Thursday, December 07, 2006

Fifth Grade and Mrs. Bell

I've been listening to my very large collection of Christmas music this week. Several years ago I was in charge of switching out the music on our office telephone "hold" and I began acquiring a wide variety of Christmas CDs for use during December. Over the years the collection has grown until it's gotten quite obese. (There's that collector's fever thing again.) This year I was managing to hold down the purchase of new CDs until this past week, when I discovered a new seasonal album by Sarah Mclachlan (Wintersong - it's great) and one by Il Divo and a double album of Reba McEntire.

I was pleasantly surprised when I dragged the Christmas CD tote out from under the bed earlier in the week. Last year I had purchased a number of CDs on Christmas clearance and had never listened to them. So I've had a lot of new listening experience this week.

Today I noticed Jimmy Buffet's Christmas album back in the corner of the tote and immediately remembered why I had purchased it. The title track is Christmas Island. This is a cute little song that has been in the back of my mind since fifth grade and it periodically pops in and sashays through my mind and then saunters out. I had tried to find it on a Christmas album for years, but it wasn't until the last year or so that I found it.

Back in the mid-sixties the Smiley school hosted a Christmas program every year. All the classes participated, from 1st through 12th. There were skits, plays, soloists, and a variety of other offerings to entertain the community. (Keep in mind that Smiley had not much to offer in the line of entertainment. People actually looked forward to the Christmas program.)

The lower grades would practice for weeks in music class, singing along under the direction of Mrs. Bell. She had a wide acquaintance with music, both popular and classical, and would come up with some unique numbers for these performances. One year our song was Christmas Island. It was new to me and to my classmates and I liked it's jaunty tune and unusual lyrics.

Let's get away from sleigh bells,
let's get away from snow
Let's make a break some Christmas, Dear,
I know the place to go
How'd ya like to spend Christmas on Christmas Island?
How'd ya like to spend the holiday away across the sea?
How'd ya like to spend Christmas on Christmas Island?
How'd ya like to hang a stocking on a great big coconut tree?
How'd ya like to stay up late, like the islanders do?
Wait for Santa to sail in with your presents in a canoe.
If you ever spend Christmas on Christmas Island
You will never stray for everyday
Your Christmas dreams come true.

Whenever I listen to this song, I remember those Christmas programs. I remember one year, just after the Beatles became so popular, our teacher got hold of several of the 45 rpm records and assembled groups of us to lipsync to this radical music. We wore Beatle wigs and rocked out and probably shocked the heck out of that little community.

I remember one Christmas, when I was older, playing the oldest sister in a play that was presented by Mrs. Bell's piano students. I don't remember having to sing in that production, but I did play a piece on the piano. By that time the poor woman had accepted that I did not have a voice for solos and kept me on the piano. Thanks to Mrs. Bell, I learned a lovely arrangement of Silent Night that I used for years as an offertory during December church services.

There were many who did not appreciate Mrs. Bell and her drive to get the students to performance level. There were times when she pushed me until I was ready to scream. I took piano for nine years under her and gave nine recitals that she drilled me hard in preparation for. But it's probably partly due to her that I have never suffered from stage fright and am always willing to get up in front of an audience and make a silly ass of myself. She taught me to have fun entertaining others.

And she taught me an appreciation for all kinds of music. If not for her, I might never have that cheery little Christmas Island bouncing through my thoughts this time of year.


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