Being from the New York area, I find there are only a few quintessential Los Angeles experiences that consistently declare for me that the joy of the holiday season is upon us. One particular event is the holiday show that the Gay Men's Chorus of Los Angeles produces every year. This year their "Holiday Spectacular," which they performed at the Alex Theater in Glendale this past weekend, was another one of those experiences.
However, what was sadly different this year was that the concert took place one day after the massive tragedy that occurred in Newtown, Conn., on Friday. Uncanny as it may seem, the chorus had as its special guest the Creative Planet School of the Arts. The school is a K-8 performing arts school "dedicated to providing a space for accelerated academic training, intense arts education, creative expression and community outreach."
Under the direction of artistic director/conductor Jason Armstrong, the chorus quickly ushered the audience into a deeply meaningful journey filled with joy and melancholy. The invitation to go on this journey was clear when they beautifully executed Eric Whitacre's complex "Lux Arumque." They followed this by welcoming the students of Creative Planet onto the stage for "Christmas Was Meant for Children." Only a day after the unthinkable acts in Connecticut, the impact of this song was palpable, along with the realization that GMCLA's holiday program had organically and gloriously become a memorial to those children. Simultaneously, the music particularly reminded adults present that the holidays are a time to become reacquainted with the joy of the child that resides in all of us.
The chorus charmed audience members with interpretations of holiday pieces that included "The Nutcracker Suite," "I Wanna Be a Rockette / Parade of the Wooden Soldiers" and a traditional Japanese children's song, "Yuki." They also performed Jane Siberry's "Are You Burning Little Candle," with painfully poignant lyrics:
Are you burning, little candle,
High upon the Christmas tree,
Symbol of a new beginning,
Faith and hope and sweet release?
Remind us of the children's faces
Full of wonder and surprise,
Of the laughter in their voices
The sweetness in their eyes.
Louis Ramirez gave a powerhouse performance as the soloist for "O Holy Night." That was followed by the chorus, in an exalting manner, splitting down the middle to make way for the students to rejoin them for a moving version of David Bowie's "Peace on Earth / Little Drummer Boy," again a song that contains lyrics that, although unplanned, became a memorial:
Peace on Earth, can it be?
Every child must be made aware,
Every child must be made to care,
Care enough for his fellow man
To give all the love that he can.
I pray my wish will come true
For my child and your child, too.
He'll see the day of glory,
See the day when men of good will
Live in peace, live in peace again.
The show closed in silence, with the students signing the words to "Silent Night." The sign language was a vivid prayer for the souls of the young children who have gone much too soon.