Thursday, December 20, 2007

Cracked Notes and Christmas...They're Inseparable Sometimes

(The picture on the left is a combination of funny and sick...and I apologize if it offends anyone. But COME ON! You gotta admit, it's pretty funny. I'm on the verge of legal blindness and I think it's a scream!)

Well...I thought I wasn't going to do another Christmas post, but I was wrong.

My buddy Mr. Fab never ceases to charm and disgust simultaneously...and he came up with a winner this time.

Click on today's title and you'll be whisked to Fab-ville and his latest entry where he analyzes the famous secular Christmas song "It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year".

His entry truly inspired me to talk about my own musical experiences with Christmas carols and other Yuletide faves.

Let me lay it on you...if you've NOT been paying attention, you know that I sing.

A lot. As in "Sudie was contemplating a professional singing career and then she got her head out of her tuckus and decided to make herself a little more marketable by having more skills to use in the workforce" a lot.

I grew up going to a Methodist church in my hometown. Every year we had a candlelight Christmas Eve service, and many times soloists and small groups would provide music since it was quite impossible to get the choir together on Christmas Eve and sing.

I think every church has members that want to give the gift of song to their fellow congregation members. That's OK, I guess. But out of that group of dedicated souls, some of 'em would be better off sending fruit baskets. I'm just sayin'. One woman that fits this description to a "T" (as in "tinsel") was a woman I'll simply name "Screech".

Why "Screech"? Because this lady claimed to be a soprano, but her pitch on the high notes (as well as the general tone of her voice) was questionable.

And by the way, her voice was not like a fine wine because it got worse as she got older and lost her hearing. So even if she could hit the notes (as unpleasant as they sounded), she lost that power as she got older, so you wind up with unpleasant tone AND imperfect (to the point of causing inner ear bleeding) pitch.

Another problem with "Screech" was that she would get rather territorial about songs. In plain English, if someone else wanted to sing a piece she deemed "hers", she threw a fit until the other person gave up.

At Christmas time, she would perform the piece "Gesu Bambino", with words and music written by Pietro Yon. When performed well, it is a beautiful piece that moves me at Christmastime. There are many settings for it, choral and for solo voice (male or female) as well. "Screech" chose to sing it herself.

The piece starts off with a few solo measures of the pianist. I quickly learned to appreciate this as it was a reprieve from the agony about to come.

The first verse begins...

When blossoms flowered 'mid the snows
Upon a winter night
Was born the Child, the Christmas Rose
The King of Love and Light.

The angels sang, the shepherds sang
The grateful earth rejoiced
And at His blessed birth the stars
Their exultation voiced.

O come let us adore Him
O come let us adore Him
O come let us adore Him
Christ the Lord.

The sentiment expressed in these words? BEAUTIFUL. When reading the words, I could visualize a beautiful Nativity scene carved from olivewood and painted in jewel-like tapestry colors, gently surrounded by Christmas greenery. You could smell the cedar, that vision was so beautiful.

However, "Screech's" rendition caused this vision to die a fiery death and replaced it with a makeshift creche filled with warped Legos, lesser-known Star Wars characters and poison ivy. She'd start out fairly tolerable with the first section of the first stanza (the "blossoms flowering" part), but her "pleasant" range consisted of maybe FIVE notes that she could hit on key. Once she passed that point, then the pain began.

When she hit the second part ("the angels sang, the shepherds sang", etc), only one thought filled my head, but it filled my head like a screaming bottle rocket with airhorns attached to it and screams provided by Ethel Merman:


You might think I'm being rather harsh and cynical, but you've NEVER heard this woman before. Sadly, I don't have recordings of her...and really, that's a good thing because I don't want this woman's voice to be recognized and cause her embarrassment throughout the blogosphere. I'm afraid you'll just have to take my word for it.

Let me just say this: when this woman reached for her high notes, pain was induced. You've heard screeching brakes? Fingernails on a chalkboard? Male cats fighting over the only female cat in heat from fifty miles around? Britney Spears? Combine them all and add vibrato, and you get "Screech".

Once the first verse was completed, we were again graced with a few bars of piano to calm the audience down and dull the senses enough to be lulled into a false sense of security.

Then we got the second verse, and the whole cycle would start again...her "OK" range followed by "OH DEAR GOD GET ME OUT OF THIS CHURCH" range.

Of course, the 2nd verse had that little special something extra...namely a flourish at the end that would require her to hit a dramatic high note!

Have you ever heard anyone sing a high note and they didn't make it? I know I've done it, and those moments are among my most shameful in my performing history. So I think you know where this is going...

She'd take it to the hoop, and instead of slam-dunkin' that note and spinning the sucker into infinity, she ran into the wall with all her might. (What a great metaphor! Pat on the back for that one, Sudie!) She'd go back down to her comfortable range, but by then the damage had been done. The sound barrier was broken and shredded into a kazillion little pieces.

It was so hard to sit through "Screech's" solos. Not just for me...but for my dad as well.


Because he sat between my sister and I, and in order for us to survive "Screech" and her performance, we'd have to squeeze his hand during the agonizing parts so we wouldn't be tempted to scream, "SHUT THE F*** UP!!" (That kind of spoils the Christmas vibe.)

So there's my agonizing Christmas musical memory. Put that in your pipe and smoke it, St. Nick.