I grew up in mostly metropolitan areas. To give you an idea of what that means, my high school graduating class included over 1000 students. In that world, youngsters don’t participate in every program that interests them because competition is stiff and resources are limited. While cities offer exclusive options, small towns require inhabitants to survive outside comfort zones.
During my school years, I played competitive sports, but I never participated in a music program. Yep, I was a BAD singer. This meant I never experienced the effort and cooperation it takes to produce a musical extravaganza. After contributing to my small town’s Christmas cantata as a narrator, I realize performers as well as audiences enjoy unexpected blessings. Individuals experience life more fully because they participate. They discover they’re necessary to the group’s success even though they aren’t as good as they wish they were.
I learned this early in my teaching career. Every student had to play sports and join music so our 1-A school could field teams or have a band. I know there were students who sang every bit as badly as I do, but they got better because they had to. How do I know? Because I coached youngsters who weren’t natural athletes, I learned that by the time they played several games, everyone mastered skills enough to contribute. This also rings true for those joining small town Christmas presentations.
Our director’s a wife, mother, and businessperson who serves along with her mother-in-law every year to extract maximum ability from locals willing to involve themselves in the project. She directs both bell choir and singers who perform beautifully year after year. I still can’t sing, so she and the choir invite me to narrate each holy season.
Since I never enjoyed such experiences growing up, I’ve learned much. Putting on a program requires tremendous effort and commitment. Volunteers leave dishes in the sink to practice for months prior to the final performance. Bell choir members concentrate and replay pieces until they function as a single musical unit. To complicate matters, each plays at least two differently toned bells in every song. It would be difficult to learn one new tune, but this group masters many.
A variety of our community members make up the choir. Young and seasoned-- from students to house wives to farmers to professionals, they gather starting in early autumn to polish infrequently used skills. Seeing these folks uptown, who’d guess they are sopranos, altos, tenors, and baritones gifted enough to solo. From the narrator’s podium, I watch neighbors evolve from tentative, shy performers to confident, bold professionals who lift audience hearts on performance night.
If I didn’t live in the hinterlands of Kansas, I’d never have worked with so many dedicated fellow residents to produce a celebration not only of Christmas, but also of the best small towns offer. Anyone willing to participate belongs.