There’s a certain part of me that I hope never goes away. As a matter of fact, I wish it would continue to grow so that I may more effectively share it with others for the remainder of my days. I am talking about the feeling of Christmas morning, the appreciation of the season, the reason for Christmas, and my love for the old Christmas carols. Yes, even in my 40’s I still get excited about Christmas, excited about the season, about the old, and about the new. It’s a wonderful time of the year, and if I never got another physical present for Christmas, I’d still be happy and blessed if I could just experience the songs, the sounds, the gathering of loved ones, and of course my yearly visit with my old friends of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra.
Times have changed, as they always do; sometimes subtly as we live through the change, sometimes extremely, but always changing. Now, I look forward to early September each year, when I can order my TSO tickets for the upcoming winter tour. I plan for this year-round, at least budgeting the time and money to get to at least one show each year. Its part of my year; every year, Period. For a guy who often times thinks he was born in the wrong century, I can honestly say that I am glad to be alive in a time when TSO is touring every year. That may sound a little bit over the top to some, but it’s genuinely how I feel. Perhaps, reading further will offer an explanation of why.
I login and make my online purchase of the coming tour’s tickets. Weeks later I get an email to inform me that my tickets have printed and are being mailed. Yes! I whisper to myself, it’s almost TSO Time! Eventually the tickets arrive and go into my special ticket spot in the office. Before any of this, I poll my oldest kids as to their availability for the dates of the tour in our area. I check hockey schedules, family plans, holiday gatherings, work commitments, etc. I want to make sure that I/we are getting to at least one TSO show on the tour. Polls taken, schedules checked, I order tickets 2-3 months in advance. It’s always a relief when I get the confirmation of my purchase.
Day of the show, wherever it might be, for me, it’s a collection of anticipation and calm, knowing I will get to see them again. It’s a sense of hope; hope that others, especially my kids, will enjoy this anywhere near as much as I do. I am also continually hoping that the Christmas spirit, the reason for the season as they say, is not lost on the people with me, or even the thousands in attendance at any given show.
Walking into the arena, I smile. I know what is coming to a small extent and yet I know I will be surprised too. I love to look at the people who grace the concourses of the various arenas. I see people dressed in their favorite sports teams shirts, maybe because Chris Caffery always wears a local teams’ jersey out on stage at some point in the show, or maybe just because that’s what they chose to wear. Here in the Northeast, these concert dates are usually accompanied with cold and/or inclement weather, and I love to see the people who come to the show dressed as if they walked in from piling wood behind their shed. Then there are also the folks who have dressed up for a night out to see the orchestra. Trust me; I have been in each of these groups over the years. It’s just another thing I love about the TSO shows, their music, their talents, the message, it appeals to so many people.
Then it’s time to find my seat for the show. The massive room is dark but discernible. There is a certain excitement in the air. I want to know how many others here have seen TSO before. What did they think? Did they like them? How many times have they seen them? What is their attachment to them if seeing them multiple times? How many have never seen them? What have you heard? What do you expect? I want to watch their reaction to everything. Maybe I am weird for having these thoughts, but I do. Like a prized possession or that awesome secret place, or even the love of your life, I want to share what it all means to me with someone else, with anyone else who might appreciate it for what it is. Finding my seat, I cannot wait for the show to start.
I sit and I wait. Thoughts, memories, emotions, past shows all race through me as I fight the fidget in me, trying to remain calm, at least outwardly. I talk to those with me, maybe to those around me. I listen to stories of others, and to the explanations of what to expect for those visiting for the first time. I smile and think, this is going to be the best show you’ve ever seen!
So far, the day of the show is like Christmas Eve, everything is in place, all is quiet, and the stage is set for another Christmas morning, when enchantment reigns supreme. Anticipation kicks up a notch when Chris and a local radio personality hit the stage to present a check to a local charity. Yes, TSO donates a dollar from each ticket sold to a local charity at every show in every city. It’s their idea. They always have, and I suspect they always will. Don’t forget among the greatest things associated with Christmas, my favorite is giving. TSO gets it.
