Just before the end of church this evening, a tall, handsome, red-haired Scot wearing kilt, sporran, knee socks and a formal shirt sprinted across the courtyard outside carrying a sword, and came to stand at the sanctuary doors, a silhouette against the evening, like a Pre-Raphaelite dream of a Bonnie Carolingian avenging angel.
Tonight was the surprise to celebrate the career of our church’s beloved music director and organist, Mark Barron, who for 36 years has led musical worship under different pastors, cajoled the choir with good humor and excellent orchestral talent into a fine corps of dedicated singers, arranged and composed original scores for everything from brass quintets to string quartets, and generally done whatever needed doing to glorify the Almighty through songs, hymns and spiritual songs.
For more than a month, the more subtle members of the sections had been plotting to assemble a large choir and instrumental group playing a handful of his compositions and some of the great church “oldies” (Crown Him With Many Crowns-with descant, etc.). Emails and MP3 files of the various parts to be sung were sent out with much cautions of secrecy, and yesterday morning about 75 people showed up at the place where I attended elementary school (the new music building sits on the old playground where I queued for first grade) to practice for hours to polish off the rough edges and get final instructions for today.
Our church generally prints the order for the morning and evening services together in one bulletin, and the preparations to surprise Mark went so far as to create a fake scenario for the evening service, to conceal the design until the last minute—it was not until all the musicians were filing into the choir loft at 6:30 PM that the pastor admitted the subterfuge and had the deacons pass out the real bulletins for the evening. It came off beautifully. Mark confessed to being genuinely surprised, and was certainly pleased. The video will be posted online sometime in the next couple of days, if you want to get a taste.
Because of my perfectly average height, I’d been seated exactly in the center of the choir—hence the great view down the central aisle into the courtyard. The fellow in the kilt was raised in Scotland, and wears traditional dress every Sunday. I’ve never much been enamored of height, but for someone so tall he’s beautifully proportioned, and his calves are a great argument for man-skirts. He played the penny-whistle during one Irish-themed piece, and then mysteriously disappeared from the dias. Minutes later, I was one of perhaps four people who could glimpse the awe-inspiring scene of his sprint with the claymore, which addition to his garb didn’t seem to faze the two Richmond County police officers which were out in the street directing traffic—but I feel a sudden surge of pity for the WWI Germans, when the “Devils in Skirts” came racing at them, bagpipes screaming, steel flashing. He looked fully capable of slaying a platoon, or a dragon (to rescue a damsel in distress).
The reception after the service was in the church social hall, and featured punch, and tiny cupcakes decorated with musical notations, an ice sculpture of a truncated eighth note surrounded with strawberries, cucumber sandwiches, and other Presbyterian delicacies. I'm not that good with small-talk. I'd been so grateful that my stomach had allowed me to practice Saturday and perform Sunday, but I was starting to feel a bit iffy again, and people always want to know how and what you are doing at these events, neither in my situation being the best topics, and almost always inviting unwelcome advice. I was on the verge of leaving--had smiled at most I knew, had two glasses of punch and two mini-cupcakes and a triangle of sandwich--when the ancient, dear widow of a former pastor spotted me, and hobbled up to me on her cane to give me a hug. "I'm so glad to see you!" she said. "Is your mother still living?" This was so odd an inquiry that I responded, "Yes, so far as I know. Unless my stepdad has killed her in the last hour and a half." See? You just can't take me anywhere.