Saturday, December 7, 2013


One of the guests at the German Club Christmas party says it for me.

“What a lot of work it must be to set up all that equipment,”  she comments, as Elmer picks up the microphone to begin his part of the after-pot-luck entertainment.  Of course, he dismisses this acknowledgement. 

“Everyone involved did a lot of work to put on this evening,” he replies.   True enough.  Many people have worked hard.  Everyone has brought food.  Some have decorated the Christmas tree; others have put the coffee on and even made tea; another group has warmed up the hall, set poinsettas in the wall frames, spread festive cloths on the tables, or opened up the guest book.  Yet another person has thought of creating a side table of decadence and delight, featuring mandarin oranges, peppermint candy, toffee, and chocolates.  A silver Christmas tree, a thin ribbon of metal anchoring suspended glass teardrops and spiralled around a center pole, certifies it as the indulgence hot-spot.   ‘It’s Christmas,’ the hall breathes, in case anyone hasn't noticed.

But, yes, Elmer, too, has invested time and energy, as he does, year after year, month after month, helping people sing.  Tonight, as is his custom, he has set up well before supper.  He has brought his accordion, along with its electronic innards, affectionately known as the “gut-box.”  Nearby, he organizes an amplifier, his pouch of cords, and his music binders.  As he aims to project the song lyrics on the screen, he makes sure to have the LCD projector with its own particular hook-ups, and the back-up  jump drive.  My job is to bring the computer and the Mac adapter and provide tech support; he lugs our screen, a relic purchased at a school garage sale, and hooked onto a microphone stand on a table.  It works.

Earlier, he had reflected on the musical tastes of his audience, as well as the demands of the occasion.  Comprised almost entirely of seniors, it’s a public that loves traditional German music, that loves to sing, and that knows him.  His program will reflect that.

Away in a Manger
Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire
Ready to begin now, having morphed from stage crew into entertainer, he scans the program clipped to his music stand.  He greets the crowd, introduces himself, and sketches out the program—some old-time favorites and some community Christmas carolling.  He plays “The Beer Barrel Polka,” and “The Snow Waltz,” and “The Liechtensteiner Polka.”  He prefaces each selection with stories that resonate with the audience—about the country school he attended as a boy, or a former teacher of his, the husband of an audience member.  He intersperses a joke or two.  Later, he plays one of his favorite songs, “Seemann” (Sailor), that he relates to one of the guests.   The music and the interaction solidify the spirit of community.

All I Want For Christmas Is
My Two Front Teeth
Elmer segues into community singing.  From the 110 slides he has prepared on an electronic file flashed on the screen, he selects first the essence, traditional German songs like “Muss Ich Den,” and “Du Du Liegst Mir Im Herzen.”  The words breathe childhood, struggle, nostalgia, and identity.  The melodies penetrate each person in the room, and bind one to the other in an invisible web of common experience, past and present.  After the root songs, he moves on to common Christmas carols:  “Joy to the World,” and other sacred and secular favorites.   As I skip over “Silver Bells” on the way to “O Tannenbaum,” someone calls out, “Oh, ‘Silver Bells.’”  So we back up and sing, men echoing ‘Silver Bells’ on the refrain.  Forty minutes dissolve.

What Child Is This?
After the music, we play ‘Guess the Carol,’ courtesy of another club member.  (Try your hand at the examples I’ve included at the right.  Use the comment box to identify the carols.)  People stay, despite the bone-chilling cold and wind.  They sip their coffee, flit from table to table, visit, catch up.  In that staying and sipping and visiting and catching up, the effort of the organizers and the time Elmer has given is affirmed.  It doesn't matter that take-down looms, and more hauling of equipment back home.

The evening is yet another example of the power of Yes.  The people gathered in that hall leave uplifted, their community ties relaquered and reknotted because a handful of people said, ‘Sure.  I’ll do it.  I’d be happy to.’  The power is in the sharing, the service, and the effect.  Certainly not in the money.

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