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SCHOOL CHRISTMAS CONCERTS: THE DARK SIDE

There was a year long ago when Christmas drove me bananas. Almost did me in.

It was 1956. I was 18, just graduated from high school. There was a big shortage of teachers in those years. As a result the Nipawin superintendent of schools approached a number of graduates and persuaded some of them--including me--to take on a position known as Study Supervisor.

This meant I would take over one of the rural one-room, eight-grade schools in the area. The pupils would take correspondence courses. Sounded relatively easy. I hadn’t made any plans about looking for a job after high school. And here I could, for the next ten months, step right into a full-time job and, for the first time in my life, would pocket a cheque--a pretty small one but a real cheque--every month. Money to set me up for the perfect weekend social life.

The correspondence courses would do the real teaching, I told my gullible self. I would help the kids do the assignments,  check and correct their responses and  test them from time to time. It wasn’t long, however, before I discovered that those were not easy chores at all. They were tricky enough to trouble me. And most troublesome--and scariest--of all was the Christmas concert.

Put on a concert? When I was a small child I loved those little programs, they fired my imagination and totally charmed me. And now I had the responsibility to be the charmer and imagination maker. But could I? Why had I let myself get pushed  into this? A school concert? Just months ago I was still in school myself.

Did you ever try to get kids to speak with the right expression in a play? They tend to say their parts as if they were reading them. The boy who plays the villain points his gun at the hero and says, “Well--Sheriff--Stone--your--time--is--up--pre--pare--to--die,” in a halting, soprano voice.

The lead girl says to the hero, “I--love--you--Harold,” with a blank face and with the same tone of voice she would use to say, “I found a dead mouse this morning.”  And it always seems the kid with the loudest voice in the group can’t keep a tune.

They will never, ever be ready in time, maybe by February, I thought, but that’s a bit too late. I would sweat just thinking about it. The Goddess of Show Business was  annoyed with me for some reason.

Then disaster struck. It was flu season, and pupils began to stop showing up at school, one by one, day after day. By the time only two days were left before concert night we had to delete one play completely. In the other we had to put new actors into the  parts of the ones who  would not be well enough to come. I knew how the captain of the Titanic must have felt. I was sure the parents who came would be so shocked at the poor performance they would be throwing things at me. Probably they would pressure the superintendent to fire me. I was a wreck.

Well, it turned out that the children who had  looked so completely unready in school the day before now came through--they performed like Broadway veterans in front of their moms and dads. And  when all the kids there did their group songs they sang like angels while a local boy accompanied on guitar. [I may be exaggerating the quality of those performances, but if so it’s because of my tremendous relief that they--and I--didn’t fail miserably.]

Then, of course, Santa burst in with the red suit, all the Ho-Ho-Hos and gifts that fulfilled the Christmas image of innocent childhood--and of everyone else there as well. The Christmas Spirit reigned.

My mother, a teacher, was the  Cecil B. DeMille of school concert producers.  She had two or three plays put on every time, along with musical drills, songs, humorous recitations and more. She got mothers of the pupils to make costumes. I can see in my mind her and my dad, with his banjo, working out the tunes of  music sheets they had ordered. He also accompanied the singers--after practicing with them--at the concert. Mother always got well-deserved compliments on her productions.

In rural homestead communities of the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s there were no TVs, accessible professional plays or concerts, perhaps an occasional movie. In a time and place where sources of entertainment were hard to come by the school Christmas concert provided  a precious bit of what was missing.


To comment on columns contact Esther or me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 306 384 8657 or 110 - 201 Cree Place Saskatoon,  S7K 7Z3

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Wednesday March 13, 2024