Last weekend, my sister and I went to our college’s Christmas concert. We met up with some friends of mine – my roommate and her boyfriend – and we sat on the side of the sanctuary, eager to see what our Alma Mater sounded like without us.
For four years I performed on that stage, up on rickety risers, in dresses of varying attractiveness (the black sacks they made us wear in Women’s Choir were pretty hideous). I sang “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” “On This Day Earth Shall Ring,” “Tomorrow Shall be My Dancing Day,” “O Come All Ye Faithful,” and every year I remember the lights on my face and the full crowd of Christmas-ready people.
I was so excited to be back, to be watching. Lanterns hung from the ceiling over the stage, punched through with holes so when the room got dark, the lights inside would bounce off the walls. My roommate and I hadn’t seen each other in a few weeks (okay, not that long, I know), but we had a lot to talk about. Music, old friends, the concert, our lives. We laughed and whispered and talked. My sister joined in, too, all three of us chatting away in anticipation of the music.
Some prelude music began, soft and low. No conductor, no dimming of the lights, just simple mood-setting music. I laughed again, and the man in front of me turned around. Not just with his head. Not just with his upper body. He pushed away from the pew and rotated his ENTIRE BODY so he could look at us, and he said:
“Could you talk somewhere else?”
His tone was so demeaning, I was shocked. And embarrassed. I had certainly been enjoying myself, and that often entails a little loudness. We weren’t the only ones talking, though; everyone around us was chatting.
“The concert hasn’t started,” I said. I know I said it kindly because I can still feel the slightly scared smile on my face.
“Well, I hear music,” he said back.
My roommate quickly diffused the situation: “We were going to stop talking when the concert started, but we’ll stop right now.”
I was fuming inside. It would be one thing if he’d asked us kindly, assumed we didn’t realize we were disturbing him. But his body language and gruffness made it obvious that he thought we were stupid.
I kept thinking about the incident, thinking, Don’t let that ruin this, Catherine. Let it go.
I don’t remember the first few pieces, though, because I was consumed. I kept trying to let it go, but it filled my head and made me self-conscious, even when I shifted my body or rustled the program.
When the time came for the audience to sing (which I’d been doing internally since the concert began), I leaned over to my roommate and whispered, “Let’s blow this guy’s ears off.”
And we belted those Christmas harmonies like it was the last time we’d ever sing them.
He and his wife didn’t sing a word, just stood there silent and motionless. I would go so far as to say e-motionless.
So, I didn’t really stand up for myself. At the same time, I didn’t conquer him with an un-ruffled Christian spirit.
But I did sing his ears off.
(The concert was absolutely lovely, and I left proud of my school, lonely for music, and filled with joy. Take that, Scrooge.)