The nights of the Christmas Concerts filled the hall with families, and when I think of those nights, I recall the warmth from the blazing fire in the wood stove, the excitement and nervousness of performance, the singing, the laughter, the applause and the fudge in little brown bags at intermission.
For those of you who are newer to Clyde River, Christmas school concerts were once quite a highlight this time of year. Songs were practised, poems were recited, lines were memorized for theatrical performance…it was a bustling time for children in the community whether you had talent to offer or not. That was the defining character of the times as we young Clyde River children were taught to perform…there was no choice but to participate.
Today in schools, one is likely able to opt out of activities that require a singing voice or theatrical skills with a signed note from our parents. Well, this was not the case in Clyde River School. Phyllis Newman was our music teacher and everyone had to learn how to sing and perform. We learned our DO RE ME at the same time we were learning our ABCs. Maybe it was assumed that each of us had at least a little Celtic in our blood, so there had to be a musical note inside us somewhere and Phyllis was determined to bring it out. Also, our parents grew up singing and making their own entertainment, so keeping that tradition alive was expected.
Well, for some of you reading this story, I am sure you can recall the poor souls that couldn’t carry a tune in a bag, as they would say. Others who showed the ability to carry a tune were often given solos to sing which was equally as stressful.
As the Christmas Concert time approached, we would treck down to “The Hall”, the golden colour of all PEI halls in their day it seemed. It is not there now, but it was situated across from Lloyd Murray’s gate. If you have been in any hall in PEI, you can imagine the architecture…small entry-way, wooden floors, wooden chairs, wood stove, piano, stage, pull-backed curtains, back room and an attic. We started off practising our performances at the school, but there is really nothing like walking on the stage to give a performance life and bring out the performer in even the most humble of us.
For choral singing, we would line up in rows, the small kids at the front and progressions of height toward the back. The kids behind could jab or pinch the ones in front wthout Phyllis seeing. She was strict, but in a good way. It was the kind of strictness where you might not think you could do something, but then she showed you that you could.
I remember specifically being in Grade One and preparing for the choral singing. One of our songs was Away in a Manger. Phyllis decided that I would sing one verse as a solo. My costume was a white pillow case with foil wings and a silver tinsel halo. It was all well and good to practise at school or at home, but when I went on the stage at the hall, it was real and I became nervous. I remember after the practice walking over to Mrs. Newman and saying that I didn’t think I could sing the solo. All I can remember is a very quick response to say that I would do it…and I did it.
The nights of the Christmas Concerts filled the hall with families, and when I think of those nights, I recall the warmth from the blazing fire in the wood stove, the excitement and nervousness of performance, the singing, the laughter, the applause and the fudge in little brown bags at intermission. Toward the end of the evening, we would hear bells at the back door and in would come Santa with a bag of small gifts. The little hall stood still and cold for most of the year, but when there were concerts, its old wooden walls swayed with the music and were alive with the lights and warmth of the crowds. I have to say that I miss that old hall. – Vivian Beer
If you have your own memories of the hall and Christmas concerts, we would love to hear about them…please add them to the comments.