“Deck the halls with bows of holly, fa la la la la la la la. Tis the season to be jolly, fa la
la la la la la la …. ”
“I can’t hear you in the back, louder and enunciate clearly, enunciate.” Mrs. Eisen
waves her arms around in the air and then puts her lips to the silver pitch pipe and blows.
“Judy, Elaine, Susie, louder and stay on pitch. Stay on pitch girls! I don’t want to have to keep telling you this over and over. Bobby Patton, stop your sniffling. If you have a cold, please do us a favor and don’t come to school tomorrow. The Christmas show is next week, and we can’t afford to get sick.”
The music teacher at my elementary school, Mrs. Flora Eisen, has been here forever. She
is 60 years old with blue-white hair and a space between her front teeth. It’s a wide gap and I wonder if food gets caught in there. She has a full bosom and always wears bright flowery dresses, which flounce around when she walks. She’s the bossiest teacher in the whole world, and I don’t know if I want to be in her silly Christmas show anyway. It isn’t my holiday.
We’re Jewish. My family celebrates Chanukah, but I do like being off from school for two whole weeks for Christmas vacation. I am in the sixth grade at Melrose Avenue School and every year for the last four years it’s been the same story. I am in chorus. Flora Eisen rehearses us four hours a day and by the end of the first week, my voice is usually gone, and mother has to call the school to tell them I’ll be absent.
This year, my senior year, the last before I graduate, I am determined that I am not going
to get sick. I’m going to stay away from Bobby Patton and his sniffly nose. I’m going to finally sing in the Christmas Show and I am going to enjoy a wonderful Christmas Vacation.
“Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright, round yon virgin, mother and child.
Holy infant, so tender and mild.” I can never remember all the lyrics, but once I heard the song in German, it was so beautiful in German. It went something like “Heiligenacht, stillegenacht.” I wish we could learn it in the German.
Flora Eisen blows into her shrill pitch pipe, and brushes a strand of blue hair across her
forehead. “Girls and boys, remember, all your parents will be here, all your teachers will be
watching you. The principal too. You want to show them how professional you are. You are
going to have to practice, practice, practice.”
Bobby Patton sniffles again and blows his nose loudly in the back row. “That’s it Bobby
Patton, I’ve had it with you,” Mrs. Eisen yells, raising her hands. “You’re going to get us sick. Go to the nurse immediately. Here’s a hall pass.” She holds it out at arm’s length. Bobby doesn’t seem to mind being kicked out of the Christmas show and when Flora Eisen isn’t looking, he turns around and makes a face at her. I want to laugh but I don’t.
“Diane and Joy, you’re going to be singing Winter Wonderland solo. I know I can count on you girls, like I always do,” Mrs. Eisen smiles. Diane Winters and Joy Shiffman are the teacher’s pets. They’re very smart and Mrs. Eisen is always playing favorites. They do have
good voices, but why should they always get the good parts. I love that song. It always makes me think of snow around a pond, kids on ice skates, and a horse-drawn sleigh. There are other children who are talented too. Doesn’t Mrs. Eisen know that?
“Dress rehearsal, 8 PM tomorrow night. Remember. Is there anybody who can’t make
it, let me know right now.” Mrs. Eisen plops her large body down on a chair and sighs. “What a day! I’m never going to make it through the week,until the performance Friday.”
What does she mean, she’s never going to make it until the performance? What about us,
we’re the ones who are doing all the singing. Trying to do our best. Practicing hours each day. All she’s doing is standing there and blowing into that silly pitch pipe.
The night of the dress rehearsal, Mrs. Eisen arrives late. She is holding a box of Kleenex
in one hand and a teacup in another. Her eyes are red. She blows on the pitch pipe, and when she speaks, it’s with a hoarse voice. “Now boys and girls, you’re going to really have to work tonight, pretend this is the real performance, remember your parents and your teachers are going ….. ” Mrs. Eisen cannot finish without clearing her throat.
“Deck the halls with bows of holly, fa la la la la, la, la, la, la. ‘Tis the season to be jolly ……. ” Everyone sounds really great tonight. We go right into a medley of Silent Night and Santa Claus is Coming to Town and finish with White Christmas, one of my favorites.
My voice is right on pitch. I am very proud of myself. Tomorrow night is the show and I did not get sick this year, I am going to perform after all, but poor Mrs. Eisen, she is blowing her nose and drinking tea, I don’t think she’s going to make it.
I can imagine myself tomorrow night, standing in front of the chorus and waving my baton, and then turning around to bow to the audience. They are clapping wildly. I would make a great conductor; I have a real sense of the music. I’m going to wear my best dress tomorrow night just in case they call on me.
by Judy Liebman
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