Every year I play the Ft. Lauderdale Christmas pageant. We use a full orchestra and the cast and crew involve hundreds of people. The show is televised on Christmas eve in many places all over the world. It's a world class show and I'm proud to be part of it. This year I play lots of clarinet and ssome nice baritone sax parts.
Other than paid gigs with clients, the only time I ever played a Christmas show of any type (including in high school and college) was the time I subbed for a lead clarinet player in a Lutheran Christmas event back in the early 1990s.
I was the bass clarinet player for the Clear Lake Civic Symphony at the time, a third wheel sort as they didn't play much other than straight classical stuff (but did a great Gershwin-heavy show every year at that time), when I got a call from the first chair asking me if I would fill in for a clarinetist with a local church. I said I'd be happy to, even though I have seldom played lead in all of my years.
The situation was that the lead clarinet for the Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, across the road from the Johnson Space Center and a relatively wealthy parish as a result, had (without any prior warning) up and quit their annual Christmas show only two days before the dress. I met with the musical director (who was a real weasel, and a woman in the bargain), got the charts (more on that in a minute), and the schedule for the dress (the next morning). I got paid (more on that in a moment as well), but had to wear formal dress and spend the two evenings in uncomfortable wool pants for both performances, so the money was going to be a wash.
(It later turned out that the music crazy Houston church scene (where almost every church of any size has its own orchestra) was so tied up with the holiday season that there were no other "reputable" classically-oriented clarinet players available to do the sub work. That meant that they had to deign to use a bass clarinet player - horror of horrors.)
So, I show up for the dress toting my A and Bb horns, met with the second chair woman (who was pretty terrified that she was going to be playing stuff other than the classical numbers used with the typical Sunday service), and sat down, resolved to adopt a first clarinet mentality for the balance of the day. It was a pretty full orchestra, with multiple desks of violins, violas and 'cellos, as well as an impressive line of bass viol folks, and the typical line up of snooty oboe players (the first snootier than the second), long-haired flute players with a musical chip on their shoulders, a single bassoonist (who was somewhat overmatched by the music we were playing), and the usual bored phalanx of brass and percussion folks. Oddly enough, very few were also members of the local Clear Lake group, most of these being in the strings.
The music was simple enough, mostly deep classical period stuff that I had done before (although not as the first chair player), but combined with a few curious items. The classical stuff (Water Music and the like) was mostly like trumpet parts on the clarinet, so no worries there. Some of the the custom Christmas stuff was a bit tricky, what with solo parts, but I had the opportunity to run through everything the night before, so again no worries.
And then there was the Broadway show-style, brown covers with a cloth tape over the binding, thing. I don't recall the name (and didn't really at the time), but what it was was a "show" (in the classic, Broadway style) about the birth of the Jesus guy. We only did two numbers out of the book, one of which had a bass clarinet part being covered by the second chair, but that was more than enough to get the sense of the thing.
The "bass clarinet" number was bland enough, some slow lament about the future that the Christ child was going to face down the road. (I handed my book to the second for that one, and played the bass part all right and proper, shocking the MD in the process.)
The other was what could only be described as a Broadway-inspired, female love ballad. The Virgin Mary did the vocal, seated on a hidden stool (beneath her garb) in the actual show. While I can hum the music to this day, as I doubled the melody beneath her plaintive rendition (which was executed very well for an amateur; she was also as hot as hell, adding to the illusion), I never bothered to write any of it down. The best description that I can give is that the chorus went something like:
...only, repeated some four times each time around. Playing it, I felt like I should have been performing it in the Starlight Room, high above the city of Saint Louis in the Chase-Park Plaza Hotel. The melody would have been well-suited to something done by Sutton Foster on the Broadway stage. (This was by a much more attractive woman, mind you - I didn't get to evaluate her dancing and comedic skills, so it might be a draw.)
(That chorus runs through my head to this day, such an impact did it have on my rather jaded mind. Mary could have been singing about her boyfriend and the impact that her relationship would have on her husband, only the words were all about Jesus, son of God. Wow!)
In any event, all went well in the dress (and the second could have handled the part (save the bass clarinet lines - there were a few others as well here and there.) The two performances were hassle free as well, with the added benefit of being able to browse the buffet line for free - my old favorite Crab Rangoon was there in force, and I ate my fill both evenings. And, my wife enjoyed and was impressed by the show, particularly by my support under the female vocal in the bass clarinet show number.
However, before the first show, I was approached by the MD and told that they were cutting the amount paid to me (by some piddling amount) because she had quoted the wrong figure to my first chair guy, and he had inadvertently passed it on to me. Not a real problem from my point of view, but extremely poor form on the part of the MD - she made the mistake, but I got to pay for it. I let it go without comment, since it was a church, and it was a real emergency replacement in a climate where there was not a clarinet player (union or non-union) to be found.
I've always attributed my otherwise music-free Christmas church season to that shifting of the lead over while I played the bass parts. It's just as well, as we avoid everything about Christmas as much as is humanly possible. Our "Christmas countdown" is a recognition of how much longer we have to endure the endless renditions of "Let It Snow" by second and third string modern vocalists, and modernized versions of "The Carol Of The Bells", all done on synths and the like.
Mind you, we do take care of all of the little ones (my lovely wife has three children, who have blessed her (if that is the term) with six grandchildren and five (and counting) great-grandchildren) - all of them get a check in the mail rather than a gift that they may or may not like. But, our Christmas time is spent avoiding the shopping crush (and the oppressive music), eating the Yule Log cake at La Madelaine restaurants whenever we can (and they steadfastly resist our pleading to offer the pastry during the rest of the year, without the Xmas embellishments), and counting off the days until the onslaught stops.
We do put up one Christmas decoration, this after one of her daughters and my daughter both commented on our lack of festive holiday decor. This takes the form of a single Lego figure of Xmas theme, placed front and center on our mantlepiece - it was enough to get them to shut up.
Since the original, our "little ones" have scattered to the four winds (we collectively have children located in Los Angeles, Tampa, backwoods Tennessee, Illinois and Vermont, about as distributed as a second generation brood can get, and grandchildren even more scattered, if that could be possible - nobody in Montana yet, though) and are now never around us eastern Texas/western Florida folks during the holiday season. But, we continue the tradition, being on our fifth Lego ornament (the others getting lost along the way - we think that one was stolen by a great-grandchild during a visit when he found it, nosing around in drawers), a three-dimensional snowman who is a bit of an improvement over the original, flat, poorly ornamented Christmas tree.
Just now, there's a Mercedes Benz commercial on featuring Santa in a bright red convertible following nine high speed silver sedans down the road, all on MS-NBC. That's about as far from the "spirit of Christmas" as you can get...