The directions to the Upper Tinicum Lutheran Church (which wasn't in Upper Tinicum but a place called Upper Black Eddy) had been most detailed and explicit; unfortunately, an unforeseen detour had thrown us off considerably--among other things, we were coming from the opposite direction now--even backtracking once for several miles to ask directions hadn't helped. Let's see now, the saleswoman at the store had said to turn right before we plunged down this big hill to the river, that the church was right there, but it clearly wasn't. And we'd gone down the only possible road, if she were right, only to find it led away from all human habitation. We'd gone miles down that road, and there was nothing but more empty road and more woods. So we'd backtracked yet again, losing more precious time.
I was not amused as we stopped for directions yet again, and definitely did not share the laughter of my companions in the car; in fact, I was beginning to lose my composure completely. Only thing here was a restaurant. The young waiter turned out to be the minister's son, and assured me that we had been on the right road. The church was there all right, we just had to keep going a little further.
This was definitely surreal, I kept thinking, before we at last came to a break in the trees, and there was the church, all alone on a little hill overlooking the fields, aglow with candles in the clear, starry night. And carslots of cars, being parked in a field. A good sign, (unless everyone was there for some completely different event.)
The crowd queued up and we were a long time getting inside. There wasn't much time for the promised before-concert refreshments, and as we entered the church we realized the room crowded with tables and people eating was much too small for the size of the group. Another wait in a long line which snaked to the veggie treats, but there was some food left, and it was good. I was apologizing to my son's friend, who was being exposed to Annie's music for the first time--this was not the way I'd planned the evening. It was okay, she said, and commented about how nice the people were, and how diverse a group--lots of different ages and backgrounds seemed to be represented. We struck up a casual conversation with some folks who had come from Philly, and soon realized that nearly everyone had gotten lost. I began to feel better.
We took our seats upstairs in the sanctuary, which was soon filled. The grand piano, keyboards, drums and guitars were set up near the altar, beside the huge Christmas tree. Annie came out and introduced Raphael Rudd, who played several piano selections from past and forthcoming albums and spoke of how much he'd enjoyed being in Annie's band. After his set, Annie and the band came on following the pastor's introduction. I'd heard Annie sing the first several songs at Theater of the Living Arts back in June--"Carpet of the Sun," always a crowd pleaser, was the opener, followed by "Seashell Eyes"; there was "Moonlight Shadow" from her 1989 album; the (as yet) unreleased "Sometimes," a collaboration with Steve Howe, which is still haunting me months later as I write this; there were some other new songs and some really fine surprises: "If I Loved You" from the old Annie in Wonderland album (not to mention Carousel); and one of my favorites, "The Young Prince and the Princess," the love song from Scheherezade.
This was only the beginning. Annie, charming and funny as ever, began to talk about the short animated film, The Snowman, (SVS Inc catalog # H0141, 26 minutes, 1982, if you're fortunate enough to locate a copy) and gave a synopsis of the story. This was incredible! I loved that film, and playing the video was a regular Christmas ritual at our house. Annie sang the wonderful song--"Walking in the Air" is the name of it, I think--the only music in the film which has lyrics. (It's sung by a boy soprano in the film). I'll always treasure Annie's version of this, and wish she'd record it.
Annie spoke of her delight with the evening and said that perhaps it would become an annual event. A member of the audience shouted, "Why not? At least we know how to get here now!" She began to sing Christmas carols and we all joined in, (the nearest I'll ever get to singing with Annie): "We Three Kings," "O Come, All Ye Faithful," "Hark the Herald Angels Sing," and "Silent Night," among others, and Raphael Rudd came back out and accompanied her and the band on his harp. Annie began to speak of her childhood, describing herself as a young girl in her church choir, with braids, pink glasses and an eye-patch. (She had been cross-eyed, she said). More or less spontaneously, she sang what she'd sung then, "Away in a Manger"--the W.J. Kirkpatrick melody, not the James R. Murray tune more commonly heard in America--and she sang it a capella. It was beautiful, the more so for its spontaneity, and for the vision of the little girl with the braids.
She closed with her favorite (and mine): "O Holy Night." It was too achingly pure and beautiful for us to want to sing along--the voice of an angel, too ethereal to be mortal. It was truly a "night divine," and I know that I will never hear that song again without hearing Annie singing it.
By the time we got home, it was past 2 a.m. Sunday, but it was a long time before I could get to sleep.