Musical Triage

In December 2003, my friend Ellen asked me if I would play the primo part of a four-hand accompaniment to Mack Wilberg’s arrangement of “I Saw Three Ships” in the choir concert.

The Christmas concert is a two-night affair, because our auditorium cannot accommodate the number of people who want to see it. Night one of the concert, the sweet student accompanist that had played the primo part froze. So with mere hours to prepare, I was next on deck.

This piece is not for the faint of heart. Four key changes (including a diabolical foray into F# Major. Seriously? F# major?!), ridiculous intervals, and breakneck pace make this a not-so-joyous Christmas carol. But I’m a professional, so I learned it as best I could in mere hours, played it mostly correct, and forgot about it.

Until two years later when the choir director decided to do it again.

And then three years later, after I’d been to grad school, the new choir director decided to teach it to the choir.

And now we are here, another two years later and guess what I’m doing this December? Playing this song, again, for the Christmas concert.

I love playing for the choir. So many of my students are in this choir, the director is a chum, and the accompanist is a dear friend who has seen me through many a crisis. It’s a good time.

Last night I pulled out my copy of “I Saw Three Ships,” hoping it would just come back to me, until I realized a horrifying truth: I NEVER LEARNED THIS SONG.

Each time I played it, I faked my way through, approaching it in triage mode, and got it to a place that was “passable,” but I never really learned it well enough to be able to just pick it back up. So this time, I am resolved. I shall actually learn the song this time.

Because chances are, in two years, I’m gonna have to play it again.


I’ll be playing the part that the older gentleman is playing. Good news: no matter what happens, it’ll be over in 3 minutes.

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