April 1st, 2007

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Coffeehouse Courage

On Friday, we spent the evening soakin' up the vibes at the annual Coffehouse and All-School Art Show at our beloved elementary school. 

This is the talent show to end all talent shows. 
The stage steams. The crowd swoons. Reality TV quakes in its Uggs. 

The objective stats: 
3 hours, a coupla dozen performances, a hungry line at the pizza table all night long. But that's not the half of it. 

It's the courage exhibited by these vivid, dynamic, uninhibited kids -- singing, dancing, joking, kung fu-ing -- in front of a cafeteria chock-full of parents, teachers, neighbors, friends. The curtain opens anew on each act, and there is a 6-year-old, finding her voice; two 5th grade boys playing a ragtime duet on the piano; a couple of 8-year-olds kickin' a Scottish dance. 

To me there's hardly a thing in the world more moving than young people courageous enough to put themselves out there and adults engaged enough to receive them with roaring applause. If there is this much heart available in your average elementary school -- this much heart and imagination and humour and connection -- all is not lost. 

Here were some highlights of the evening:

Our daughters. Naturally. 

Elder daughter played a Brahams waltz on her violin and took a deep and satisfying bow at the end; younger daughter played two songs on the piano at mock speed -- I think with the hopes that she could get off the stage more quickly -- but she was spot-on, and you should have seen her pink dress and her tiny feet dangling from the bench as she played.

Elder daughter also sang in a skit with 3 friends -- a dramatization of Oh, Dear, What Can the Matter Be? -- and her voice could've busted a goblet. 

A 3rd grade boy did an original comedy routine based on the fickle, funny life of a frozen lasagne. There's no way I could do this one justice but suffice it to say that his timing was genius and I was not the only one with tears running down my cheeks. 

OK, everyone cried at this one, too. But I mean, really cried. A little boy -- in 1st grade I think -- singing Puff, the Magic Dragon and accompanied by his dad on guitar. He knew every slow, crushing word of every verse and he sang like a bell and the audience, little-by-little, chimed in very quietly at the chorus. All the way through the part where old Puff drags his lonely self off to a cave. It was utter heartbreak.

But then we were resuscitated by a little kindergartener doing a speed round of cup stacking. Who knew???

And then the 5th grade orchestra played Stand By Me, and there was a lovely Fur Elise on the piano and a couple of beautiful cello pieces, too. (A cello can put a lump in my throat the moment it's set up on its end-pin.) But there was also hip-hop dancing and a sort of free-form drum solo and at least one original song -- sung a cappella -- through a microphone. I mean, have you ever been that brave?

The clincher, for me, was my friend Bernadette and her daughter reciting mother-daughter haiku. With their arms casually slung around each other's waist. Haiku about their family, three walking-talking kiddos and a brand new baby, haiku about their family being its own party, about seeing each other in themselves, about love. That did me in completely.

At the end of the night, all the dads moved to fold up the tables and the kids ran wild on the darkened lawn until a few of them fell and skinned their knees. Then we reluctantly crawled away toward our own homes, not wanting to give each other up, to let go of the throbbing hum, the choir of voices, the whistles and whoops and laughter that happen when a whole group of folk comes together to celebrate the vision and voices of kids...