By Dave Babbitt – Special to the Sydenham Current
I’m declaring the Christmas season officially started because I have the authority to do so. Yes, COSTCO had Christmas decorations out two months ago, but that company is a bit on the extreme side of everything, and we haven’t even paused for Remembrance Day just yet, but make no mistake about it, now that Hallowe’en is behind us, the season is officially on.
In reality, my Christmas season began back in April, when I had to start planning our 2023 WCB Christmas concert. Perusing hundreds of potential new Christmas scores for our concert is a massive job and my ears end up hurting from hours of listening on headphones because in all fairness, Clare doesn’t want to listen to Christmas music in April. Planning requires loads of lead time, because once the music is chosen, it must be ordered (sometimes from Europe) and it often requires months for it to arrive.
Anyone in charge of organizing any kind of an event, understands the need for long-range thinking and planning. Because I’m deeply ensconced in planning for our upcoming concert, I thought that I would pick the brain of Pat Lee as she prepares for her upcoming Christmas shows to find about her planning process.
Pat is a wonderful vocalist who has recorded several record albums in the past and has deep love for singing, particularly Christmas music. For about four years in a row, Pat presented a Christmas concert until that “dreaded disease” that I will not name, struck our world. The lingering effects of that situation dictated that she was unable to organize and present her annual gift to our community for almost 4 years now. But in August just passed, she decided that it was time to try to pull together the pieces needed to resurrect this jewel of Wallaceburg’s Christmas season. This was much later in the year than she typically would commence her planning but another year without the concert would be unacceptable.
As for me, Pat’s first step is developing an overall vision of what the event might look like, followed by choosing the music to be featured in the concert and then selecting the right people to help bring the vision to life.
Tammy Sealey and her piano skills has long been an integral part of Pat’s concerts and they collaborate in all parts of the planning process. Finding an appropriate title for a concert is important, because having a theme can provide context and help steer the planning process. Tammy already had a great title in her back pocket. “Where Words Fail, Music Speaks” is a quote from the great Danish writer of fairy tales, Hans Christian Andersen, and has been selected as the title for this year’s concerts.
Woven into this year’s presentation is the incredible story of the World War 1, Christmas Truce, when the French, British, and German soldiers laid down their arms at Christmas. They talked, sang carols, and wished each other “Merry Christmas” before resuming the killing, an event that has never happened since.
In past presentations Pat has included both children and adult choirs, depending on the theme and vision for a particular year. This year, Pat and Tammy have assembled a 30-voice strong adult choral group that has been in rehearsal since early September. This is familiar territory to our concert band as well because it’s a delicate balance. On one hand you want the group to gel and peak at exactly the right time, yet a group can over-rehearse too, and begin to lose focus. I can also say from experience that it is difficult to work on Christmas material while still enjoying hot temperatures, thoughts of boating, and Thanksgiving hasn’t even arrived yet.
The concert will feature the chorus, Pat’s beautiful solo voice, and a dramatic telling of the story of the Christmas Truce”. The goal is to present the concert as the door to everyone’s Christmas season as opposed to being one of the many events that suddenly cram our Christmas calendars in the heart of the rush. As in previous years, the concert will be presented twice. The first opportunity to catch “Pat Lee and Friends” will be Sunday November 26 at 7 p.m. at Trinity United Church. If that date doesn’t work for one, there is a second presentation taking place at Port Lambton United Church on Sunday December 3 at 2 p.m. There is no cost to take-in either concert, but freewill donations will gladly be accepted and donated to local Christmas drive initiatives.
I have first-hand knowledge of how much work an event like this takes to organize, so I asked Pat what it is that motivates her to pursue such a large undertaking that always ends up causing headaches, heartaches, and a myriad of logistical problems to solve. Her answer was quick, and simple. “I just love to sing” she told me, and that is HER motivation to help get OUR Christmas season off to a great start once again.
The arts scene gets extremely busy during the Christmas season with so many great events to take-in. Be sure to put Pat Lee and Friends’ “Where Words Fail, Music Speaks” on your calendar now.
Before we get to Pat’s concerts however, I urge everyone to pause and remember those who enlisted willingly, as well as those conscripted, many of whom paid the ultimate sacrifice to defend the freedoms you and I enjoy today. Yes, there are many political talking points about the current state of freedom in Canada, but the bottom line is that I can’t think of anywhere else I would prefer to live.
I’ve had the privilege of playing the “Last Post” and the “Rouse” for our veterans at both funerals and on Remembrance Day for close to 40 years now, and it’s as meaningful and poignant today as it was the first time, I ever played it. I don’t always play it perfectly, but I play it perfectly from my heart.
Join us at the cenotaph on November 11 at 10:45 a.m. Why? Because some gave all.
And while perhaps not quite as ingrained in our national consciousness as it is in our region, every year on the day before Remembrance Day, I think of the last maritime disaster to hit the Great Lakes when the Edmund Fitzgerald went to the bottom of Lake Superior, taking with it the entire crew of 29 on November 10, 1975. It’s the haunting song by Gordon Lightfoot that keeps the memory of those sailors alive. It’s hard to believe that 2025 will mark 50 years since that happened.