Dec 18, 2009

CAA Christmas: Leaving a Legacy of Love

There is a story told among teachers about a lovely, little old lady teacher--as gentle and a loving as a lamb. This teacher never raised her voice, never got angry, never lost her patience--except once a year. Every year at Christmas time, the little old lady blew her top. She raised her voice to a bellow, shook her wrinkled fist, and stared down her class who would invariably be shocked into silence. After that, the she went back to her meek and mild ways and never had any further trouble with her class.

I always smile when I think of that story, and I think most teachers do, because we know that those chaotic weeks leading up to Christmas are some of the toughest of the year. We understand what would cause nice old ladies to lose their cool--the disrupted schedule that comes with hours of extra practice for the Christmas program and the kids (and the teachers too, if we're honest) hyped up about the coming vacation and ready for school to be out now, not in two weeks. Not much work gets done, disciplinary incidents spike, as does anxiety as the school gets ready to make it's annual mark with the biggest school event of the year--the Christmas program.

Things were no different this year, as Columbus Adventist Academy prepared to bring the Christmas musical Legacy of Love to the stage. This past Wednesday, December 16, 2009, the hours of practice paid off in a crowd-pleasing performance that went off almost without a hitch. It was a long road to get there, but in the end it was worth it.

Legacy was my 12th school Christmas program and I'd never experienced one quite like this. The rehearsals were the longest I've ever been a part of--during the final five days of rehearsal, practices ran all school day from first thing in the morning until minutes before the buses pulled up at 3:45 P.M. This also seemed to be one of the most complex programs I'd ever been a part of, with dancers, a 74 student choir, dozens of actors, and eight scene changes. We also divided up the seven member cast into multiple parts so that every student in the school had a speaking part (with the exception of four of my students who worked with Mrs. Lee on props, and thus limited their performing to membership in the choir). Imagine working with 70 actors! Sometimes the play felt like a massive supertanker helmed by six captains--getting it to change direction was a an arduous and time-consuming process.

As if this challenge wasn't big enough, I'm embarrassed to admit I apparently failed to understand that I was the director of the drama portion of the program, until less than a week before showtime. I thought I was responsible for just a few sections of the play--my colleagues understood that I was directing the entire thing, and were understandably confused that I didn't seem to be stepping up to do my job. Thankfully, God stepped in to shore up my weaknesses and the other teachers--Mrs. Lavalas, the choreographer, Mrs. Lewis and Mrs. Lee on props and set design, Mrs. Gray assisting with drama, and Mrs. Arthurs, the principal, directing the music--made the program a collaborative effort. Without them, the various pieces of this program would never have come together the way they did.

Legacy of Love is a fun, bouncy musical with strong gospel message that reminds us that the Christmas story is really about Jesus, who came to earth to leave the ultimate legacy--that of a love that will last for eternity. The story itself--a simple tale about a group of multi-media club members who decide to enter a webcast contest for laptop computer they want to give to their beloved sponsor, the Christmas-obsessed Mrs. Thompson.--might not win any Pulitzers; this play is really about the music. The tunes are catchy and contemporary, the lyrics snappy yet thoughtful, and Brenda Arthurs did a fantastic job of bringing out the best in our student mass choir. From the peppy opener "Christmas Groove" to the funky "God's Done Bigger Things", to the infectious, "Leave a Mark" and the emotional sweep of the theme song, "Legacy of Love"--the program was packed with great songs.

The practices were marked by frayed nerves, many raised voices and raised hands. We were constantly trying to quiet down our ever chattering students who seemed to take every break in the music or dialogue as an opportunity to start talking. Long director's conferences convened while the noise of the students grew around us. Misbehaving students were unceremoniously yanked from the choir and made to sit in the pews where their mischief couldn't spread. Various threats about cancelling the Christmas parties at the end of the week were made. But in the end, everything worked out, as we all knew deep down it would. We pushed our students hard, we asked much of them, and when it came down to the wire, the students delivered.

Highlights of the play included the scriptural recitations we inserted into the play. These were performed by the kindergarten class and a few 1st and 2nd graders, and let me tell you, those selections from God's Word far outshone the actual scripted dialogue. The little ones brought down the house with their plaintive and passionate recitation of the scriptures. It was also interesting to see what lines from the play itself resonated with the audience--one line that nearly got dropped, ended up being one of the bigger laugh lines of the evening.

Another highlight was the choreography. Lisa Lavalas, kindergarten teacher and choreographer extraordnaire shone with her troupe of dancers. The dancers were graceful, beautifully illustrating the messages of the song "Legacy of Love" and adding spirit to the rousing reprise of "Christmas Groove" at the end of the play.

And of course there was the music--one highlight for me was watching a group of first and second grade students sponataneously link arms and sway together while their older schoolmates in grades 5-8 sang "A Little Means a Lot." Another highlight was watching one of our students most often sent to sit out from the choir during the practices, sing his heart out, swaying in time to "Christmas Groove" at the end of the show. At these and other moments during the performance Wednesday night, I felt my heart swell with love and affection for these kids and my fellow teachers. I felt that we were family just then and all the stress and strain semed worth it to be a part of this community, this family, motivated for this moment by the power and presence of God's love. Sure there were a few kids that looked like deer caught in the headlights--their choice not to take practice seriously catching up with them when the chips were down. But it didn't matter. The vast majority were ready, and those that weren't. . .well, they were still part of the family too.

And that, in the end, was the legacy left behind by this years Christamas program. This program was destined to leave a legacy, not of chaos, but of, well. . .love. Love in the hearts of our CAA family, and the infinitely larger love of the of our Father in heaven.

1 comment:

Mai said...

5 full-day rehearsals? dancers? 70 actors? It sounds intense....but amazing at the same time!! At our "big school", I wasn't involved at all in either of the Christmas programs.... I only got to serve refreshments. But both programs turned out nice! (I didn't even remember my camera, so I won't be blogging about it)