Saturday, December 26, 2009

On wrapping presents

Mine is a large family, with no Kris Kringling going on, so present wrapping takes some time, something to wrap for each one.  Even if it isn't fancy-schmancy, but just paper and stickytape and labels.  Some time I'll do the fancier thing, but at weary-time on Christmas Eve, the other works too.  I chose the red and white patterned paper with care, and it will all end up scrunched in the large large box necessary for all the paper from a large family's large unwrapping...

So I put on a CD of Handel's Messiah (the Combined Church Choirs highlights one that isn't three hours) (and which has me singing as part of the choir) and got out the boxes of presents.  Some I'd bought a while ago, some only on Christmas Eve, tidying up the ends of what-for-who and omigosh-I-haven't-forgotten-anyone-have-I?  It was the family presents - pretty much all the rest have already been wrapped and given to colleagues and friends.

Comfort ye - com-for-ort ye, my pe-ee-ple

This one isn't always easy to buy for.  I hope she likes what I've chosen.  I pack it round with tissue and it goes in a gift bag, being breakable.

And the glory, the glory of the Lord, shall be re-vea - e-led

I'm so happy about this idea for one of the girls - it's a bit quirky, different.  Don't know if she knows these exist.  She often likes vintage, and this is hand-made too...

Behold, darkness shall co-ver the earth, and gross darkness the people

I never sang this, it's one of the solo pieces.  Love the way it ends, both music and words...

then the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the bright-ness, of, thy ri-sing.

Bring out a present, cut enough paper, wrap and stick and label.  Some are rectangular-easy.

One poses a particular challenge.  Another one of the girls asked me, a while ago, if I could maybe find her a vintage hatbox.  I said, in the way of such things, that it would need to find me, but I would look.  And, at markets and garage sales and op shops and antiquey-junky shops and on eBay, I looked.  At one market a few weeks ago, I mentioned this quest to the friend I was with.  "LOOK! she said.

Have you tried wrapping a vintage hatbox so it doesn't look like a vintage hatbox?  You can't disguise the size...maybe the shape...  I resort to an extra box, and roll out a large piece of paper.

Foooooo-r unto us a child is born...for unto us a  - for unto us a -

The parts roll over each other, a glorious tide of sound.  I sang in that Messiah for a decade, every Christmas in the Sydney Town Hall, practices every Monday night in the city from early October.    Any time I hear Messiah now, I hear the soprano choral parts, and sing them in my mind.  I remember Professor Clive Pascoe, the conductor, how he demanded excellence from a most diverse group of voices, and how he gave us excellence, and the gift of his knowledge of this work.  How he believed, and made us believe, that we could create something marvellous.

I'm giving the next boy a pixel present.  Have you ever tried wrapping kilobytes or an audiobook (delivered online)?  He loves Skulduggery Pleasant, and we have an arrangement that his birthday present each year is the next SP book (the fourth one is due out next April).  He's never heard the spiffing audio version by Rupert Degas, as far as I know.  Hmmmm.  Can't make it too easy, though, can I?  So I wrap and wrap and make it a parcel with layers of wrapping paper, and finally inside a card... Mean, but fun!

Good-will - good-will - good-will, goooood-willll tooooo - to - all men

I can't sing in this choir any more.  Logistically, my current work makes getting into the city more difficult, but the accumulated impact of years of teaching has had its impact on my voice.  A decade ago, the last time I sang in the choir, there was at least one song I 'fished' (mimed) because I didn't find the notes - nothing at all came out - or if anything, nothing more than a strangled squeak that hurt.  I sing along to this CD at home, where it doesn't matter if I sing the soprano part an octave lower, and sing along to the solo pieces. On my bookshelf is my well-worn copy of the Prout edition of Messiah, but I know it pretty much by heart (at least for singing along like this).   I can't imagine relearning the oratorio with the alto parts - I'm sure I'd unintentionally revert to the soprano ones, and a large choir like that works because you sing when you should and what you should, subsuming yourself to the created whole. 

I'm nearly done.  There are several large bags of presents waiting to go into the car.  Each one, being wrapped, is a moment thinking of the recipient, a grace-moment as I wrestle paper and tape and my own tiredness, and wrap in, invisibly, love and affection and good wishes and all those family things which are so much more important that the glitzy stuff of Christmas commerce.

Worthy is the Lamb, that was slain - and hath reee-deem-ed us to God, to God, by his Son....

One present isn't wrapped, because I've only just bought it today and it needs a little bit of sewing-related tweaking, a special label.  I make them up using the computer, and find I'm out of black ink.  Will the newsagent up the road that sells ink be open on Boxing Day, even for a little while?  Maybe?  Fingers crossed.

...and ho-nour, and glo-ry, and bles-sing...

The CD's nearly finished.  I sit on the sofa, and close my eyes, and remember singing the Amen (my favourite, much more than the more famous Hallelujah chorus).  For the sopranos, it rises and rises, and just near the end is the highest note of the soprano choral part, an Aaaa- that cascades down.  I remember singing that.  Exhilarated, from the joy of performance.  Determined to finish it well.  Waiting for the note I only ever reached while singing this piece, in this choir.  I remember how it rose through the body, through your throat, out of your mouth and somehow too the top of your head, how it felt to be filled with this one glorious note, surrounded by it in this choir....and then the last part of the Amen, and the final note of the oratorio.  Sustained, because in a choir this big (over 600 choristers) you can take a quick breath and go on, and the note stays full, fills the hall, rolls over the raised faces of the audience like a blessing, the organ sound is all stops out, the percussionist drumming, the soloists singing with us, the sound of the trumpet, keep watching the conductor and then, a quick movement of the baton and silence.  A deep moment of silent completion, something achieved, something wonderful created and now finished, and then the applause.

I don't think many of us ever sang it for the applause.  We sang for the singing.  We sang because the organising charity, Radio Community Chest, meant that others benefited from the two performances, and their Christmases, their lives, were made better too. (The RCC/Messiah website is here - this annual presentation has been going in Sydney for decades).   I sang - and the hundreds of people who come each year from diverse denominations still sing - to be a part of something extraordinary.  This music will never leave me, it is deep in my bones and I am fortunate.

I hope you and yours have had a peaceful and happy Christmas.

(PS. I've scheduled this entry for after the presents have been opened...!)