It’s Sunday night and I just got back from a performance at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. to hear Candlelight Christmas by the Washington Chorus. It’s our second year attending, and maybe I’m all goopy from the Handel’s Messiah singalong (AND HE WILL REIGN FOREVER! AND EVER!), but I wanted to make an off-topic shout out to the arts.
Somewhere out there is someone sitting on a cold metal folding chair listening to the warbling of grade schoolers at a holiday concert. And it’s interminable. And off-key. And like every school assembly, it seems to go on forever. Maybe it’s your first holiday season alone. Maybe your ex is there. Maybe they’re not and your child is scanning the audience finding an empty chair where their other parent should be.
My point is this — clap harder. Show up. Love every creative amateur expression your child puts out in this world. Support them. Bake the goddamn cookies for the bake sale even after a long day of work, and 6,000 other things that need doing. Support the arts even when your school tax doesn’t pass, and the choir is cut to an elective on the second Wednesday of every other equinox. Because this is important.
Maybe your kid will be enriched by the arts. Maybe they won’t. But maybe another kid heard your clapping and tried harder, and kept at it. Maybe YOU are the supportive clapping parent they don’t have. And it was worth showing up to this uncomfortable, too-long school event. Your presence said: “You are important and worthy of my attention.”
These were my thoughts this evening as I listened to the Eleanor Roosevelt High School choir of Greenbelt, Maryland perform. A public high school choir with such gifted young people — music geeks — lanky young men, earnest, well-coifed young women knocking the socks off the audience. And their dedicated teacher. You could tell these kids spent a lot of time, and untold parent hours, getting to this place of excellence.
Those kids were the most inspiring thing I’ve seen in this shit year of 2017. You may think what I’m about to write is political, but God help us when a shout out to the arts and public education is seen as political — my heart swelled with goddamn patriotism to see those kids sing. Girls in long dresses and boys in suits being universally awkward in dress up clothes. African American kids, Latino kids, Asian kids, and white kids, and one very glamorous gay white boy with rhinestone-trimmed eye glasses emoting to a Negro spiritual.
THIS is who we are. One motley choir, united in song. THIS is American greatness, right here.
Oh shut up Tracy, you white liberal snowflake, having a diversity moment.
I believe in the arts to bridge divides. I believe in the arts to transmute painful adolescence into elegant expression. I believe in the public investment of arts education (and all the other eductions, fuck the tax bill very much).
So this holiday season, I want you to do a few things for me, CN.
1.) Show up. I know you will, because you’re all a bunch of good-hearted chumps and sane parents. But gift some young people with your presence. Warm those seats. Shoot daggers with your eyes at your exes if you must, but be there.
2.) Clap loudly. A nervous child just stood up and tried to be magnificent at something. And probably failed. But hey, when was the last time you got on stage and tried to hit the upper range of O Holy Night? Clap. Stomp your feet.
3.) Support the arts. Were you going to buy an ungrateful narcissist a gift this year? Oh hey, here’s a better idea — send some money to the Washington Chorus who goes into public schools (where your tax dollars don’t) and gives kids music education. Not interested? Broke? Support your local arts scene. Support the kids you know, and the ones you don’t. It costs nothing to go to that school assembly (and a box of brownie mix is about two bucks).
The world needs more motley choirs. Thank you.