Friday, December 25, 2009

Sibling Assignment #113: Joy to the World

InlandEmpireGirl gave us this assignment:

"Write a memory about Christmas related to an experience at school."

You'll find Silver Valley Girl's thoughts and memories about Christmas music here and InlandEmpireGirl recalls school art projects here.

Well, for starters, I've written on this topic once already when I wrote about playing Santa Claus in the first grade at Silver King Elementary. Wanna read my earlier piece? It's here.

The contrast between my freshman year in high school and my junior year marks how my life was moving in a direction different from what I'd hoped for when I was, say, fourteen years old.

At Christmastime my freshman year, I was as happy as I've been in my life, largely because of freshman basketball.

Our 9th grade team was off to a terrific start to our season. We lost our opening game to Sandpoint, but that may have been our only loss coming into the Christmas break.

I didn't know it at the time, but I would never again experience success again as an athlete the way I did as a ninth grade basketball player.

I was pretty tall for a ninth grader. I was the same height then that I am today. I had a very reliable jump shot, especially along the baseline. I was selfless. I was fast and I loved our fast break style of play. I was also in the best physical condition I would ever be in.

The joy of ninth grade basketball colored everything as Christmas neared. It brightened the Christmas music we played in band. It made the junior high choir sound angelic when they sang at an assembly just before break. Being a star basketball player on a great team made the afternoon sock hop the last day of school and dancing with Debbie Wakefield seem like a holiday ball.

But things were different by my junior year. Other players grew taller. I remained just under six feet tall. High school teams played defense and I didn't know how to get my jump shot off when closely guarded. I was not in good physical condition. Our team was lousy. I was deeply demoralized.

Nonetheless, as Christmas neared, I was pretty happy that junior year.

It wasn't because of basketball.

It was because of boys' choir.

I discovered my junior year that I loved singing in the choir. I loved learning tenor or second tenor parts and hearing my voice harmonize with the other boys and, when we combined the choirs, with the girls.

It was a deeper, more powerful joy than playing basketball and singing in the choir (as well as playing in the band) was opening my heart and mind to a new kind of beauty, an opening up that would broaden into my love for poetry, fiction, theater, writing, acting, all the creative pursuits that have marked my adulthood.

Because playing basketball certainly has not.

In particular, that junior year, I was enthralled by the tenor part to "Joy to the World". I don't know why I loved it so much. The tenor part soared high above the melody line and I enjoyed hovering there, enjoyed it so much, that when I went to my job at Stein Brother's IGA, I would try to find reasons to be alone, whether in the cooler or back in the bakery or in empty store aisles after closing so I could sing the tenor part to "Joy to the World".

Performing the song in concert was fun enough, but my real pleasure came in the way "Joy to the World" obsessed me at work, walking home from school, in my room, any time I was by myself and could sing without being heard.

"Joy to the World" delivered me from my basketball misery. It helped me keep my mind off my decline as an athlete and helped me enjoy a successful team effort, choir, over and against the failed team effort of the desultory 70-71 Kellogg Wildcats.

Thank God for choir and the music of the Christmas season. At a crossroads in my life, when my sense of myself was shifting away from being a jock and moving toward seeing myself as enjoying the creative arts, "Joy to the World" help me not despair over this shift and opened up all kinds of reasons to cherish it.

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