Sunday, November 16, 2008

Thanks, Dad

Just like every year, I am preparing a Christmas concert for my ward. And, as usual, not many people show up or are willing to participate. After asking musicians and human beings who breathe to help out and join, I am often left with one member: myself. Okay, it's not that bad but the numbers of participants are pretty darn small. I don't know if my dad anticipated this when he taught us how to play different instruments, conduct and sing properly but he sure did a good job and has helped us more than he will ever know.
While teaching the choir today, I was playing the piano, conducting with my head, singing the solos, teaching the descants and making up different arrangements to make the music a bit more moving with my clarinet on one side and my violin on the other, ready to show them what the instrumental part will sound like. Am I bragging? Not about me, but about my dad. That man is so smart and so patient. He did so much for me that made me love every aspect of music. If it weren't for him, I would not have gone through all the schooling that I have. I think I would have graduated in generals and then called it good. But Nooo! I had to be trained in dance, voice, clarinet, piano, strings and then landed on voice with a clarinet scholarship in order to be at peace with my choices. I think it is because of my dad that I cannot play one instrument and be okay with it. If I ever run into a situation where someone needs a pianist and doesn't have one, I figure my time to learn. Same goes for strings, woodwinds, voice, etc. I haven't learned all the instruments but I'm working on it!
For Family Home Evening, we would sometimes pull out all these instruments and make up ways to play a certain song. Cari would play flute, Eddie on trumpet, Dad on sax (whichever one he wanted to play at that time), Jessi on piano, Mom singing alto (quietly in the background, thinking we couldn't hear her... so cute) and me on clarinet. These family home evening music sessions would literally go on for hours. Eventually, we learned to transpose and compose on the fly and learn to improv in order to make things work. By the time we were in high school, we were pretty darn nerdy and secretly loved it. Christmas was the greatest time for that because we would get out all the instruments and figure out ways to incorporate them. Not many people would be willing to participate in the Christmas concerts, so we Stewarts would compensate with the instrumentations. A few songs that were guaranteed to be performed were: Angels' Carol, Candlelight Carol, Away in A Manger, Angels We have Heard on High, Betelehemu, some Christmas medlies and Stille Nachte. After over twelve years of this, we have had a hard time being without it.
I no longer have daily practices with my brother and sisters and dad, nor do I stand in the living room and practice with the CD's while Dad is getting Sunday lunch ready. I've got the memories, though, and those are so special to me. A couple of years ago, I went with my family and a friend to the Sissel Christmas Concert in Salt Lake City, Utah. One song that was performed was Betelehmu, an African Christmas song that translates to 'Bethlehem.' I remember playing the congas for that piece, watching my dad conduct, hearing the soloists and exclamations from the choir members. I didn't say anything, but held my sister's hand who was sitting next to me with tears in my eyes, trying to hide them. I looked over and saw my sister doing the same thing. It was at that moment, without words, my sister and I shared all those memories of family and the birth of Jesus Christ. Later came away in a manger with the flute and oboe - something Cari and I played together every year. We just kept holding hands and, this time, we openly let the tears flow. It was a special time for the both of us - something we have grown to deeply appreciate and love.
Now, I'm grown and out of the house. Cari lives one city south and we will be helping each other with our own Christmas presentations. Both she and I are Choir Directors and know what to do as if we've been doing it for years. We have a lot of the same music, Cari has her flute, I have my clarinet and we will get together this week and rehearse. These are the times I live for. We will end the presentation with Stille Nachte - a family favorite. I will probably tear up while playing my clarinet, as I always do, remembering the birth of our Savior and how much I love playing music with my family. November and December are dear for me because floods of memories come back. I remember the birth, life and resurrection of Jesus Christ and how I shared that with my family and grew to love and live for it. I hope that, one day, I can somehow get with all of my brothers and sisters, gather around a piano while each one of us take up an instrument and play, and watch and listen to each other. It's amazing and I am so grateful that it has been introduced into my life almost 27 years ago.
With all that being said, I'd like you all to know that it's my dad who made it possible, who brought all that into The Stewart Family's life. If you grew up in Palmdale, served with me in Nauvoo, have gone to church with me, lived with me or hung out with me, you know what I'm talking about. :) Thanks, Dad.