The car park in the neighbouring mall has been full for over an hour. Cars are prowling the lanes looking for a space and overflowing into the curling club parking lot further down the road.
People of all ages stream along the sidewalks and traffic is backed up as they cross the road, all making for the auditorium.
Inside, with curtain time still an hour away, there is already standing room only. Some seats have been claimed for two hours or more.
What’s going on? Big win bingo? A revival meeting? A royal visit? A surprise appearance by T. Swift or Drake or J. Bieber or M. Bublé or all four?
Nope. Just the elementary school Christmas concert.
I have the pleasure and privilege of playing for a couple of classes. I’m early and take a stroll through the school. The kids – button shirts and ties and dresses and lots of ruffles and frills and hair teased into curls and ringlets – are strewn all over the floor and perched on desks because their chairs have been seconded for the audience in the gym-turned-auditorium. All the doors are welcomingly open, security measures (Visitors Please Report to the Office! Alarm Will Sound If This Door is Opened!) happily neglected for the day, and parents and grandparents and friends and high school kids wander through the hallways and classrooms.
Until … showtime!
In the auditorium, with all seats taken, people stand two or three deep at the sides and the back. The first class is on stage and the next already lined up in the hallway ready to move in as the first files out. Tension crackles the air.
Applause still sounding, the first performers stagger from the stage, giggling and gasping and pretend collapsing against one another. “I couldn’t breathe.” “I felt sick to my stomach.” “I thought I was going to pee my pants.” (It wouldn’t be the first time it’s happened.)
Next class is already on stage. A girl faints and a teacher’s assistant gently gathers her up and carries her out. Right on cue, the third class is marching down the hallway, ready for the ordeal.
And thus it continues. The same old songs, some spiced up with a new take, a few new ones.
Easy to be cynical and jaded about all this after so many school Christmas concerts.
But for the kids, when it’s all over, and you didn’t mess up, at least not too badly – what inimitable rush of adrenalin and excitement and exhilaration and achievement, remembering and savouring the buzz and hum and settling silence of the audience as the curtains opened, the heat seeking missile gaze of your family searching you out, the smiles, the discreet waves, the adoring faces, incandescent with admiration, like you’re a movie star – how can it ever be topped? Christmas Day will surely be an anticlimax now.
After the concert, by unspoken tradition, the mass exodus for a de facto afternoon off, not an official afternoon off, and discouraged by the school district authorities, but right now who cares about them, and anyway how would you ever settle down to work after such excitement and brilliance and adulation?
And who knows when they’ll come again?