Nepphie's Holiday Jazz
“He’s singing a solo,” she said.
“Did you hear me? He’s singing, and he can’t sing.” Some parents get stars in their eyes and ears where their children are concerned. But my sister and I, right good singers ourselves, from a short line of right good singers (Mama and her sister would’ve gotten a recording contract if Grandmama hadn’t been xenophobic), are yet not very idealistic about our own children. We see well. We hear well. We hope, but we won’t hope for longer than is reasonable. I held out some more hope for my sister.
“Maybe he’s growin into his voice,” I said.
“Nuh uh. [Auntie’s First Nepphie] could sing at that age,” she said firmly. [Favorite Nepphie] reminds me of Alfalfa when he sings.”
“Alfalfa was characterized as a crooner,” I pointed out.
“Mmmhmmm,” my sister said. She wasn’t goin for it. But I pulled out my calendar (a really cute purple dealie I bought at Barnes and Noble, which I decided, during the last month of the year, to start carryin around) and made a note of the date.
“We’ll be right there,” I said.
And we were. Despite my jacked-up directional skills (and ignoring the fact that my sister had begged us to leave in good time because the auditorium is as small as the elementary school auditoriums everywhere), we got to the school in good time. My sister had saved seats for everybody, including my mother, whom we all knew wasn’t coming.
“You know she doesn’t drive at night,” my brother-in-law said. (Grandmama had Xenophobia by Proxy, and it manifests itself in surprising ways.) It was a small auditorium, the cafeteria, actually, and it looked like every parent, grandparent, auntie, uncle and sibling, each wielding disposable cameras, digitals, and video cams, was in attendance that night. A babble of conversation ended when the chorus filed in and stood on risers; each child was dressed in a white blouse or shirt, of various and sundry fanciness, and black pants or skirt, depending upon the gender. All kinds of fancy do’s and fresh cuts were the order of the day, as well as many versions of the Glassy-Eyed Expression.
Auntie’s Favorite Nepphie caught the eyes of his family members, grinned, and then tried to stop grinning. His chorus teacher signaled to the first child. Every song had a reading, an introduction, and at least one soloist. The first song was “Jingle Jive,” and the children sang a version of the “Christmas” song I hate most. Between “Jingle Jive” and “A Time for Peace” --AFN’s solo-- were six other songs, most written by someone named Jennings. At $40 a “kit,” Jennings makes me consider writing children’s music instead of children’s stories. Doesn’t seem that difficult: the lyrics to “Hannukah, Hannukah” were mostly “Hannukah, Hannukah, Hannukah, Hannukah. . . .” The lyrics to “Oh, Kwanzaa” were “Oh, Kwanzaa, Kwanzaa, Kwanzaa. . . .”
Y’all think I’m kidding.
My sister began to get nervous.
“Is he nervous?” I asked.
“He said he wasn’t,” my sister said. “I hope he’s not hoarse by the time his solo comes up. Look at him. He looks like singing hurts. Pray for him.”
“Already did. He’ll be fine.”
The reading ran the gamut from quite lovely to utilitarian, as did the solos. But the Hannukah song had a dance (with four embarrassed dancers)! “Whacky Old St. Nick” (yes, arr. also by Jennings) had ten boomwhackers! Throughout the program, I wondered (at least once aloud) how the chorus teacher had gotten this kind of more or less enthusiastic participation. Bribes? Threats? This was becoming quite an exhilarating evening. (The video upon which my brother-in-law was immortalizing this milestone would be filled with the sound of his chuckles.) Finally, it was time for “A Time for Peace.” Three children had solos, and Nepphie’s was first. His voice sounded a little strained, but he was right on key and sounded. . . .sweet. It was a sweet song. My sister and I looked at each other when it was over, smiling.
“He did good,” I said.
“Yes!” We turned away and wiped tears.
“Are you crying?” Goobs, on the other side of me, asked incredulously.
“I always do, at these things.” Goobs turned to her cousin and her sister to spread the incredulity. During the last song, "We Wish You a Swinging Holiday," a song in which the entire chorus had to scat, Nepphie, relieved of his burden, away up on the top row and in the middle, danced a little bit. All by himself.
I dare you to go to a fifth-grade Christmas program and come away without the holiday spirit. I dare you.
Jesus, my brother, a blessing, please, upon elementary school teachers.