Each holiday season Joe and I like to treat ourselves to a traditional Christmas concert. For years one of our nephews was in the Northwest Boys Choir and we went faithfully every December, awash in the sweet, pure sounds of red-robed choirboys, their mouths forming perfectly trained ovals. He’s grown up now, working diligently for a cure for cancer (really), so this year we decided to indulge in a concert by the Medieval Women’s Choir.
Saturday night we escaped the record-breaking-even-for-notorious-Seattle rain and literally ran into St. James Cathedral, Joe humming St. James Infirmary all the while. We were overcome by the breathtaking expanse and beauty of the T-shaped cathedral, our heads tilted back and mouths gaping at the stained glass windows, the statues, glowing alcoves, marble pillars. It was like a museum with candles. We arrived later than planned and had to settle for seats towards the back, so we didn’t have to wait long until the lights dimmed letting us know to stop rustling around, the girls are on!
Much to Joe’s mock-disappointment, the women were not in medieval attire, with heaving breasts spilling from bustiers (like every Renaissance faire we’ve been to), but all dressed in fairly conservative (though I did see a shimmering red sequined number, the hussie!) individual outfits of black or red, carrying black binders with their music. (What, you don’t have that Medieval French memorized?) Of course, they might have had the hairy legs of the period, though, hidden beneath their long skirts and fancy slacks. Their voices are magical, swirling around the acoustically perfect cathedral (at one point I tilted my neck sideways to stretch and to my horror it popped like the shot heard around the world!). I’m filled with a sense of spiritual calm, mesmerized by the conductor’s hands, gracefully wafting about in front of her smiling face, flowing like a gentle breeze, pulling the angel voices through the air like warm taffy. (Call the Metaphor Police for blatant overuse, now!) They had a male guest soloist, who looked just like Tolstoy, from where I was sitting, shiny bald head and truly impressive white beard fluffing out a foot in front down over his baritone belly. At one point there was a sound just like a scene in a movie or an old Kodak commercial where hundreds of pigeons take flight from a brick square somewhere like Rome, and I couldn’t tell if it was the rain beating down on the roof and windows, or the choir turning the pages of their music. I liked to think of it as the pigeons, though.
Just as we’re relaxing into the medieval groove, and I realize if I squint the combined blur of the hair of these two women in the choir sort of meld into a perfect Cocker Spaniel shape, we notice this woman sitting on the other side of Joe who cannot. Sit. Still. She looks to be around our age, and apparently she’s suddenly decided she’s bored, and has picked up a hymnal from the back of the pew and is flipping through it noisily. It’s like she’s auditioning for the role of Impatient Person Waiting in Doctor’s Office, and is ripping through a random magazine angrily, not reading, just flip, flip, flipping. Only a hymnal has many more pages than a magazine. I roll my eyes at Joe, who, pillar of patience that he usually is (except when he’s driving – I’d need an entire new post to cover that one!) turns to look at her with I imagine a curious, disapproving sneer on his face (he’s facing away from me). She’s oblivious. When she’s done ransacking the hymnal she intermittently thumps her broad back against the back of the pew with a loud sigh, sending our row rocking. I perfect a fantasy of leaning around Joe, whipping my scarf off from neck, twirling it tight and snapping it like a towel at her. A cold, wet towel. Not made of decadent, yet earth-friendly, soft, bamboo fiber, either, but like a crusty old gray one that’s been neglected in the corner of a basement for about 20 years with razor-sharp tufts. She’s saved by intermission. As she scoots herself along the bench after stuffing her program in next to the abused hymnal, she says loudly to her husband, “I don’t know, I think it’s in Greek.” I, who read the program, am spared having to correct her by the man in front of me who mutters under his breath, “It’s French…” I easily fill in the ellipsis in my head with a derogatory medieval term for an irritating woman.
During the intermission we wander around the church, check out the few instruments, which includes a gorgeous medieval fiddle, which looks rather like a well-fed and cared for violin. The conductor plays it beautifully. I have Joe, Catholic raised, light a votive for his departed parents, and our friends’ parents who were married in this very place 60 years ago. I wish I could light them all, they’re so pretty. We make our way back to our seats, and are soon joined by Ms. Fidget. I’m hoping she took some medication during the break. The choir files into the center of the room, sweetly singing, filling me up with holiness again. The sounds are meditative, peaceful, everything Christmas music is meant to be. I close my eyes and relax. Ms. Fidget leans over and snatches the hymnal up. Jeezus! The woman has the attention span of a giant blonde flea! Oh no. I’ve said Jeezus out loud, though softly. In a church. I gasp, again softly, not bothering anyone, and whisper to Joe “I’ve blasphamied!” He tilts his head at me and looks at me with a fond sparkle in his eye, like he wants to laugh, but is too polite, because it’s a concert in the middle of a church, for Chrissakes, and says, barely audible, “Oh Lori. Blasphemed.”