Long Island was slammed with a nor’easter on Dec. 10, the same night the Town of Oyster Bay was holding its annual holiday concert at the Tilles Center. I debated whether or not to drive the 25 miles from my home to the concert hall at LIU Post for the delightful show. It’s an event I’ve enjoyed every year, so I decided to brave the slick roads and heavy traffic in search of holiday cheer.
With snow swirling around and blanketing the campus of LIU Post, I hurried along the winding path to the performing arts building while the campus lights flickered. I didn’t think much about it as I entered the packed concert hall and found an empty seat.
The stage was beautifully decorated, with red and white poinsettias and oversized Christmas ornaments hanging from the ceiling. As 1,300 people streamed into the center, the Fabulous Fezziwigs, donning period costumes, sang carols in the hallway. The formally attired Concert Pops of Long Island took their places, awaiting their energetic conductor Dean Karahalis, who has been leading these free concerts for 31 years.
The complimentary tickets to this popular event are distributed by lottery throughout the Town of Oyster Bay. Commissioner Maureen Fitzgerald and her team work hard each year, putting together an exceptional show of high-quality entertainers with special effects like the simulated snow during the song “Let It Snow.”
Fitzgerald greeted the audience and introduced Supervisor John Venditto, who introduced some of the town board members. As Venditto discussed why the Town of Oyster Bay is such a special place to live, everything went dark—and silent. A few red emergency exit lights went on, casting an eerie glow throughout the darkness. A young girl with a flashlight walked up and down the aisles, shouting, “Don’t worry, we have generators.”
No one panicked and everyone remained calmly seated, waiting for the lights to come back on. After several minutes, some guests began talking about their Superstorm Sandy experiences.
More time elapsed, and the theater was still blanketed in darkness. Kicking into emergency gear, the town came up with a novel way to pass the time—Christmas spirit. Using flashlights to find the stage, the carolers came out and, with no microphones, started singing “Jingle Bells” as the 1,300 attendees sang along. The orchestra soon joined in. They didn’t need lights—their fingers and hearts knew the songs, and they were there to perform.
Then, something extraordinary happened. When “Silent Night” was played, audience members pulled out their cell phones and waved them slowly in the darkness, mimicking stars against the night sky. For 40 minutes in the darkness, the audience sang along with the performers and orchestra. There was no complaining and no discourse—just the sheer joy of singing together and enjoying the moment.
Suddenly, there was a slight hum and the lights flickered on, sending the audience into applause. Venditto and Fitzgerald returned to the stage and thanked the audience for their patience. The show continued as the audience was entertained by the beautiful voices of soprano Marissa Famiglietti and bass baritone Shae Apland. The JC Lynn Dancers performed in the aisles, as did the Long Island Ballet Theatre.
Everyone held their collective breath, hoping the lights would remain on until the end of the performance, and they did. Karahalis was visibly moved by the audience, and thanked them for staying so long in darkness. As all the performers returned to the stage, everyone stood up and sang “God Bless America.”
No one bolted for their cars or pushed and shoved their way out the door. They stayed, with the lights on, singing.
I have been to the other holiday concerts, but this one was special. The feeling in the room was different. We shared a collective moment, which could have been disastrous, but wasn’t. No one panicked, no one complained.
We were, after all, survivors of Sandy, which taught us lessons in patience, perseverance and team work. That night, the audience, the performers and the Town of Oyster Bay were one team, determined to hang in there despite the darkness. We are, after all, New Yorkers. It was a magical night.
Cynthia Paulis is a Long Islander that makes her home in Massapequa. She has been previously featured in this publication’s Healthy Living section.