December 25th…“WHAT IS A SPECIAL HIGH SCHOOL MEMORY OF CHRISTMAS?”
Emblazoned upon the happy halls of my teenage Christmas memories is one of my favorite yuletide carols entitled, “Carol Of The Bells”! Even though it is nearing the half century mark, since I was in High School, when I muse upon this seasonal song, I am tenderly drawn to the honored memory of a hero of my young teenage days.
Mr. Orrell Peru was one of those cherished mentors of my music education that impressed me with his very existence as well as his altruistic love and passion for choral music. Mr. Peru’s intense fervor for music poured forth to thousands of students over the many decades that he enjoyed being Director of Choral Music at Battle Ground High School in Battle Ground, Washington.
This dear Christmas melody was owned and loved, not only by MY generation of choir-mates, but by thousands of other students, in years gone by, that had sung it before we did. In his early days of teaching choir in our school district, our maestro began a tradition of beginning each annual Christmas concert with the “house lights” turned off to quiet the audience. Then, upon the performance stage, a colorful, light-festooned Christmas tree came to life right next to our choir risers. Our beloved Director would also sometimes hang a giant star above the stage for added effect for what was about to happen next.
Like we choir members that night, choristers of each preceding generation would also gather in the foyer of the now-darkened auditorium where parents and members of the community had come to celebrate Christ’s birth by listening to our collective voices. Battery-powered candles were supplied to myself and my fellow minstrels of song. Now, all that awaited us was to hear the pitch pipe cue of Mr. Peru who stood in the auditorium entryway. With circular pitch pipe to his mouth, our concert master blew the introductory note for us to follow. With rapt attention, we all responded to the downbeat of his arm and the beginning voices began singing…….“Hark how the bells, sweet silver bells, all seem to say, throw cares away”.
Our troupe of singers stepped in cadence into the darkened auditorium with our candles gently illuminating our faces. As each successive choir member entered, our growing numbers brought the a cappella choral sound of our voices to a more intense volume. The warming glow of light from our candles also crescendo-ed into that darkened chamber. As we eventually filled the double aisles with our members, we proceeded in step to transport ourselves to the stage and risers. All this while, during the song, our beloved Mr. Peru had a hand-operated switch controlling the Christmas tree lights on the stage. By clicking the tree lights on and off, on and off, he aided his singing assembly to stay on tempo from the first singers that stepped inside the auditorium earlier in the song’s beginnings. Now, thanks to Mr. Peru’s light “metronome”, the last choir members entering from the foyer could be at the same cadence as the first singers.
As our choir eventually occupied those old wooden risers, we finished our carol in full voice as the last stanza sang out, “Ding, dong, ding……dong”. One could easily see that the crowd was thoroughly pleased by not only the Christmas song itself, but also with the re-ignited memories in the hearts of many former choir members that night in the audience who had, themselves, sang this song under Mr. Peru’s direction in their High School days. Together, my generation, and former choir members of the past, sang this special song with that delightful soul of a man (Mr. Peru) that was greatly admired by this Norwegian Farmer’s Son!!