What seems like ages ago now, we went to our first John Doan "Victorian Christmas" performance at the Clinton Street Theatre.
Doan is a regional fixture, and for several years before that had had a kind of hokey Christmas special on OPB TV. "Hokey" only in that the story was a bit too contrived for adults. The music was great.
His live performances around Christmas were based on the same theme: wandering into a Victorian-era parlor to hear old compositions played on period instruments. We thought we knew what to expect.
We settled into our seats and enjoyed his welcome and his storytelling. His specialty is the harp-guitar, and he never stays away from it for very long, drifting briefly off to a banjo, or guitar or autoharp or any of the several oddball period contraptions before returning to his instrument of choice.
Partway through the performance there was, as there always is, a singalong segment. We all had our lyric sheets on the off chance that we didn't know the words.
I can't even remember what we were asked to sing, but as the voices rose around us emotions seemed to lift as though by a long wave. I can't carry a tune in a bucket, but I tried. I wasn't going to get left behind on that ride.
We soared through the first carol and Doan looked up from his harp-guitar. Like mine, his eyes were wet. He smiled broadly and almost whispered "Wow, it sounds like choir practice just let out."
A half-dozen voices in various parts of the audience answered back: "It did!"
The laughter that resulted didn't break the mood, and we launched into the rest of the segment, everyone part of the same choir for a few minutes.
I wasn't alone in not being able to keep my eyes dry, but we all kept singing.
The rest of the performance seemed particularly inspired and the mood throughout the theater remained quietly elevated, as though we all knew we'd been a part of something unique.
We all filed out afterward, talking to people we'd never met before and would probably never see again. Smiling, quietly wishing each other happy holidays, we passed the audience for the next performance, which happened to be the regular Saturday night showing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
The audiences of the two shows couldn't be much different, and yet even the crew waiting to take our places inside seemed to brighten up a little as we went by in such great moods.
I've attended many of those performances since in many different locations, but none has matched that first one. Each has been "good to wonderful" in its own way, but none seemed to make a full choir out of all of us the way that that first one did.