Mr. Robert Burchill of Ottawa, has shared some of his Christmas concert memories with the Museum. Bob and his wife are regular visitors and have donated items to the Museum over the years. Bob was inspired to share his memories when on a visit to the Museum this past season, he found out about the Museum's storytelling project. He offered to send along some memories he had written down. The following are some of Bob's childhood memories of Christmas concerts.
Rollo Park School in Northern Saskatchewan was eight grades in one room. It was built of logs, and heated by a wood burning stove. It served as the community center as well as the school. One of the more popular events was the Christmas Concert put on by the students under the direction of the teacher.
The concerts were generally known as "Trees". "Are you getting up a Tree?" and "When is your Tree?" were questions of entirely sober quality in our neighborhood. Christmas Trees were not only celebratory. For many parents their quality was an important index by which the teacher's competence was judged. "That was a real good Tree" was a judgement that tended to transcend the event. The choice of play, of music, and of setting were important, but strictly secondary to the need for balance in the apportionment of roles and responsibilities among the members of principal families. Teachers had to employ excellent diplomatic skills to avoid familial affront.
The Christmas Tree season was presaged by one of the older girls removing the alphabet from the blackboard border and replacing it with seasonal motifs, such as stars and snowflakes. These were executed with the aid of stencils, sheets of paper on which the motifs were outlined in fine holes. They were held up against the blackboard and patted with a chalk filled blackboard brush. The result was the transfer of the motif onto the blackboard. The lines of the motif were then thickened and the design finally colored with tinted chalk.
Carol practice and play rehearsals began. Step followed step until the great day. Desks were removed from the schoolroom, and the stage units along with boards on blocks were brought in from their normal residence behind the school. Bed sheets were hung from the permanently installed wires and, presto, a theatrical environment as capable of producing surprise, wonderment and pleasure as any on Broadway or Leicester Square was ours.
All subsequent Trees at Rollo Park tended to be judged against the one in which my eldest brother Gordon played the lead. It brought the house down. It may also have been the Tree at which I fainted during the final carol singing. I was carried outside and revived in time to see a friend’s father getting dressed as Santa Claus. This did not provoke a traumatic reaction as was expected. I had probably had my suspicions for some time, but, was happy to keep them to myself as long as apparent conviction produced the desired results.
The Museum is happy to share these memories at this time of year. Other school days memories of Bob's will appear on our Down Memory Lane page in the new year. We hope reading Bob's memories will spark memories of you own Christmas concerts.
The Museum has a publication called 'Everybody's Christmas Programs' from the Dramatic Publishing Company., 1939. It contains 150 pages of recitations. songs, drills, exercises, pageants, plays, skits, monologues and complete programs. It is part of the teachers' books collection. A second teacher's reference book contains recitations, plays and drills.
This journal is written, researched, and maintained by the volunteers of the Middleville Museum.