The lights go dark, the place is black and the show begins. In the moments just before the start, in the darkness, surrounded by sounds of the many, I find distance from all, just for a few seconds, and I recognize the past. This moment represents the darkest moments of my life. The places I went to, physically, mentally, spiritually, and emotionally to say the least. Even in those times, for some reason, I did always seek one bright light, a light warm enough to melt the icy walls I’d built around me in layers so thick, I all but disappeared. The light was the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. Now, I am not that star struck when it comes to celebrity, but I do appreciate and recognize greatness in the culmination of God-given ability and hours of mastering skills, performed at levels that escape most of us mere mortals. TSO has been just that, a collection of gifted, talented people who perform at outer worldly levels.
Not coincidentally the lights come up with the arrival of the band on stage. This is no different from my own experience and insight I share with you today. Darkness is the absence of light. And from darkness came the light, the band, TSO. One of the lights that helped me find my way back to a two-way relationship with God, has been, and continues to be the people of TSO and their music.
Lights flash, sounds emerge, beautifully choreographed, challenging multiple human senses. The show is on. Again, it’s beautiful. It’s fresh. No matter how many times I have seen TSO in concert, the show has never been exactly the same twice. And, I have never been disappointed. It’s amazing, every single time.
Yesterday, I was in Manchester, NH for the 3 pm show with my 20-year-old son. This tour is the last time that TSO will be performing ‘The Lost Christmas Eve’. Mind you, I have seen TSO for 14 consecutive years, in some of those years I went to see them 2 or 3 times, and I can honestly say that yesterday’s show was one of the top two or three performances I have ever seen from them. Others may disagree, which is fine; we all have our different connections to the concert experience. Just as the performers hit the stage amid whatever may be happening in their lives, we too, take our seats, just moments from the pressing nature of our everyday lives. So we meet, humans here to watch humans here to perform, and the connection takes place. Each of us taking something different from each passing note, word, lyric, sound, reaction, etc. connects to the performance in our own way. Yesterday was awesome!
In some regards I embody the guy that could hide his own Easter eggs, because I lapse on some things while never relinquishing others. Honestly after all of the times I have listened to the albums and the shows I can never completely recount the order of songs from the shows. Maybe I could if I tried more diligently to track them, but then maybe I just don’t want to. This leads me to an observation of Trans-Siberian Orchestra that may not be that earth shattering to many. I am talking about the performance within the performance.
I am not going to pretend to be actual friends with any of the band members, although I wouldn’t discourage the idea. That said, I do follow their careers some, and look for appearances that they might make on TV. I interact with a few members through social media, and I check out reviews of shows and so on. With that little tiny bit of insight into any one of their lives, I add it to my own perspective of each performance.
In Albany, NY, December 2000, I saw TSO for the very first time. I can honestly remember sitting in the balcony wondering what in the world was I going to see and hear that night. I went to see them largely because of one song, ‘Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24’. If you know the song, you know it’s a rockin’ instrumental. So there I sat hoping for lots of “rockin’ instrumentals”. I had no idea what was in store for me.
This is where I get into the performance within the performance. I don’t know if the band would agree or not, but here’s how I see it. First, the entire show is brilliantly planned out, and tirelessly rehearsed. So, by the time we see the show it’s been polished. Then, within the show, and this dates back to my first show in 2000, the individuals do not take a note, a word, or a single lyric off. They appear to me to perform each of their piece(s) like it was a show-stopping finale. It’s truly amazing, and a credit to their preparedness and their professionalism. I think it goes further than that even. I think my description is true, but is further enhanced by their passion, easiness about the group on stage, and their life experiences.
I have seen hundreds of concerts over the years, and taking nothing away from the talented individuals I have seen, very few pour their raw emotions into every single note of every single performance. To me, and maybe it’s just because I enjoy them so much, TSO does this show after show, day after day, year after year. I reference the year 2000 again. I just wanted to see Caffery rip it up on guitar. He did. Oh, there were “rockin’ instrumentals” alright, and they were perfect! They didn’t miss a note! I couldn’t believe how loud, how raw, how symmetrical all of it really was in person. What I had no way of knowing, and was even less prepared for, was the narration and vocals. Narrator, Bryan Hicks was awesome! He still is. He’s even better now than ever. Incredible talent, he tells a story that nobody wants to miss. He plays the part and interacts with the band like they were all sitting in my living room hanging out. Beautifully done, every time. The vocalists were simply breath-taking! Literally, my body went through moments where I was unsure as to what to do next in order to draw my next breath. Moments when the senses are overwhelmed at the same time emotions blind-side the core of my very being. Such moments are even intensified to an unknown multiplier when a war rages within, between conscious thought and the buried knowledge of spiritual principles. That’s where I was for several of my early TSO shows. I wasn’t thinking about the band, their lives, their sacrifices, or their own battles just to be on stage any given night, I was inside myself, completely. I was battling hard. I shook with internal friction as the warmth of God’s Christmas message slowly melted the icy layers that barricaded my soul. TSO was the light, the bearer of the message. But they did more than deliver; they went above and beyond in their own way to unknowingly provide me a gift I felt I didn’t even deserve. I am so thankful.
