I sing every day.
In the shower, in the car, idly on the couch while I'm surfing the Internet - more often than not I'm belting out the lyrics to whatever song is in my head and that particular moment in time.
The common denominator among all those performances, however, is that they come when there is no audience. My imitations of Eddie Vedder, Axl Rose or 50 Cent almost always are released into empty space.
At rehearsal for the Living Christmas Tree at First Covenant Church in Jamestown, I?gave it all I?had. I didn’t sound anywhere near as good as the Rev. Adam Rohler (background), but according to all accounts, I?didn’t sink the entire choir either.
P-J?photos by Scott Kindberg
It's not that I'm afraid to sing in front of others - quite the opposite, actually. I've brought down the house at parties with Rock Band renditions of Journey, Slipknot and everything in between. But those performances weren't about proper singing technique, but rather about impressing friends by breaking out of a quiet shell and just plain being loud and boisterous.
When it comes to actually being a good singer, I'm just not sure I have it what it takes. I was a member of the chorus for a few years in high school, was chosen for All-County Chorus one year, and had a solo as part of my supporting role in the production of ''Fiddler on the Roof'' during my senior year, but I was never confident that I was actually hitting all the right notes. It sounded OK to my ear, and I always received nice words from friends and family who came out to hear my sing, but there was always some lingering doubt. So after high school, I filed my voice away, only to be unleashed along with the car radio or to appease the demands of whatever song has occupied my head at a given time.
When I was asked to be a part of the Living Christmas Tree at First Covenant Church as the choir prepares for its upcoming presentation, I accepted immediately, though I realized it would mean I would need to sing in front of people and attempt to do it on key - something I wasn't certain I could even come close to doing.
I was assured, however, that there have been singers in the 27-year history of the program who, let's just say, could have benefited from some Auto-Tuning. (I won't give any names, mainly because I wasn't given the names myself.)
So I decided to show up for a rehearsal on a recent Thursday night, take up a seat in the tenor section and see if I could tackle the notes as they were presented. If I discovered I couldn't hack it, I realized, I could always just lip synch ... like I do in church pretty much all the time.
But there's no sense taking on a job if you aren't going to put all your weight into it. So I opened to the page the program's conductor, Brian Bogey, told us to start on and I took a deep breath. It was showtime.
BUILDING A TREE
An all-volunteer choral effort, the Living Christmas Tree has been a Jamestown tradition since the mid-1980s. It's a community effort, as the choir consists of not only members of First Covenant Church, but of talented individuals from all over the Jamestown area who offer up their voices each season.
When I returned to the church early on Saturday morning to lend a small helping hand in the construction of the tree, though, I learned the assembly of the seven-level, 30-foot-tall structure is an incredible community effort in its own right.
As we helped unload a semi trailer filled with wooden pieces big and small, the Rev. Adam Rohler of the church told me that he is always impressed that so many people are willing to donate their time and effort to build the behemoth each year - but that because so many people are, the job takes just a few hours to finish.
''We'll have it up in just two or three hours,'' he said. ''A lot of people from the church come out, because it's fun to build stuff.''
While some members of the workforce performed tasks such as untangling garland and lights from last year - a job familiar to anyone who has ever decorated for the Christmas season - Adam and I joined numerous others walking back and forth to the truck parked on Spring Street to grab pieces of the tree's frame. Some were easy to handle, but many were unwieldy. Each, though, was intricately labeled so that the crew at the front of the church with diagrams and power tools would know exactly where it would go in the final product.
I started off by grabbing a couple pieces that would be used as railings in the tree. Adam told me that, though some patchwork has been done from time to time, the tree is still using the original sturdy parts that were built for it 26 years ago, when the Living Christmas Tree was first came to Jamestown after church members Clayton and Janet Berlinghoff saw a similar performance in Florida and brought the idea home. The pieces themselves were designed by church member Henry Norman.
Though long, these particular pieces I was now carrying were light and easy to bring up the steps and down the long aisle of the church. When I arrived at the front of the church, the foreman - guided by stripes of color around one end of each piece - told me on which side of the stage I should lay my burden down.
I repeated the process a few more times with a few more relatively small pieces, but I knew the work wasn't all going to be easy. Sure enough, I eventually returned to the trailer to find a number of men waiting for a large piece of the tree's base to be slid down from the truck into their waiting hands. I moved in to offer my assistance.
Heavy and difficult for me to grasp, the large structure wasn't something I was excited about carrying. With the help of five other guys, though, I was able to struggle through - barely holding up my corner of the bargain, mind you - as we made it up the steps and to a waiting dolly at the door. As that piece was rolled to the front of the church, we team of workers made our way back to the trailer to do it again.
We continued doing this - each piece seeming heavier than the last - until the trailer was emptied and all our hands and backs were sore. And it was only 9:30 in the morning. Teamwork.
Of course, even harder work was being done at the front of the church, where those big pieces were carefully and delicately being put together around the church's permanent platform and lectern. Watching the construction team do that was like watching a puzzle - an incredibly difficult puzzle - being masterfully finished in record time right before my eyes. There was no way I was getting my hands in there. My fingers would be crushed the moment I tried twisting a piece into place, and I need these fingers to type.
Other obligations kept me from sticking around to see the tree built to completion that Saturday morning. What I saw in my two hours at the church was fascinating, though. Dozens of people gathering to put together a masterpiece in one morning. And they do it every single year, showing up on the Saturday morning before Thanksgiving and knowing exactly what needs to be done to get the tree standing and looking glorious.
''This is a good crew,'' Rohler said, standing at the front of the church and looking out at everyone working diligently at various tasks. ''They just know what they're doing.''
HITTING THE NOTES
Two nights earlier, when I was sitting in a pew at the church with a book of music in my hands, I did not know what I was doing.
At this point, the choir had been rehearsing the cantata, ''All Is Calm, All Is Bright,'' each Thursday night for nearly two months. So when Bogey asked the choir to open to the first song, many of them didn't even need the book. I was thankful he still gave the page number.
When I opened to the page, however, I remembered what it is like to read choral music - something I hadn't done for many years. With several lines of notes and lyrics, numerous denotations and symbols and all kinds of lines going every which way, I really wasn't sure where to begin.
So I faked it.
Until I refamiliarized myself with how to follow music, I just tried to mimic what Rohler, Tony Dolce and the other talented tenors in my section were singing. That seemed to work pretty well, though I quickly noted that I was having a somewhat difficult time breathing at the appropriate points, holding notes out to the proper length, and performing other tasks that should be simple for any singer worth his merit.
I needed to try to do it right. Don't just parrot. Follow the notes, the crescendos and the decrescendos, the markings in the score. Be a singer.
I gave it what I had. I didn't sing as loudly or as confidently as others in my section, but I wasn't meek about it either. I was a part of the choir for the evening. Sometimes I felt like I was really hitting the notes and doing a great job. Sometimes (a lot of times, actually) I felt like I was really blowing it.
The 12 songs in the cantata were all a lot of fun to sing, I found, and though I didn't actually ''know'' any of them coming in, some of them did incorporate lyrics from familiar Christmas songs, which made me a little more comfortable.
Each time Bogey stopped the choir to correct something, though, I thought for certain he was going to call me out. But I found myself amused by the things he would say, and learning things at the same time: how not to make an ''-s'' sung at the end of a word sound like a leaking balloon, for example, and when to sing the word ''the'' as ''thee'' and not ''thuh.''
Then, just when I was starting to think I was going to make it through the night unscathed, Bogey stopped the choir and said, ''I need to say something to Dave.''
''I'm just the newspaper guy,'' I wanted to quickly defend myself by saying. ''I'm only going to be ruining the choir for this one night.''
But much to my surprise, he went into a lengthy and praiseful commentary about my singing ability, making sure the entire choir knew how impressed he was with my ability to jump right into the choir and this late stage in the game and sight-read the music well enough to stay in tune with everyone.
It was just as embarrassing as I thought it would be, only for a completely different reason.
After we practiced the program's closing number, the rehearsal was adjourned. Before I left, I had to ask a couple more people how my performance was, hoping I'd get a straight answer. Both Rohler and Dolce told me I sounded good as well. Dolce even went so far to use to word ''great.''
Far be it from me to judge the genuineness of these statements. I just think these people might be too nice for their own good. They both sounded ''great'' - particularly in their solo performances of ''In A Moment'' and ''Someday,'' respectively. I was simply making noise and trying to remember to breathe.
Before I left Saturday morning, I caught up with Bogey again to learn a little bit more about the program. Before he enlightened me, though, he once again shared how impressed he was with my before-Thursday-unknown singing ability.
''You were there without ever seeing the music before, and you were actually singing it well,'' he said. ''I just wasn't expecting that.''
No one was, Brian. No one was.
When I told him I was looking to get a little bit more about ''the show'' to add to the end of my article, however, he told me that it is definitely not a '' show.'' In fact, he said, it might best be characterized as a worship service - especially considering how it ends, with the soulful and emotional ''I'm Trying To Be Like Jesus.''
''Most shows end with big splendor, huge Hallelujah choruses and that type of thing,'' Bogey said. ''We've found that this is the most comforting and beautiful way to end - not with big fanfare and flair, but with this lovely message of what it's all about.''
Between 60 and 70 members comprise the chorus each year, and they are joined by a 28-member orchestra and a children's choir. Putting them all together on a majestic Christmas tree makes the event even more magical, Bogey said.
''It's just breathtaking,'' he said. ''They are vested with special garments on, and then there's the greenery they put around the tree and the garland and multicolored lights, and the choir marches on to an orchestral number ... that's a cacophony of several Christmas carols, and it's just a marvelous arraignment.''
The cantata that is being sung this year is the same one that was sung by the Living Christmas Tree in 2003, and Bogey estimated that about half the choir was a part of that group eight years ago. Though being a part of the choir is a great commitment, he said that there are dozens of individuals who come back to be a part of it year after year.
''It's such a tradition in their lives - it wouldn't be Christmas without the Tree,'' he said. ''It's something that's so meaningful to them. Sometimes you get more out of it than the audience (does), just experiencing it and the discipline of it. ... Music transcends words, it transcends actions. I guess you can say that they're hooked on it.''
I don't know if I would say I was ''hooked on it'' after my one rehearsal. But it was fun. And it was a good feeling to hear actually talented performers say kind things about my singing.
In fact, Bogey really laid it on thick before he'd let me get out the door.
''You're a natural tenor,'' he said. ''I want you in the choir. Maybe next year you could join us?''
I'll have to see a full production of the show ... the performance ... the worship service from the audience before I make any commitments like that.
This year's Living Christmas Tree presentation, ''All Is Calm, All Is Bright,'' will be performed Friday, Dec. 2, at 8 p.m.; Saturday, Dec. 3, at 5 and 8 p.m.; and Sunday, Dec. 4 at 5 p.m. Tickets are $6 each. They are available through Wednesday at Ecklof's Bakery, Farm Fresh Foods' Third Street location, Lakewood Apothecary, Peterson Farm and Quilter's Haven. After Wednesday, tickets will only be available at the church office, 520 Spring St. in Jamestown, between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. each day.
For more information about the Living Christmas Tree, visit firstcovchurch.com/the-living-christmas-tree.html.