Great levellers can yield great things. If you are open to them. Most people think they can sing even when they can’t. But we all get a pass at Christmas when carols call. That was basically the instruction from the very charismatic conductor of Candles By Candlelight at London’s Royal Albert Hall Christmas week.
Before beginning the performance, where the audience alternates between participating in a sing along and then simply enjoying the the voices and musical talent of professionals on stage, the Maestro asked us to turn to the person behind us and say hello as a way of paving the way for acceptance or advance apology should our individual performances fall short of the mark.
I had noticed when I was walking to my seat that a 14-year boy with Down’s Syndrome was sitting directly behind me. I felt the same dread I do when I’m on a long haul flight and recognize I am sharing inescapable space with a newborn. Then feeling unkind and guilty about my unspoken thought I put a grin on my face and did as the conductor had instructed. I turned to my seat mate and offered him my hand. He froze. Then reeled back in terror. His attentive father didn’t miss a beat. Before I could retract my hand he immediately grabbed it, smiled and wished me a “very Merry Christmas.” How many times had he protected his fearful son before? How many times would he be forced to do it again? They looked like such a sweet family. But it could not be easy for any of them.
From time to time I could hear my seat mate blurting out a note here and there. Never uttering a whole sentence just eeking out small sounds every now and then. Once or twice when he became a little overexcited one of his parents would gently give him a gentle nudge and that was that.
But this was a lengthy concert. And the clock was ticking. How long till his patience or attention gave out?
After the intermission and close to the end of the concert the whole audience enthusiastically joined together in a rousing rendition of On The First Day Of Christmas. We all stayed seated for every verse except the 5th, when we would all leap to our feet and in blindingly happy unison belt out “5 gold rings,” Startlingly, so did my seat mate. Sort of.The only word he managed was “ring.” But he loved repeating it. “Ring, ring, ring.” Becoming one of us. Blending in as it were.
The fuse was lit. The music had emboldened him. And by the time the last carol was sung there was no stopping him. Yelling and bellowing and wracked with song he was ! It was brilliant. Here he was sitting among hundreds of other people who did not wear, as he did, their differences on their faces but surely had them.
It’s good to have our prejudices and preconceived notions challenged. Here I had waited the whole concert fearing the worst and now I couldn’t stop smiling. Neither could his parents. Bravo to them for taking bringing their son here and in doing so reminding us that we all have a right to joy and music and celebration no matter how we express it.