Miss Weaver and the Christmas Concerts

By Bob Batch

The holiday season brings back all those memories from years ago that switch our unconscious minds into automatic pilot for a flight to Imaginary Celebration Land. Even if you hate sitting in traffic, and practically wrestling your way through crowds of shoppers while the same old Christmas songs play endlessly over store PA systems – even if you are tired of the clichéd Christmas decorations and Mall Santas year after year, there is a switch in your brain that goes off and tells you, “This is what must be done. Tradition must be upheld”

Bob Batch

There is an idiotic notion propagated in certain learned quarters of society that we are in some superior age, and that because we have all these devices and machines that we have built, we’re much more ‘advanced’ than the people who lived centuries ago. But if you look around at how we really get on with one another you’d have a hard time believing such delusional nonsense. On an emotional level we haven’t stopped being the sort of humans we’ve been for thousands of years.
The holidays are a case in point. Really, all the things we feel compelled to do every year at the same time, over and over are rituals buried deep in our ’Scared of the dark’ mind. The observances we go through are no different than whatever people were doing at Stonehenge or any of those places in the sense that it’s an annual event that carries a lot of meaning even if we are not really sure what that is. (I wouldn’t be surprised if one of these days researches discovered that Stonehenge was not an ancient observatory, but an early Shopping Mall.)

I myself am not at all deluded about being some sort of highly civilized, advanced creature, and so I am content to take solace in the cycle of holiday observance, and memories of Yuletides gone by.

Because my daughter Brianagh is a Sidewalk Singer at P.S.6 in Manhattan where she attends fifth grade, it reminded me of the days I went to school at EVG and the Christmas Concerts that were conducted by Ms. Weaver. Brianagh’s music teacher Ms. Winograd has to operate outside the school curriculum to get a singing group together so scarce are the funds these days, but back when I went to school it was common to have music class as part of the weekly schedule.

Dorothy Weaver was the music teacher for both schools in Edgewater, George Washington grades K-6 and Junior High School 7-9. Over the years in GW School we were taught all the songs associated with every holiday, every season, all the best know folk and Americana and even show tunes from Broadway hits.

As kids, of course, we had no appreciation of the valuable background we were being given. Mostly we fooled around in music class and held the sort of songs we had to learn in disdain. It wasn’t the bubble gum music we were listening to on our transistor radios so we couldn’t imagine it having any value to anyone.

Meanwhile Ms. Weaver labored away pounding out all sorts of tunes on the piano whilst trying to wrangle and shape the surly children in her charge into passable singers. She would make up endless lyric sheets, which was a major accomplishment at that time. There were no copy machines in those days. Everything had to be mimeographed which was a process one step from the original Gutenberg printing press and just as laborious. The copies were all in blue ink and smeary, and the printing was in the style of old hand typewriters with lots of typos, the way most typed pages were back when everything was done by hand.

By the time we got to Junior High, we were handed our packet of Christmas songs in late September to begin preparing for the holiday concert, planned for some time about a week before the Christmas vacation.

Ms. Weaver dutifully listened to each pupil’s voice during our rehearsals and categorized each one as an Alto or Soprano and I suspect a ‘No hope’ which earned them other ‘jobs’ in the show. I’m sure Ms. Weaver envisioned the final choir, made up of all three grades in the school, as rivaling the Mormon Tabernacle Choir or something presented at Lincoln Center by special arrangement with The Edgewater Board of Education – I think she had to, to carry on with her work under such difficult conditions.

Toward the final weeks before the concert there were special rehearsals of all the grades, going over the parts that had been learned separately, but were now to be joined in soaring harmony, or at least as close as you could get working with undisciplined unmotivated teenagers. Still Ms. Weaver persevered, “No altos, listen to your part again”, as she gave us our notes over and over.

You have to have a place somewhere in your heart for the sort of person who conducts a School Band, even the ones who make it into the parades and competitions. The ones playing some well known tune that you barely recognize in tones that have dogs howling for miles around. This was the story of Ms. Weaver – someone who knew how the final piece should sound, how all the parts should fit together to form a glorious combination of melodic symmetry. And yet, sadly, it was ever her fate that no amount of cajoling, scowling, threatening, or encouragement would ever get the EVG School to sing what she heard in her head.

In the end it didn’t matter. All the parents came out and crowded into the hard backed seats of the auditorium to watch their children sing the carols they all knew and loved so well. Christmas carols are almost disaster proof, even we couldn’t ruin them, whether we sang the harmonies or not.

I think everyone recognized the work Ms. Weaver put into these affairs because the PTA always arranged for a big bouquet of roses to be presented to her after the bows at the end of the performance. She’d accept the flowers with great humility but somehow I suspect she’d have given anything to have a real choir at her disposal.

Today we have a more diverse society than when I went to school. It seems to me there would be more culture and tradition than ever to pack into music classes. Unfortunately, one of the most basic and oldest tools for learning has been all but dropped from a lot of modern ‘Advanced education’ in favor of excessive testing and record keeping.

I don’t remember any of the stuff that was on the tests or report cards from Junior High School, but I remember the Teachers and a lot of the things they talked about, and I still remember Ms. Weaver and her Christmas Concerts.

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