Opera houses, theatres, concert halls, cozy venues, arenas, stadium seating, folding chairs on the floor, and balconies, my personal 14 year TSO span has seen a lot. I can’t imagine what the band has seen! I’d love to walk the wilderness with Mr. Caffery, find a babbling brook somewhere, and listen to the stories of his musical life. Stories of his and stories shared with him. Over the years, one constant has been the performances. I cannot state that enough. Fast forward to yesterday.
I won’t go through every one of the band members and vocalists, but rest assured they all were top-notch in their personal performances. If each performer were tracked by their own isolated camera from start to finish one might surmise that each of them were the headliner for the show, but in TSO style the whole still finds a way to be better than the sum of these tremendous parts. There were Chris Caffery and Joel Hoekstra interacting like brothers trying to ‘one up’ each other, but playing to the crowd, while careful not to miss a single note; performing passionately. Mr. Hicks was more amazing than ever. Articulation, passion, dressed the part, added a dance step or two, piecing together the story, a message of sorts, that we all could picture and participate in ourselves. Then there’s Erika Jerry. Wow! Joyful and Triumphant! Last year I remember her taking the stage to sing, and performing ‘For The Sake Of Our Brother’. As I recall it, part way through her song it was as if the crowd awoke in full, realizing completely the majesty tugging at the collective senses of a packed house. Her voice is so pure, and her delivery so passionate, that she brings me to tears every time I listen to her sing this song. Especially when she does the portion from ‘Oh Come All Ye Faithful’. I would love to ask Erika what this song means to her because to see her body squeeze out every single emotional note of the old carol is something to behold. It takes me in an instant to an old, hard church pew, sitting with my family, rising and singing to the best of our abilities, as one, during the most wonderful time of the year. Behold Him! I wonder where the song takes Erika when she sings on stage around the USA. Talk about your breath-taking moments, she provides one of them. Her performances take me back to my first years of TSO when the late, phenomenal “Diamond” Daryl Pediford brought me to tears, sobbing nearly uncontrollably, as he would sing ‘The Prince Of Peace’ while performing the ‘Christmas Eve and Other Stories’ shows. His song would break into a portion of ‘Hark the Herald Angels Sing’, another song from a distant era, not lost here. Performances within the performance. Then on the same stage, the same night, comes the incomparable Rob Evan, singing his songs for the show. Stunning! Yesterday, I was in the second row, at the center of the stage, just a few feet from Mr. Evan, and I watched in awesome wonder as he poured everything into ‘What Child Is This?’ among the other sensational numbers he did. I pause for a second to wipe tears away as I listen to Erika sing on YouTube while I write.
Before I move on, I wouldn’t forgive myself if I didn’t mention Kayla Reeves. A couple of years ago, this young lady turned up on stage with TSO and performed ‘Someday’, and I am not sure how many of us were expecting what we got that night, when she awed 8,000+ people with her power and passion. Yesterday was indescribable (so great as to defy description) for me. Watching and listening to her sing ‘Someday’ yesterday afternoon was one of the most emotionally rendering moments I have ever experienced. Other worldly might begin to capture the sound, the feeling, the personal experience she poured into that song. Wow! Oh, if I could just chat with Kayla and hope that she opened up and poured out the emotion, the thought process, the connection she experiences with her performances of that song. A show-stopping performance within the performance.
The show went on. I didn’t want it to end for the 14th year in a row. Time could cease to exist inside so many of these moments and I for one, would not care. Treat me; treat my senses to the best present TSO could give me, their best. I have my own personal connections to this band, to their music, and to their shows, obviously, but I venture a guess that others do too. I wish I had tickets to more shows this year, on this tour, but for now I will listen and re-listen to their songs, waiting for next year. Lord willing I will be back again, bringing somebody with me, spreading the word, and secretly anticipating each of the performances within the performance. I am blessed and I am thankful for the opportunities to interact with this group of people, the Trans-Siberian Orchestra.