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A tale of two musical evenings

By Loni Kemp

Fri, Dec 13th, 2013
Posted in All Columnists

On a sunny and cold Thursday afternoon, I hear my husband’s car crunching up the driveway, home from work at the unusual hour of four in the afternoon. Moments later, our friends appear, and we tumble into their car for our annual trek to Decorah, Iowa, to launch the holiday season. It is the first night of Christmas at Luther, and we are anticipating yet another world-class choir concert.

So in demand are these concerts, that even with five performances stretched over four days, only college alumni, parents and students can reserve tickets. The only way the public can squeeze their way in is to show up early and ask if any tickets have been turned in. Fortunately, so far, we always manage to get in. Even if our seats are in the back row of the balcony, it matters not, because the Center for Faith and Life concert hall is so acoustically perfect that we will hear every note.

We luck out once again, and after greeting friends from Harmony, we thread our way upstairs to the very back and settle in our seats. Memories of these concerts come to mind, stretching back two decades when we brought our young daughters to hear the moving vocal performances under musical icon, director Weston Noble. It must have made a deep impression, as they both sang in school, competed in contests, sang with the Honors Choirs of Southeastern Minnesota, and joined their college and community choirs. I miss their concerts, and now focus my yearning for live choir performance on Luther.

The seats fill up and the lights go down. Six choirs file into their places on a massive set of risers, as well as in the aisles and balconies. The orchestra tunes up, and a hush falls until several directors appear in tuxedoes and evening gowns. After the applause, we are asked to hold further applause until the end of the performance. I love this traditional touch, as we have the chance to breathe in the feeling of each piece as it ends, without making an obligatory response.

The elegant and yet passionate concert unrolls, with a variety of classical, modern, religious and secular music. The mass choir is astounding in their unity and power. I am moved by the synergy of the words and the music. You know there are a majority of church choir singers in the audience when we all stand and unabashedly sing out the well-known hymns in which we get to participate.

At the final candlelight number, each of the singers passes a flame, one by one, until the hall is infused with golden light. In unison, the candles are blown out. Finally, we get to applaud the gift we have been given this night.

A few nights later, a different kind of musical experience is in store. This one is a homemade tradition, as creative and quirky as the dozen women of the Harmony Garden Club. As I’ve done for some 30 years, I gather up my cookies and sheet music to meet at the snowy rural Harmony home of our hostess for this night. We share a roll call, naming our favorite Christmas food, which elicits tender family memories of long ago. Members share a favorite holiday reading, on birds or the nature of giving. Erma Bombeck’s hilarious riff on a Martha Stewart Christmas brings howls of laughter about her made-from-scratch touches, from the napkins to the glue-gunned sled, to the 40,000 cranberries she strung.

The highlight of the evening is when we move to the piano, and begin to sing. Two of us try our hand at sight-reading four-hand piano duets of familiar carols, and are tickled when it goes well enough for the ladies to sing along. I had practiced a sweet arrangement of the lovely old carol, “I Am So Glad Each Christmas Eve,” and apparently inspire the group enough to try singing it Swedish. Then we swing into “Santa Baby,” and proceed to sing our hearts out as we make our way through the familiar favorites on our song sheets.

This performance is not meant for anyone else’s ears—we laugh, call out when a piano interlude is coming up, and make percussion with the bells and gourds in the room. We can get raucous, yet it does have a certain resonance with our common bond of gardening. Making homemade music and making a garden are two precious activities where we get to create our own art and fun.

High quality perfection and home-made fun. I want both in my musical life.

No-Bake Fruit and Nut Balls

2 cups of nuts and seeds - Try a mix of two kinds, like almonds, walnuts, cashews, pecans, or sunflower seeds.

2 cups of dried fruit - Use a mix of dates, dried cranberries, raisins, dried apricots, or dried apples.

Finely chop nuts and dried fruit by pulsing in a food processor.

Add a tablespoon or two of honey or peanut butter and process very briefly, as needed to allow you to form balls of a rounded tablespoon. Press together firmly in your hands. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Enjoy a treat that is totally healthy.

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