So we're just weeks away from our first Christmas show in five years, the last one being a small affair at the Winchester Kitchen & Bar, which no longer exists. When planning begins on these shows there's a lot of questions to answer and one of those questions is "are we going to have any special guests in the show?". Historically, whenever we've done an anniversary show or a Christmas show we've brought back After Hours family (former members) to come up for a song or two.
However for this show, we've done something we've never done before. Instead of bringing back those familiar faces to join us on their old hits, we're bringing in four fresh faces that our fans have never seen before; a magician and another a cappella group! And instead of supporting them by singing along side them, they've been given their own 15 minute show to put on for you, with After Hours nowhere in sight.
The magician, Michael Penkul, a.k.a. "Magic Mike", I met in the entertainment industry. He asked me those famous words "wanna see a trick?" and then showed five or six mind blowing illusions and my immediate thought was "we need to get him into one of our shows". He was actually lined up to be in our last show, "ROAR!" but schedules clashed. There's no doubt in my mind that our audience will really enjoy his act and enjoy the variety he adds to the show.
Nothing But Treble however, have a long history with After Hours and particularly me. The story goes like this...
In 2010, my wife was working at a dance studio and I had gotten to know some of the teachers as well as the boss as I was hired on to make dance music edits for some of the staff there. That was also the year After Hours became a quartet after years of being a quintet and we had decided it was time to start performing our shows in a new venue with microphones. So Luke Hobbs, George Scott, Yee Kuang and myself managed to finagle our way into using the dance studio on some Sundays to rehearse with our new mics.
One Sunday, we heard other people coming into the studio, which was unusual. Turned out it was one of the other teachers, Linda and her three dancing daughters, Stella, Emily and Jacqueline. I had done edits for Linda so we sort of knew each other. They listened for a song or two and then they went to do their dancing thing. We closed the door and drew the blinds and kept going. However, I felt a pair of eyes watching me. I looked down at the bottom of the door where some of the glass wasn't covered and there was Jacqueline, laying on her belly, hands folded under her chin, just watching us and smiling.
A week or two later Linda had emailed for some more edits and I mentioned how intrigued Jacqueline seemed with our sound. Linda replied all the kids really enjoyed us and she said how wonderful it would be if they would sing like us. For whatever reason, I answered "well, I could teach them!". I say "for whatever reason" because a) I wasn't a singing teacher, b) I was already super busy with life in general and c) not a big fan of kids. However, I said it and quite surprisingly, she took me up on the offer.
So off I went to their home and met husband and Dad, Santoso, and there was Linda, and my new students; Stella who was 14, Emily who was 9 and Jacqueline who was 6. I'm pretty sure their first words to me when I walked into their house was "wow, you're tall!". Linda and Santoso went into the kitchen and I sat on what is still to this day, my corner of the couch and asked them to sing for me. What they sang, I don't remember. However, what I do remember is that they could sing. I mean, really sing. Within minutes they were harmonizing. They were not only born to sing, they were born to sing together. Stella had the high soprano, Emily the alto and Jacqueline, even at the age of 6, could sing bass! I couldn't believe how low she could sing and how well. And they were so well mannered and so well behaved, I thought, "I think we can do this!" So I mentioned to Linda and Santoso that I'd love to teach them.
However, after two rehearsals, the girls realized, as most kids do with me, that if they started joking around, there really wasn't much I could do about it. The girls were all dancers. They had all been on stage. They were born entertainers. So soon it became less about singing and more about making me laugh. And stupid me, I'd laugh, so they'd ham it up even more. Then sometimes instead of joking around, it would be the excuses. "Oh Mr. Aaron, I can't sing today because my throat hurts *cough* *cough*." They called me Mr. Aaron because in the dance world you usually call your teacher Mr or Mrs or Miss. So my wife was Miss Marilyn, I was Mr. Aaron and yes my wife did teach them dance as well.
So sometimes I'd get there around 6pm and it would be 8pm by the time they had stopped joking around and making excuses and then they'd finally sing. But when they actually sang, what a sound. 30 mins of their voices was worth the 2 hours of insanity that happened before. I think they would only start to sing when they had tired themselves out from joking around.
Without getting into too much detail about why, I decided to help the family further. One of the things I'd do is pick up Stella from the National Ballet School downtown and driver her home. She was always late, always dawdling, and then when she'd get in the car she'd turn off whatever horrible music I had on, plug in her iPod shuffle and then ask me "do you know this song Mr. Aaron?" Ten seconds later, skip to the next one "how about this song Mr. Aaron?". "You MUST know this song Mr. Aaron!". All. The. Way. Home. In rush hour traffic. Then when she got bored of that, she'd lecture me on politics and religion, two subjects, according to her, I knew nothing about. And she's right. But man, for 14, she was smart as heck, definitely smarter than me!
