The holidays bring thoughts of home, hearth, and family. They bring us close to old memories. Familiar places, faces, and foods. Tradition. Yeah. That's it. Tradition.
For me, strangely enough, the holidays are tied to Mr. Murray, the Director of my High School Choir.
Mr. Murray, Me, and Debbie Plucinski.
From the 1974 HILACON Yearbook.
Neither of us kids could play the piano!
Besides the Cary Grant-like cleft in his chin, Mr. Murray was a fairly non-descript fellow: Thin. Slight. Not too tall. Glasses. Dark hair always combed from, but constantly falling across, his forehead. He was one of two music teachers at Conneaut Lake High School and while his counterpart, Mr. Joyce, was a lively and quick with a temperament matching his red hair, Mr. Murray seemed cool, calm, and serene.
To me, he was a wonderful teacher. I remember one Music Appreciation class, us kids laughing our way through Prokofiev's Lieutenant Kijé as Mr. Murray mimed the action behind it. His wounded, twisted, one-armed Kijé pulling himself, zombie-like, through the field of battle was a particular hit.
What I recall most about my teacher was his disdain of Christmas Carols. They were too familiar, too easy, and too damned slow. Sing God Rest Ye(, Merry Gentlemen) at the traditional pace and he'd plod across the room like a collared plow horse. Christmas songs, he maintained, were celebrations to be sung at least twice their usual speed. "If, for no other reason, than to finish them more quickly."
Rapidity also makes these over-sung songs 'way more fun. Try it! Sing the first couple lines of The First Noel at its normal tempo of one beat per second. Then, sing it again at two. It's 'way better faster. But not all Christmas Carols lend themselves to such treatment. Silent Night, for instance, cannot be hurried.
And then, there's the dreaded Little Drummer Boy (LDB). If you take a poll of friends and family. I bet dollars to doughnuts that the only people who like LDB are:
2. Men who never sang it.
To Mr. Murray, LDB was a long, slow song that couldn't be sung at speed, so he shortened it by slashing huge sections of the men's drawn-out "parum-pa-pa-pums." We rehearsed it in its entirety exactly once and then never sang it that way again.
One year, in a fit of non-traditionalism, our Director abandoned the usual Christmas fare, offering a concert of challenging-to-sing madrigals like The Holly and the Ivy. It did not go well. Confused and bored, many audience members abandoned us by the middle of the third song. When we finished, the remaining parents nearly stormed the podium. My mom angrily exclaimed "Was that the best you can do? I would've left, too, if my own kid wasn't singing." The next day I told my teacher I didn't share that opinion.
So, Mr. Murray, where ever you are, I want you to know that my shower-singing repertoire includes I Love Flying Kites and The Way to San José (not Joes). I smile at Lieutenant Kijé and grimace at dirge-like Christmas songs. When LDB begins, I turn the radio off and I still know the baritone part of The Holly and the Ivy–but I can only sing the first verse. I've forgotten the rest.
But I remember you. Thanks!
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