I was in charge of the Christmas pageant for six years at my church: for the two years I was director of the children’s choir, then the four years directing the adult choir. It was always fun. Sometimes there were adults who wanted to help write some of the scenes. Once, the youth group wrote the script. I filled in where necessary. Teachers were consulted to remember who had leading parts the year before – whose turn it was to be Mary etc.
No one had too long a script to memorize. The lead participants met the Sunday before after church. The main rehearsal was 9-12 a.m. the Saturday before the pageant, with a pizza party at noon that Saturday. Every year the children would say “this was the best pageant ever.” And it usually was.
The pageant scriptures are the ones that stay in the children’s memories; the songs are the ones they can sing by heart. But the feeling of telling an important story to the grownups of the church was the experience that I most wanted them to have.
I was sitting with my now adult daughter listening to the Bach Christmas Cantata when she looked at me during one of the recitatives and said, “I sang that from the pulpit in an angel’s costume when I was eight years old.” She had, and she had sung it beautifully.
I didn’t go for “cute” in my directing. Sure there were laughs, but more than laughs there were tears of pride that these children could convey such an important message to the community with such faith and in such a direct and heartfelt way.
All performers know when their audience is listening. Children are no exception. When there is that silence in the sanctuary as each person listening hangs on every word, it is palpable, and felt and is the kind of unique experience all children should have. It is priceless.
Last year I turned 70, and my children and wife gave me a document describing the various roles I had played in the family. Here is what Clara (now 26) and Anna, (now 31) wrote:
*The Provider of Opportunities to Perform/Participate in performance and ceremony
Clara says “A lot of my confidence in singing came from participating not only in children’s choir, but in the adult choir as a kid. You provided me with encouragement, solos, and lead parts. I really enjoyed performing in church, and I think this led to my participation in Village Harmony as well as other singing performances. I could always tell that you were proud of my musical abilities, and this gave me confidence to perform for others.
Anna says “You not only brought us to church each week – but you invited us to participate in the performative elements of church with you. From just singing together in the pews, to being in the Christmas pageant, to getting coached in performing liturgical dances, being in the Cabaret, and even playing Charades with adults on church retreats. Outside of church, singing in Ascona (my opera) was a huge deal for me. You supported me in so many ways to perform in millions of productions of the Nutcracker over the years. You supported me in starting the Challet Ballet, my first dance group… The opportunities you provided were endless. I also always enjoyed watching you perform – mostly at church – preaching sermons, leading songs, working with Rick on some of the art installations and more creative church services. I still look to you to make possible experiences such as the singing party and the Christmas Eve service we were all able to attend this year.”
Clara’s summer job from ages 14 – 22 was as a street performer in Harvard Square. She did very well. When she returned to Boston after graduating with her masters in Library Science, she had three interviews her first day. All three libraries wanted her. I wasn’t surprised. She knows how to present herself.
Anna frequently gets asked to speak for the various non-profits she works with. She is the one they want to give the money pitch. And she does an excellent job at it. She teaches dance to children and is in a dance company herself.
Both girls are very at ease in front of the public, and I think it all started with the Christmas Pageant at Church.