TL;DR–To celebrate the end of my year-long challenge, I roped some friends into performing with me, and it was amazing. A little video surprise at the end of this very long article.
I am addicted to progress. It’s something I wish I had understood about myself 25 years ago, because I am certain that my life would have ended up differently from how it is today had I known.
As it is, today, I know how to motivate myself to accomplish pretty much anything, provided that its accomplishment only depends on me, as long as I can establish small, doable goals over relatively short periods of time (weeks are best, but a month is too long). I know that I must hold myself accountable to those goals with regular check-ins, and most of all, I know that I must provide myself a delightful little reward for getting each little goal done.
Well. Here we are. Fifty weeks into my Buy No Clothes in 2021 Challenge, and I dare say it, ladies and gentlemen, I think I did it.
You’ve been with me through the thick of the withdrawal, my discovery of how very much I hate mending socks, my zebra dress tantrum and my tragic-comic attempts at learning how to alter my own clothes. So, I guess I have you to thank for helping me do it!
If you remember, back some time in October I started to see the light at the end of the tunnel: I had the clarity of thought to realize I might just make it through this challenge and succeed! I did have one small problem, though (okay, two): two evening gowns which, were I to not wear, would have to be decluttered, as per one of the rules of my challenge–I was to wear everything in my closet at least once.
Add to this the fact that I was looking for a way to celebrate the success of this year-long odyssey, and my little imagination started spinning. I wanted to sing.
It has been longer than I would like to imagine since the last time I got to perform and not just sing at church. This may seem like a subtle distinction, but I assure you it is not. In the latter, my role is to disappear into the woodwork, while nonetheless lending my voice to something bigger than I am. The former is when I get to be me, tell stories, make people laugh and cry and feel things. I find great pleasure in being part of the woodwork, but I exist in making people feel things.
“How long did it take Aline to agree to this plan?” asked my indulgent husband, when I told him that my dearest friend and I would be organizing a series of Christmas concerts. I blinked. “That long, huh?” he said with a laugh. We both knew that my friend would not take much convincing. She’s usually the one with the follies. This time, it was me.
What I knew about the concerts was that I would be wearing my evening gowns. The rest? Well. We needed to figure that out.
Aline and I pored over her collection of Christmas music until we found what would have made a three-hour long concert, eventually paring it down to an hour. (The paring was painful, though. I had to give up a Christmas lyric version of the English folksong Waly Waly–also called The Water is Wide, which had me in tears from the get-go.) However, we did find a really great French-language translation of Mary Did You Know, which is exactly in my wheelhouse and was guaranteed to make people feel things.
The concert would open with the fifteenth-century processional hymn O Come, O Come Emmanuel, and end with what I sang while giving birth to my youngest child, Praise to the Lord, the Almighty. In between would be a cozy, snuggly, sometimes soaring and often emotional adventure through the advent season.
We had no shortage of invitations to perform, once we dangled our idea to a select group of people in our orbit. We had to decline several offers, because, well, at some point I would have to care for my children during the month of December. (Although I would gladly have agreed if Aline would have insisted.)
Aline recruited two musicians to perform with us: a talented cellist named Marie and a multi-talented musician named Ingrid, who, at one point, would be both playing medieval recorder and the tambourine at the same time, but who also would sing a piece for three women’s voices with Aline and myself. Like I said. Multi-talented.
The concerts would take place in homes. Homes in which 30-40 people could be comfortably seated in the salon, that is, the living room, are not exactly the kind of places I frequent, and so the fact that we had to decline offers is quite flattering. (Also motivating, thinking that there are other occasions besides Christmas…)
The guests were, principally, invited by our hosts. Their neighbors, family, work colleagues, hair stylists…you name it, they were there. Obviously, the health context is not ideal to be doing this kind of thing, so we were very careful, and so were they.
Ah, yes, but what did you wear?
On Saturday night, I wore my vintage black velvet and crinoline dress, which I last wore in 2013 to perform with the symphony orchestra in Orff’s Carmina Burana, and before that in 2005 to perform Haydn’s Seven Last Words of Christ. I bought this dress at a thrift store when I was in high school, and by some miracle of the universe, when properly girdled, I can still zip it up (but barely.)
Yeah, I guess I clean up okay, but what tickled my heart was my youngest scalawag, who did a doubletake when I came out of the bedroom all gussied up. “Is that you, Mom?” he said. With what space they had to take wing, butterflies fluttered in my heavily girdled tummy.
Here are my co-conspirators for our Saturday night performance:
It was perfect.
Sunday evening, I wore the dress my sister arranged for me to wear at her wedding in 2013. The last time I wore it was in December of 2017, for a Christmas concert I gave solo, accompanied by my friend Prisc for about 400 people in a small nearby city.
This dress also left little wiggle room, but hey. It worked.
My eldest was enamored with the beading on this dress, and honestly, I wish I could bottle what it felt like to be oohed and aahed over by him. He said, “Oh, Mama, you look beautiful.”
And you know what? I believed him.
I picked up Aline and her keyboard so that we could arrive together. My floor-length gown is hemmed to be just the right length for a certain pair of silver Cinderella slippers, but I was wearing tennis shoes (because, as my friend Caro says, “those Cinderella slippers are shoes for the eyes and not for the feet.”) This being the case, I was either tripping on my dress or holding up the hem like a Disney princess while we unloaded the keyboard and stumbled through a muddy parking lot.
I want you to imagine, now, it is Sunday evening, and you ring the doorbell at an unassuming address in an unassuming part of town, and you are invited into this hallway:
I was floored. Literally. Floored. I don’t think I have ever stepped foot in such a gorgeous home in all my life. Oh, wait, but you haven’t seen the rest of the house!
The library, anyone?
And forgive me for this, but even the bathroom was photogenic:
I can hold myself together pretty well at these kinds of things, but nonetheless, there was a moment during the concert was when Ingrid improvised on Away in a Manger and I was nearly destroyed by the beauty and depth she brought to it.
We sang a piece for three women’s voices, we lead a Christmas sing-along, we told stories, we all felt something and I got to wear my evening gowns. It was a very good night.
I very much appreciate you for putting up with my very long retelling of my weekend. As a special thank you, here is our encore. (A great thanks to Patrick for his videography work!)