Recently I have been seeing this video of the Hallelujah Chorus being sung in a mall food court and it brought to mind the following story.
I think a funny thing happened on the way to Roy Thompson Hall.
The student body to which I belonged, sat on the stage of Roy Thompson Hall. It was the graduation ceremony for 1984, a ceremony normally held in the older Massey Hall in downtown Toronto, but due to a scheduling conflict, our Bible School was given the modern Roy Thompson Hall for its end of year ceremonies.
We had been preparing the entire semester under the guidance and instruction of our music administrator, Brother Bjorgan. He stood at the podium facing us, his baton in his hand. For three months he had prepared us for this performance of the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah. Three months of choral classes. Three months of practice. Now it was three seconds away, and I was ready. The hall was silent as everyone watched him raise his baton in the air. It hung there for an instant, quivered slightly…
A year earlier on one of the hottest days in April we were in Massey Hall. There was no relief from the heat, especially on stage under the lights. I don’t know if that building had air conditioning, but if it did someone forgot to turn it on. Rehearsal had been hot enough. I knew the actual ceremony would be even warmer so in the few hours we had to run free in the city before the graduation began I decided to prepare. I needed a survival plan to help endure the next few hours sitting on stage in a dark, warm suit.
Heat shimmered off the pavement and the sun baked the bricks of the towering buildings downtown as I exited a small corner store with my survival gear. When I marched onto that stage a short time later I had secreted a tin of Coca-Cola in the inside breast pocket of my suit. I also had a couple of straws that I had joined to make a single one. During the speeches I would simply lean forward and stroke my chin with my hand. When it looked to everyone else that I was intently considering the words being spoken, in truth I was sipping from the straw that ran down the inside of my jacket from the lapel into the tin of coke hidden there. Now it turned out not to be as refreshing as I hoped, firstly, with the tin pressed to my chest, my body heat added to the warmth already filling the hall to scorch the liquid to a degree or two just below boiling. Next the straws didn’t make a perfect seal where they joined so I ended up sucking a lot of air and occasionally making embarrassing sounds. Finally, that one tin of coke was long gone ages before the ceremony was done and I had no choice but to suffer to the end.
I vowed that next year I would be better prepared.
As I entered Roy Thompson Hall, I had two tins of cola stored in the side pockets of my suit over my hips where my body wouldn’t warm them up so much. In place of a straw I had a ten foot length of rubber surgical tubing supplied by my roommate that year, Peter. This hose ran from the can in my pocket down the outside of my suit to the hem of my jacket, from there it ran up inside the front of my jacket and around the back of my neck and down the inside of my left sleeve emerging from my cuff into the palm of my hand like one of Spider-Man’s web shooters. I was ready for this ceremony no matter how long or how hot it got. Brother Bjorgan approached the podium. I tested the straw and it worked perfectly, wetting my throat just before we stood to perform the Hallelujah Chorus.
…then in one mighty stroke the baton fell and the Hallelujah Chorus began. The audience stood. I followed along the sheet music in an open folder I held in my hands waiting for the part where I would join in. Brother Bjorgan looked towards us in the bass section and with I mighty flourish signalled for us to join in. I turn the page as we began only to discover the next 12 pages of the sheet music was missing from my folder.
Now I knew the words, unfortunately, without the sheet music I had no idea exactly where I was supposed to sing them. So I did what every performer does in a time of panic, lip-synched. There were over 400 people performing on stage at that moment so I know of the thousands in the audience that not a lot of people were focused on me. But that didn’t stop me from thinking that they were. I felt everyone was looking at me and laughing as if each one of them knew what had occurred and were in on the prank of stealing my music.
I got self-conscious. So I did what I do when I get nervous. I fidget. I slide my hand in my pocket as if I was checking to see if my keys were there. I didn’t have any keys. I withdrew my hand, took a calming breath and dropped my hand to my side as the hallelujahs echoed around me.
That was the moment my 10 foot straw was transformed into a 10 foot syphon and Coca-Cola started to spray from my hand.
In order to stop the flow I had to raise my hand higher then my shoulder. Someone in the back row of the auditorium thought I was waving too them. I shut my eyes and waited for the song to end. Here I was with my eyes closed, my hand raised and my lips moving to different words then everyone else. I could have been mistaken for having an overwhelming religious experience during the performance of the Hallelujah Chorus, but the fact was, I was vowing that next year I was gonna suffer through Graduation like everyone else.
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