Like most endeavors, the unseen requirements for these things add up. If I’m hired for a 45 minute show, it takes hours to actually do it. First I have to get dressed and look like I can stand to let people see me. Then I gather and load the equipment in the car; drive to the location; unload and set up the equipment; wait for the group to finish their dinner and maybe dessert; we do all this before we get to sing. Then after the performance there is the meet and greet, which I actually love; then the breaking down of equipment (by the way, please don’t offer to wrap a musician’s cords. We have a thing about the way things roll, and how they go in so they come out the same way next time. But you sure can offer to help lug the heavy stuff…at least for me!) It’s usually very late by the time I get home. When the kids were little they were always in bed, unless they were teenagers and had a paper due. Sadly, my children have grown up having their mom gone at night at Christmas time. But they bonded with their dad and their Gram and Libby and that was a blessing for them. The other day one of my kids mentioned their love/hate relationship with Ramen noodles. Stemmed from such a time as that. Ah, me.
When I first started performing a lot at Christmas I had Merlyn to share all of it. Being a young stay-at-home mother made the job a tasty escape for me; fulfilling and invigorating. Merlyn was such a good friend, a sister-heart, and her harmonies were like good European butter…it made every note taste yummier. I can’t even remember how many years we performed together. Goodness, at least a dozen years. She knows me as well as just about anyone who is not family.
When Merlyn decided to quit singing it was very difficult for me. I quit myself that year, and grieved the loss of the music and the time spent together. I wondered if I would ever perform again. But voices I love and respect encouraged me to try it alone, so though it was not easy for me, I began. Dave of-the-good-heart made it a point to try to come with me when he could, though as City Councilman and eventually Mayor his evening time was limited. It took some serious self talk to get through the first year of performing alone. Now I’m fine with it. If I’m lucky I get Mark Robinette to join me on bass and harmonies. He is such a joyful soul and lifts my spirits whenever we work together. Besides bass, he has the gift of harmony…AND he is a professional sound man. And if I’m really, really lucky I’ll get the whole band, when Dave and Carla Eskelsen (the Eskeltones) join us. Only when the stars align and it’s time for our big Christmas concerts do I imagine the recipe of my daughter Kate being on stage with us, and perhaps the magical fingers of Michael Huff on the keyboards. When I die and get to see the little film of my life that people talk about, I know my heart will race when I see that group of people around me. I hope that movie has a soundtrack.
My Christmas album, Sleepy Little Town, did alright for me as an independent singer-songwriter. I’ve re-ordered quantities of it quite a few times, and people still buy it for Christmas gifts. It’s been long enough that people are re-ordering it because their old one wore out or scratched or one of their kids took it to college. Full blown adults order it because they listened to it when they decorated their Christmas trees as kids and now they have kids and Christmas trees of their own. How can I be so lucky? I recognize the rarity of a little self-produced project being successful enough to even pay for itself.
Fully produced album projects can get pretty costly. Dave and I have always said:
“Some people have boats, some have cabins…we have albums.”
I used to sell my CDs at Deseret Book and other outlets, but they did not sell well there, and the profits for the artist/producer were so low when they did that I decided to pull them out and just sell them from my website and the front porch. There’s a tall wooden Santa that sits in our entry hall every Christmas with a stack of CD’s in his hands. I also sell from the milk box with the peeling red paint on our front porch. Music is always available there, day or night. It makes my heart happy to be able to have that kind of good-faith commerce these days.
One day, years ago, someone asked me if I had a friends and family discount on the CD’s. I paused for a minute, then answered:
“Hmmm, I guess I do. For the general public the album is $15. But my friends and family pay $20 because they know how much is cost me.”
Of course friends and family don’t pay more, except for maybe Dave and my mom. But you catch my drift. It’s a costly venture, besides the time and energy, and it’s a substantial risk. I am grateful beyond adequate words that enough people deem it worthy of them parting with their money.
I won’t begin a new album project until the last one has pretty much paid for itself. I think that would be irresponsible of me. It also makes me step up the quality of the project so it might actually sell. It’s usually years between projects.
Three years ago I decided I wanted to attempt another Christmas project. I had a few new songs I wanted to preserve, and I wanted the experience of recording with Mark Stephenson again. He had been ill for the Pontiac Rocket project, and I missed the experience of recording with him at the sound board. And so the album One Small Boy began to take root.
January and February become moodling times for me. I call it moodling, because it’s a combination of being in the songwriter “mood” and “doodling” with my guitar and musical muses. I become rather serious about it if I know there is a project in the offing. I’ll get up in the morning and first off head to the family room with my guitar and my writing implements. The muse is usually more present in the morning. After the phone rings, or the chores of the day reel their heads up, the muse drifts away like the spirit of Christmas past.
January 2008 had me recalling the events of Christmas 2007. My mind went to Christmas Eve…and with it, my heart.
We had decided that year to spend Christmas Eve at home rather than attending the service at the First Presbyterian Church as we had for the past decade. We have loved gathering with fellow human travelers at that beautiful old church; listening to the Christmas message given by Father Tom; recounting as Pamela Atkinson read from the gospel of St Luke; hearing a beautiful soprano offer O Holy Night; and singing with all our hearts and voices the carols that we love. It was a great Christmas Eve tradition for a family of teenagers and older. But now we had little ones, who could not stay up so late as midnight, so we decided to do our Christmas Eve service here at Gummy and Gumpa’s house.
Gumpa read from the scripture as the grandkids played the sacred roles. Sophie's brand new Madame Alexander Cinderella doll was given the blessed part of baby Jesus.
Sophie was Mary
Anna Bella was a little angel
And Parker was a rather reluctant shepherd boy.
Daddies and uncles became Wise Men
And Mommies and aunties were shepherd’s, too
Auntie Kate, in her recurring role since she was small, was the angel of the Lord, holding little Anna on her hip.
Gummy played guitar, and Libby took pictures while Gram oversaw all of it.
The small antique footstool that rests in front of our old rocker was upended and became the manger. It was simple, and pure, and spontaneous.
And so a most blessed and sacred moment unfolded as, for the first time, our littlest ones re-enacted Chapter One of the greatest story ever told.
On a cold January morning the images presented themselves as seeds to a song, and this is the song:
MARY HOLDS HIM
Mary Holds Him
See the love light falling from her eyes around His head
Little hands have pulled the blanket tight and laid Him in his bed
Though she’s only four years old
She hears the story told
She knows her part
So here on this Christmas Eve
She plays like she believes
With all her heart
Curly hair and a pair of paper wings. And the shepherds come.
Kneeling sweetly, reverently he sings to his Holy Son
Though he’s only five years old
He hears the story told
He knows his part
So here on this Christmas Eve
He sings what he believes
With all his heart
Make us wise then
And the gifts of silver and of gold underneath the tree
These are tokens
There's a greater gift within our souls. It is this we bring.
So we’ll sing in harmony
This song of family
We know our parts
Oh, here on this Christmas Eve
We read and we believe with all our hearts…..
While Mary Holds Him
See the love light falling from her eyes around His head.
I don’t know how many more years we will be blessed with this sweet recipe: my mother able to be with us, and my sister; my good husband and all our children and our grandchildren; believers, every one. I know it is a sweet spot, and I preserve it however I can.
A song is as good a way as any.