Saturday, December 20, 2014

Christmas Festivities

The school's Christmas concert was set for the evening of December 17 at the Community Hall.  Preschool to grade 9 classes, as well as the staff, were tasked with organizing and presenting  Christmas-themed skits.  My drumline was the high school's contribution.  Teachers set aside several blocks of time each day to brainstorm and rehearse the skits with their students.  Some classes rehearsed behind closed-doors, keeping their performances top-secret until the 17th.  It was impossible for my drummers & I to keep our repertoire secret because the drums could be heard throughout the school. 
Grades 7-12 students spent the morning of Dec 17 decorating the Community Hall under the careful supervision of their teachers.  The elementary and middle school classes had prepared a variety of Christmas decorations and they needed to be plastered all over the hall.  My drummers & I used this time to bring over the drums, music/instrument stands, sheet music, sticks, and anything else we would need for the dress rehearsal and concert.  Everything was transported by truck.  Students & teachers scurried around the hall, setting up rows of chairs, and taping & hanging decorations, while Christmas music played over sound speakers.  All the chairs and decorations were in place by lunchtime. 

The entire student body went to the Community Hall after lunch for the dress rehearsal.  Each class went up on stage and presented their skit so that the students would know their spots, where to go, and conquer any feelings of stage-fright.  The "curtains were lifted" for those classes who kept their skits secret during the previous weeks.  The rehearsal also gave the concert planners a better picture of how the entire program would look like "for real".    
The program is kept simple, starting from preschool and ending with the teachers.  The drumline is the second last act.  As I expected, many students crowded around the front of the stage as my drummers & I marched on for our dress rehearsal.  This year, I would stand in the centre and play snare drum with my drummers.  We played our five selected pieces while teachers & students cheered us on.  I noticed a few people were filming our practice with iPods.  My drummers did very well on the dress rehearsal; now they had to repeat the same performance for the concert.  They all told me they were nervous.
"So am I," I confessed.  "The trick is to not think about it.  Don't look at the audience.  Look past them.  And the time will go by very fast.  Our gig will be done before you have a chance to blink."       
The dress rehearsal was finished at 3:30pm.  Everyone went home for the rest of the afternoon, had dinner, changed into formal clothing, and returned to the community hall at 6:30.  The place was filled with parents, elders, children, teachers, and community members.  The concert began at 7.

Aga & Kataisie, the high school art & Inuktitut teachers, presided over the concert as English & Inuktitut emcees.  Ryan, the school's media teacher, filmed the concert using one of his HD camcorders.  I stood at the back of the hall and filmed secondary raw footage.  The pace of the Christmas concert felt slower for me because I attended the dress rehearsal.  I already knew what to expect.  Everyone who was present at the dress rehearsal probably felt the same way.  Regardless, it was a concert worth seeing twice. 
There was something for everyone.  There was singing, acting, dancing, rapping, Inuit drumming, and marching percussion.  Even though some acts weren't Christmas-themed, they were still entertaining & fun.  I could spend an entire blog post or two accurately describing each act but I'll just the mention the acts that stood out the most for me.
The Grade 1 class sang a few Christmas tunes, accompanied by an Inuit drum.  The Grade 3 class did a square dance and a student played on one of my snare drums along with the recording.  The Grade 4 class played charades by putting on animal masks and acted out specific animals with the help of prerecorded sounds.  They revealed the names of the animals they were playing before closing their act by throwing candy to the audience.  The Grade 6s danced to "Feliz Navidad" while the Grade 7s played Nunavut's Got Talent, a spinoff parody of the popular tv show America's Got Talent
The Grade 9 class presented a short play about saving Santa, who got into a serious accident, by performing open surgery and removing all foreign objects.  What impressed the audience was that the play was done using the silhouettes.  A large white piece of paper covered the front of the stage and two projectors shined light on it.  The students' silhouettes appeared clearly on the white paper and the audience laughed at all the right moments.
The moment had finally arrived; it was the high school drumline's turn to perform on stage.  "Alright, it's time," I announced to my drummers.  I could see that they were nervous.  I was also nervous but a leader must never show it.  "Let's do this."
We marched on stage and quickly set up our drums, music stands, and sheet music behind the closed curtains.  The emcees kept the audience busy while my drummers & I did our final checks.  When everything and everyone was in place, I individually asked each drummer if they were ready.  When they all nodded, I signaled the stage crew to draw open the curtains.  Looking past the audience, I raised my drum sticks and clicked them four times.  Our performance began.
For me, our gig went fairly quickly.  Since I have been performing with various bands for many years, the routine is very familiar: play a song; audience applauds; switch music; repeat until out of selected music; leave the stage.  The pieces we played as a drumline were: Run Out! (UMass), Run On (UCLA Pregame Sequence), X1 (by Cassidy Byars), and Raven (by Cassidy Byars) as an encore from the Halloween concert.  One of my bass drummers & I played the fifth piece, Triplet Cadence, as a duet.  I wrote the cadence in 2006 when I was teaching marching percussion at a summer cadet camp in CFB Borden.  When the curtains closed, I shook my drummers' hands and congratulated them on a job well done.               
The teaching staff closed the concert by performing three hand clapping rhythms in groups, and a fourth as a massed group.  The first one was "Cups (When I'm Gone)" from the movie Pitch Perfect without the use of cups, the second was a rhythm created by an Inuit elder, and the third was patty-cake.  The fourth rhythm was from the popular song "We Will Rock You" by Queen.

December 18th was the last day of school before the Christmas holidays.  With the success of the Christmas concert still fresh in everyone's minds, the festivities continued with caroling in the school's gym after morning recess.  Eunice, the Grade 7 teacher, led students, teachers, elders, and parents in singing Christmas carols in English & Inuktitut.  Mary's husband provided guitar accompaniment.  Mary is the school counselor.  We sang "Deck The Halls", "O Christmas Tree", "Joy To The World", "O Come All Ye Faithful", "Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer", "Jingle Bells" and many more.            

Santa came to school after lunch to hand out gifts to students (preschool - Grade 9).  I walked behind Santa and his helpers, photographing him with the students and their gifts.  (Between you & me, Santa was played by the nephew of one of the school's student support assistants).  Many children were shy to sit on Santa's lap and pose for pictures, but after much prodding from parents, they mustered up the courage and got through it.  Once the children received their presents, they were free to leave the school.  High school students received gift certificates from the Co-op store.    

Teachers could leave early too, provided that they had completed their attendance and report cards.  When I was done, I quickly cleaned up my classroom and headed out the door.  I wished the Inuit teachers & my students a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year before firing up my skidoo.  I immediately began packing my suitcase when I arrived home because I was flying down south the next morning.  I took out the garbage and handed over my skidoo keys to my next door neighbours.  They had decided to stay in Arctic Bay for the holidays and agreed to look after my skidoo.
I woke up on the morning of December 19th and had a quick shower.  I finished packing my suitcase after a small breakfast.  When my ride to the airport arrived, I switched off all the lights and locked my apartment.  I met the other teachers that were flying down south for the at the airport.  We would arrive in Ottawa six hours later and go our separate ways.  We would meet up at the Ottawa Airport in two weeks. 
It's hard to believe how fast 2014 has come and gone.  I'm glad I have plenty of pictures and memories to remember the last 365 days.  The new year is less than two weeks away.  I wonder what new challenges await me?    

See you all in 2015!

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