When we'd get home, Jacqueline would run up and jump on me, and pretend to punch me out because I would act like she was killing me. Emily would ask me questions like why I had hairy arms, why was I so tall and did I know my face looked like a horses face. And I'd put up with this abuse because eventually, they would settle down and sing and they got better each time by massive leaps and bounds. I don't think they knew how good they were and how fast they were improving. I think to them I was this clown that came over and made them laugh and all they had to do was sing once in a while. They were learning songs that After Hours performed; The Lion Sleeps Tonight, Hound Dog, I'm Yours. etc.
For all their hard work, I offered to take them to Centreville. That's when things really changed. I was still Mr. Aaron but occasionally I'd hear "Uncle Aaron". While the girls had a great time, my favourite memory was when they were in line for a ride, they just broke out in song and when they finished, people clapped and I heard one mother say off to the side "who are they, should we ask for an autograph?"
The girls are super intelligent, and would have to be to keep up with the schedules they had. They were all in school but also dancing all the time. I recently asked them how many dance awards they thought they had and they just laughed, which gives you an idea of how seriously involved they are. They've lost count and most of those awards are 1st place. I think they found singing relaxing. It was a time they could be silly and ignore homework and memorizing choreo. There was no actual end goal. So dancing was dinner, singing was dessert. Sometimes though when I'd come over, I could tell they were stressed out and I wasn't going to get much out of them so I'd cancel the singing and just hang out and play a board game with them.
At Christmas that year, After Hours went over to their place to sing for them and then they sang for us. From L to R; Emily, John Davis, me, Jacqueline, Luke Hobbs, Yee Kuang, Stella.
In 2011, we kept on doing the usual thing, I'd come over, they'd fool around for a few hours and then they'd sing for me. Stella was really getting the hang of this whole a cappella thing and had arranged the BeeGee's "How Deep Is Your Love?" for her and her sisters. It was then that I learned that the girls learned best when they could sing their own parts for their own songs instead of me telling them to sing this and sing that. Stella began teaching her sisters on her own and instead I was doing more finessing than anything else.
Once again we went to Centerville and this time I took them to the CNE as well. The singing was secondary to the Uncle roll I was playing but they kept on singing occasionally. However, it seemed like for whatever reason it wasn't nearly as important as it once was.
2012 was a pretty weird year for me and I saw the girls a lot less and even at one point had said to Linda and Santoso that I didn't have much left to teach them, that Stella could handle it on her own, because it was true but also because it seemed the singing had really been pushed to the back burner; that other things were more important.
In 2013 I barely saw the girls at all until summer time when they invited me out to dinner, at which point Jacqueline point blank asked me why I had abandoned them. I don't know if it was their age, I don't know if it was me and all the crap I had been through but it was a painful question to hear but still nice to hear; that I was still wanted. I had thought maybe they were done with singing and therefore me but apparently that wasn't the case and also it seemed the two didn't have to go hand in hand which I hadn't realized until she asked me that question. We did one more trip to Centreville with a friend of theirs, which I assumed would be the last as they had more or less outgrown the place.
Then Stella went away to school, to London. So once again there was a bit of time that passed where I didn't see them often. However, when she returned, I went to go see them all. And then they blew my mind...
I don't know how they did this, especially since Stella had been away but they had continued singing on their own even without me there! They basically threw out all the rep I had taught them and replaced them with their own arrangements of songs they had chosen for themselves. I couldn't believe how good they sounded, I cried the first time I heard them. I had zero problem with them tossing the old songs, these new songs were perfect for them. The little girl sound was gone, replaced by confident, strong voices in perfect harmony. I asked them HOW they had done that, how they had the time to learn the songs and make them so good. So they showed me. Here is the inside secret to how the professionals do it...
Emily sits there and knits, Stella surfs the net on her laptop, Jacqueline stretches on the floor, they don't look at each other, they just sing. And their voices just fall into place and they create these amazing arrangements by basically just being sisters who know what they should be singing and when. As someone who spends days arranging music for his own a cappella group, it is one of the most frustrating and wonderful things I'ver seen in my life.
While we had talked about them singing in After Hours shows before, there was no question that the time had come and it's finally happening, in this show. And while there's this thing there that, yes, my students are singing at the show, make no mistake that these songs they're singing, these arrangements, are their own. I worry about the small stuff, I showed them the craft in 2010 but what people will see on December 16th is them doing what they do best. And yes, they are my students but at that dinner in 2013, Jacqueline made it clear that we're friends too. And friends don't abandon friends.