I used to hate winter. We’re still not close friends, but I used to really loathe it, way down to my core. It’s cold, it’s wet, it’s slippery, and if the sky isn’t grey, it’s so bright you can’t see five feet in front of you. I took winter personally. Naturally, by the time I was in eleventh grade, I had begun plotting my escape to California.
It would have been wonderful – the palm trees, the ocean breeze, the movie stars and traffic jams. But my plan failed spectacularly. My visits to Luther had already started me reconsidering, but the final nail was seeing Christmas at Luther in December of my senior year. I was so struck by the absolute magnitude of the operation: the careful choreography of the six choirs maneuvering around the orchestra and audience, the immense technical skill and musical beauty, the emotional charge of 600+ musicians landing on a triumphant major chord all together. I found myself wondering how much I would regret it if I missed my chance to do this, and resigned myself to the reality that I was definitely going to have to go to Luther.
Even after three and a half wonderful years at Luther, winter is sometimes still a slog. But now, at least, the cooling weather is accompanied by the tell-tale signs that Christmas at Luther is coming. It starts not long after Homecoming, when the first of the CAL music arrives in our choir folders. Nothing says Halloween at Luther like hearing Angels We Have Heard on High in eight-part choral harmony as you walk through Jenson on a brisk October day. We work on the music individually in each of the choirs and the orchestra until a few weeks after Fall Break, when all the singers (all 500-some of us) cram into Jenson for the first of our Sunday evening mass rehearsals, which continue until Thanksgiving, a week before opening night. The last Sunday of Thanksgiving Break is a marathon six hour blocking rehearsal in the CFL, involving every singer, every instrumentalist, every director, and everyone else making the show possible behind the scenes. It’s considered so important that no participant is allowed to miss this rehearsal and still perform in Christmas at Luther. We polish and polish over the course of the next three evenings, and by Thursday afternoon, we have a show.
The energy and excitement of Christmas at Luther is infectious and ubiquitous. It strikes me during the finale every night what an incredible and singular thing it is to perform music with so many talented people. We all vary so much in our thoughts and appearances and lives, but for that moment onstage we are all thinking and experiencing the same thing. Everything is gone except this one perfect chord, and the orchestra is soaring and the conductor is flying, and there are sparkles in your eyes and suddenly you’re completely overcome and you’re crying as you look out into the black sea of audience and orchestra in front of you. I don't care in that moment about my homework or my future or any of my other problems. All that matters is the beauty of the music and the people around me creating it and swimming in it.
We don’t have palm trees or movie stars in Decorah, and the winters are a force to be reckoned with, but we do have this. We have Christmas at Luther.