A fainting spell nearly derailed the whole concert.
But it was still a rousing success.
When I plan choir concerts for elementary student performers, I hope to choose songs that will appeal to the age group but also to adults, since the kids’ parents will be our audience. I also like to choose some musically exciting pieces that may seem unusual or difficult, but which I believe children can master and will enjoy. It challenges me as a teacher and artist to push against the boundaries of what is expected from a grade school choir concert.
So it was also with an all-Beatles program for 3rd graders at a Tribeca public school in Manhattan, a few blocks from the World Trade Center. Choosing only Beatles songs of course limited me to some extent, but the breadth of their output still allows for much stylistic variety. And although I may not have been able to include as many foreign languages as last year (where a “Joy in the World” medley included Xhosa (“Pata Pata”), Portuguese (“Mas Que Nada”) and German (“Berliner Luft”), yet, as you will see and hear, even The Beatles dabbled in some foreign languages.
The whole 3rd grade of PS 234 performs. Over a hundred children. The only time I get to rehearse with them all together is once or twice during the week of the concert. Otherwise I meet with each class individually once a week for 12 weeks. Every Tuesday, five classes in a row, without a break. Me singing in a high tenor range to teach them their parts. Yes, it’s exhausting.
Nine songs in 12 weeks. It is all a bit ambitious, I admit, but it came together just fine. The concert was proceeding well, until… well, what I couldn’t have anticipated was the fainting spell that nearly derailed the whole performance…
Before that, before the children were even led into the auditorium stage risers by their teachers that morning, I had lamented to the arts coordinator that I couldn’t record the concert to share on my blog, because getting media releases from over hundred families is impossible. She said to me, oh no, everybody signs a blanket release at the beginning of the year. Ah, if only I had asked earlier. I would have brought my portable professional recorder. Instead I made due with my phone’s voice recorder. Which does effect the sound quality of the following, I’m afraid, but hopefully not so much that it still can’t be enjoyed, albeit with technical caveats:
3rd grade choir performance: Love & Life with The Beatles
0 sec – The Principal welcomes the audience.
1:25 – I introduce the concert.
1:55 – We start with a medley of “All You Need is Love”, “She Loves You/Sie Liebt Dich” and “Michelle”.
The adults get a kick out of the kids “wah wah wahing” as the “All You Need Is Love” brass obligatos.
3:24 – A bit of nerves effects some of us, as a few kids jump to the final chorus early and my hands respond by playing certain accompaniment figures too early (that never happened in 12 weeks of rehearsals), but we gather ourselves.
3:57 – We sing “She Loves You / Sie Liebt Dich”. Clearly influenced by their Hamburg sojourn, The Beatles recorded German versions of some of their early hits, including “She Loves You”. The German version even charted on the US charts, reaching the stellar ranking of … 97.
5:05 “Michelle” allows not only for languid melodiousness, but also for singing in French.
6:43 “Obladi Oblada”. I have had children sing this in many classrooms over the years. They really love this song. The down to earth happy family optimism really appeals to them. And not just them, apparently. I can hear some male adults in the audience singing along with the children.
9:19 “Yellow Submarine” – Note how the choir knew their opening note for “In the town” without me playing it on the keyboard first? We practiced transitioning from the end of “Obladi Oblada” to the beginning to “Yellow Submarine”, and I hoped that even a lengthy applause break wouldn’t deter them. It didn’t.
11:10 – “Blackbird”
Before the December holiday break, I had introduced all 7 songs I planned for the program and told the kids we had the time to learn a 8th. I allowed them to make suggestions, intent on choosing one of their favorites. “Yellow Submarine”, to my mild dismay, was the landslide #1 choice. Mild dismay not because I dislike the song, but because I didn’t find it terribly challenging or different enough from, say, “Obladi Oblada”. But “Blackbird” was a surprise second most requested addition. And a nice contrast to the rest of the program, as well as also relatively easy to learn. The challenge for me was to emulate the guitar figures on the keyboard. It sounded fine live in the hall, but the tinniness of the phone recording makes me wish I had asked to attach a sustain pedal to the school keyboard.
Some of the designated bird whistlers jumped the gun. And it sounds to me that some undesignated bird whistlers joined the fray for the concert, since the bird whistling sounds a lot denser and more undifferentiated than it did in rehearsal…. more Hitchcock than Beatles I’m afraid…
13:12 – “Within You Without You” – Gotta include one George Harrison song, right? Also here is a chance to explore Indian musical styles, even if through Western cultural appropriation (or cultural appreciation, if you will). The ooos from the choir represent sitar strains in the original recording.
14:39 – And here is the moment that nearly derailed the whole concert. That clomping you hear at the very end of “Within You Without You” is a tall man leaping onto the stage, swooping a girl up in his arm, and carrying her out of the auditorium. It turns out she was his daughter and she had fainted. I realized then how warm it had gotten in the space with all the people filling every seat. Two more children would be led out of the audience in the next minutes. But the children on the risers had stage lights on them and must have been especially hot. Perhaps someone should have opened the windows.
We had rehearsed beginning “Hey Jude” without delay right after that final “ooo” of “Within You Without You”, but the fainting emergency put a pause on all that. I raised my hand in a halt gesture and we all quietly watched the man carry his daughter out. I looked to see if anything else was going on, and how the man and the daughter were fairing. He left the auditorium, everyone else seemed to remain calm if somewhat concerned and curious. I deemed it alright to continue with the concert. I played the children the opening note for “Hey Jude”, which I otherwise would not have needed to, and we proceeded:
14:56 – “Hey Jude, don’t make it bad. Take a sad song and make it better”. There seemed to be both a terrible and a comforting irony to singing these words after what had just happened. The children began tentatively, and made some mistakes, but eventually we pulled it out for the rousing nah nah nah nah finale. At the 17:55 mark I turn to invite the audience to sing along. I think they might have rocked out more enthusiastically if the shock of the fainting spell hadn’t still sat with us. But the kids echoing McCartney’s “Jude Jude Jude Jude Judy Judy!” allowed for the relief of laughter.
18:40 “A Day in the Life” – with “Within You Without You” the other song where I took the greater musical chances. For 3rd grade sensibilities the verse about the fatal car crash was taken out, and instead of having a smoke they sung about having a coke, but otherwise the performance is true to all the elements of the classic music history changing recording, including a vocal version of the famous orchestral rising cacophony, the humming of the extended final chord, and, for those who remember old school vinyl records, that final “never could be any other way” that would be repeated over and over again until someone lifts the needle off the “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” record:
21:24 – some understandably premature applause… followed by the final gag and the actual final applause.
22:26 – And finally a word from the arts coordinator, and I turn off the recording.
The many parents who spoke to me afterwards were really happy, and one or two specifically praised the choice of songs.
Plus the 3rd graders gave me this pretty bouquet of flowers: