REALITY CHECK: I may be a jerk, but I love Christmas music

Reality Check | Mike Taylor

I’m a sucker for Christmas music, I’ll admit it. I’m one of those fools who point my Pandora account to Bing Crosby and Nat King Cole long before the Halloween candy bowl has even begun to empty.

I like the old stuff, tunes recorded when my parents were dating. Far as I’m concerned, every holiday song cut to vinyl after “Blue Christmas” should be viewed with grave suspicion.

Each year I attend as many live Christmas concerts as I have time for and can afford. From the little freebie performances put on by junior college music departments to the Grand Rapids Symphony’s big seasonal fête, if it’s Christmas music, I’m there.

My love for Christmas music takes me each December to Grand Rapids Christian High School’s DeVos Center for Arts and Worship, a spaceship-like venue that, for a few days each year, hosts the finest musicians and vocalists the area has to offer.

The Hark Up Christmas Program boasts a horn section larger than the North Korean Army and a choir with more singers than there are confused voters in Florida. There are dancers dancing; classical, swing, urban, Celtic. There are drummers drumming, bass players bassing, pianists p-ing … hmm … that last one can’t be right.

The point is — in the words of the late Ed Sullivan — it’s a Really Big Shew. It is the quintessence of my annual holiday music appreciation schedule and, for me at least, the highlight of the entire Christmas season.

That’s why I feel kinda bad about the letter I wrote following last year’s show.

The letter was not kind. It was not complimentary. Juvenile sarcasm and poorly-concealed rage oozed like malevolent poison from each and every sentence. Anyone reading that letter would know one thing for certain: The guy who wrote it is a jerk.

But last year’s Hark Up show blew chunks and I was really upset. OK, it didn’t exactly blow chunks. In fact, there were parts of it that were pretty good. But — and this is just my opinion — parts of it were not. And I’m accustomed to it being flat-out awesome from start to finish.

So I was mad. Mad that I’d dropped $40 on two tickets. Mad that I’d had to sit through a bunch of mediocre acting just to get to the few good musical parts. Mad that nobody had printed something on the tickets like, “Sorry, but parts of this year’s show are going to feature bad acting instead of great music.” (I believe in honesty in advertising.)

So off went the angry email. What can I say? I’m a writer. When I’m angry, I write. Just ask Sweet Annie; she has several letters she would just love to show SOMEBODY, if she weren’t such a lady and above that sort of vengeful behavior. (Right, baby?)

Chris R. Hansen, who organizes the show and serves as conductor and musical arranger (and is beyond brilliant at both jobs, lemme tell ya) intercepted the email. He shared it with some of the Hark Up board members, who shared it with some of the musicians, who shared it with heaven knows who else.

I’m sure mine wasn’t the only disgruntled letter that year, but I’ll bet it was the snarkiest. The Hark Up concert, after all, is intended primarily for nice church folk, and nice church folk do not use the kind of language I used in that letter.

Long story short (too late!) they got rid of the mediocre acting, added even MORE great music than in previous years (which I would have thought impossible given the show’s two-hour run-time), and put on what was arguably the single best concert I have ever seen in my life. (And I have seen Aerosmith, B.B. King and AC/DC.)

There were moments so good during this year’s performance that I forgot to breathe. Really. Sweet Annie felt the same, so I know it wasn’t just me.

The downside is, I’m guessing at least a few of those actors from last year’s show got hold of my nasty letter. I hope there weren’t any hurt feelings, but I’ll bet there were. How could there not be?

So. I’m a jerk. But I’m a jerk that got to hear a really, REALLY good Christmas concert this year. If somewhere down the road I get beat up by a few mediocre actors, well, it was worth it.

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