December 22nd…………“WHAT WAS A CHRISTMAS HIGH SCHOOL MEMORY THAT WAS MAGICAL FOR YOU AS WELL AS FOR HUNDREDS OF OTHER ALUMNI OF BATTLE GROUND HIGH SCHOOL”??
Emblazoned upon the happy halls of my teenage Christmas memories is one of my favorite Yuletide Carols entitled, “Carol Of The Bells”!! Since those days in the halls of education, the years have passed so quickly. Amazingly, it’s nearing the half-century mark since I was in High School, and, when I muse upon this Seasonal song, I am tenderly drawn to the honored memory of a hero from my teenage days.
Mr. Orrell Peru was one of those cherished mentors of my music education that impressed me with his very existence in living a life of high integrity 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 faithfully taught as the Director of Choral Music at Battle Ground High School in Battle Ground, Washington.
“Carol Of The Bells” was an impressive Ukrainian Christmas melody that was owned and loved, not only by my “Tiger” generation of choir-mates, but also by the innumerable former Concert Choir members from decades past. For you see, way back in his early days of choral training at our school district, Mr. Peru began a grand tradition of making sure this Christmas Carol signaled the beginning of every Christmas Concert performance over the years and even beyond our own High School years, as well.
The weeks preceding the festive Christmas Concert were thick with anticipation as our highly respected Choir Master put us through our paces, both in voice and in movement. The “movement” had to do with learning to sing “Carol Of The Bells” a cappella (for my young readers, this means voice only) while holding a battery candle and keeping step as we were to march from the entrance foyer of the gymnasium, through the darkened audience aisles and up onto the choir risers; all while keeping proper cadence and meter timing of the song.
The holiday mood was festive on that wonderful night of the performance. Many members of the audience on that special night were former Concert Choir members of Mr. Peru and had come to witness the musical tradition that they, themselves, participated in years ago.
The audience’s seasonal visiting and greetings hushed as the “house lights” dimmed to darkness with only a large, white electric star above the stage and a glorious Christmas tree of lights, next to our choir risers, glowing in their spectra of colors.
Nervous, kinetic energy almost sizzled among our choir robes as my fellow choir members and myself awaited the pitch pipe and downbeat of Mr. Peru’s direction to begin. Each of our hand-held, battery-powered candles were aglow and cast a soft white light around us in that darkened foyer.
With a check to his wristwatch, our honored educator saw that the concert performance time had arrived. Mr. Peru drew a round pitch-pipe from his pocket and placed it to his lips for the accurate first note on which we would build “The Carol Of The Bells”.
With rapt attention, we all responded obediently to the downbeat of his arm and young ladies began singing, “Hark how the bells, sweet silver bells, all seem to say, throw cares away”!!! and we began our forward march into the darkened auditorium.
Since our choir would be spread out across the large gymnasium during this song, Mr. Peru had connected the white star above the stage, and the Christmas tree next to the choir risers, with a long cord that ran clear back to the foyer where he stood. With each beat of the music, Mr. Peru used a snap-switch to turn the tree and star on and off, on and off. This way, our choir stayed united as one in our singing as we all could see the visual pulsations of the music’s timing.
As each successive choir member entered the audience aisles, our candles gently illuminated our teenage faces. With our choir now moving and filling both aisles, as we marched towards the stage, so also did the sound of our voices crescendo for the audience around us to enjoy.
Mr. Peru’s homemade metronome worked for we climbed to the stage and mounted the choir risers till our candle-lit visage all faced the audience and our entourage finished the carol strongly with the last…….”DING, DONG, DING………….DONG”!!
We 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 were there that night in attendance. Together, my generation, and former choir members of the past, sang this special song while being directed by the delightful soul that resided within our teacher, Mr. Orrell Peru. To this very day, when I hear “Carol Of The Bells”, there are warm, Christmas memories in the heart of this Norwegian Farmer’s Son.