The Stanley Cup and a Women’s Shelter. Not ideas you would normally link together, are they? And yet, through a very unusual series of events, our little group saw both on the same night.
The group I’m speaking about included possibly forty kids, mostly elementary school, with a handful of high school and adult performers as well. They are classically-trained singers, whose repertoire generally consists of pieces written by Bach, Handel and the like. (Think Vienna Boys’ Choir, or Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and you’ll be in the right ballpark.)
Last night, was a different sort of performance than any we’d had before. We’ve lent our voices to many religious services, and been featured as part of special events like Advent concerts. We’ve had traditional performances accompanied by an orchestra — with works like Handel’s Messiah, or “Stabat Mater”. We’ve even performed the Coronation Mass for an elaborate wedding.
But last night took us in a whole new direction. It began, (and ended) in a very upscale convention center in downtown Ottawa.
You know it’s going to be an unusual night when someone wheels the Stanley Cup into the room where all the kids have assembled for their final preparations and rehearsal. The kids were super-excited, and went looking for the place where the name of their favorite player or team was inscribed on the Cup. Selfies, naturally, were taken. The room was abuzz.
After that was a window of time in which we could turn our attention elsewhere. So we all packed up and processed to our other destination. Our entire group walked several blocks across downtown (maybe a mile and a half?) stopping several times along the way to sing “Carol of the Bells”, among other pieces. We crossed the Byward Market with its shops, restaurants and clubs, and made our way to a homeless shelter… specifically, a women’s shelter.
We received a warm welcome by the staff, we set up the keyboard, and the kids took their places. Then a small audience came in to watch the performance. Clearly, they appreciated that someone had taken the time to come to where they are, and offer them a performance to cheer their hearts, to lift their spirits.
Their interest exploded into astonishment and joy when the kids began to sing. The kids sang with the poise, skill, and beauty of any professional choir, and this audience knew it. The music (we opened with “Carol of the Bells”) touched something deep inside, and many of these ladies were openly weeping with joy. Six or seven short songs later, we wrapped up, thanked them for coming to see us, and we made our way back to the black-tie affair we would be concluding our night with.
Back at the convention center, we awaited our cue. We fixed our hair, straightened our shirts, took our positions. At the appointed time, Lyndon Slewidge (a local celebrity, a policeman who has sung the anthem at every hockey game for 20 years) joined us, and we all waited to be led upstairs to where the guests were gathered.
Once upstairs, the scale of the event became obvious. We were celebrating the 100th anniversary of Hockey Canada. Looking around the room, you would see elected officials, NHL personalities — both former players and management, as well as other “movers and shakers” in the hockey world. It was clearly one of those “who’s-who” events.
There was a red carpet. All the biggest hockey trophies were arranged in a circle off to one side. Waiters passed champagne and hors d’oeuvres. There was a sound system, and stage lighting. Several high-profile athletes, including one of my own favorites, were interviewed on-camera just a few steps from where the parents were looking on. The event was “kind of a big deal”.
The anthem was sung, and then it was our group’s turn.
We opened with a piece we learned specifically for this occasion, one that we wouldn’t typically sing — by Queen. “We Are The Champions”. The opening verse (and later verses) were sung by one of the adults who lead the choir. When he came to the chorus, the curtain dropped to reveal the choir assembled behind him, and they sang their part. The audience, for the most part, listened politely for some of the first song, but quickly returned to their conversation, their drinks, their networking… whatever it was they were doing.
The reactions were night and day. To this crowd, this same talented group of musicians — even with the lights and staging — was just “the entertainment”. Hardly a thought was given to them.
On the drive home with the kids, I asked what they noticed about differences at the two venues. They saw much the same thing.
Other writers might see in this an opportunity to rant against “the rich” (whatever that word means). Poor people are better than rich people, they might argue. That isn’t true at all. People, whether rich or poor, are ethically a mixed bunch.
What I saw that night was a difference in the ability to see. Those people in the black-tie event were accustomed to nice things. Good food, good company, nice clothes, entertainment, the whole bit. They’re used to it, maybe to the point of it no longer seeming special. Our first audience, however, was unaccustomed to nice things. The stark contrast between the joy and indifference of these two groups was one of attitude.
Without knowing it, those ladies gave us a gift. They reminded us of the importance of gratitude. It is so easy to take the good things in life for granted, for them to stop seeming special, to think they are owed to us.
There were, in fact two audiences that we performed for that night. One was poor, and one was rich. But on reflection, they might not be the ones we’d assume.