until the first words were out of the men's mouths and then neither of us could contain our laughter and smiles. As he took a bow at the song's conclusion, Alan, the director, who also spent four years in Dr. Whitecotton's choir, looked right at us and raised a smiling eyebrow, to acknowledge the brotherhood.

Yes, I include myself in that brotherhood. If Paul started high school in 1982, David joined the Freshmen Boy's Choir in 1984. That is six consecutive years of Christmas concerts that my family attended since both boys were in the choir all four years of their high school experience. Although they moved on from Freshman Boy's Choir, the concert was one of combined choirs and so we all got to sing along in our heads with the current year's crop of Freshmen boys each season. So, that 1982-1988.

In 1990, I was in the 8th Grade and the junior high choir was invited to sing at the high school as part of the combined choirs. It was so huge. I remember putting on one of my mom's white button-down shirts and tucking it into a black jersey-knit skirt and feeling so grown-up as I looked at myself in the mirror, because I looked like six years of high school kids that I remembered. Of course, I looked rediculous because it is impossible to tuck a starched and ironed broadcloth shirt into what is ostensibly a t-shirt and look at all put-together, but what did I know? I was 12-years-old. I had beautiful fuzzy memories of watching all of the mouths of the high school choirs changing shape in perfect unison from smiley ee-vowels to the perfect oh-vowels. I was going to be part of that group. I was so very proud. That was the 7th holiday season ushered in with, "zoom, zoom, zoom, zoom."

Then, I had my own high school career in the choir to enjoy the pubescent sounds of 13 and 14-year old boys singing drinking songs. That's years 8, 9 ,10 and 11 that "Winter Song" was part of my Christmas celebration. My younger brother was in high school another 2 years, so that rounds out the experience to a full 13 years that boys have sung:

For the fire goblins flicker on the ceiling, and the white witch glitters in the glass, and the smoke wraiths are drifting, curling, reeling, and the sleeeiiiigh bells jingle as they paaaaaaaassssss.

Unfortunately, by the time I taught two years at my old high school, Dr. Whitecotton had retired and I can't tell you for certain whether or not Mr. Salotti carried on the tradition.

But Alan has! And now I can go on and watch Emmet Otter's Jug Band Christmas, The John Denver and the Muppets Christmas, and the Star Wars Holiday Special while making and wrapping presents with the peace that comes from tradition carried out.

For the wolf-wind is wailing at the doorways, and the snow drifts deep along the road, and the ice gnomes are marching from their Norways, and the greeeaaaaat white cold walks abrooooaaaaad.

No comments: