By Mary-Lou Montgrain

We were about to present our first ever Gala/Fundraiser at our local performance venue—Richmond Hill Center for the Performing Arts—quite an endeavour for our newly formed community choir of 20 singers.

The well-laid plan

It was the weekend before Valentine’s Day, and our theme was romance. On the program were love songs, such as the Beatles All You Need is Love, that we choristers would sing. Interspersed with our appearances, a local poet would read her love poetry and a local soloist would perform. We were ready to decorate the hall with lots of sparkly red hearts and other Valentine decorations. Our plan was to create a festive mood with the decorations and, at intermission, generate money with a silent auction. The ticket price included desserts, appetizers, and red roses, generously donated by a choir member.

Our well laid-out plan was to seat the audience at round tables, eight to a table in cabaret style. We had ordered red table cloths and planned to decorate them with votive lights and Valentine decorations. We were well organized, or so we thought.

Two hours to showtime

The decorating committee arrived two hours before concert time, while I went to pick up Laura, the poet who would treat us to her love poems. When I arrived at her condo I phoned. No response. Then I rang her buzzer, still no answer. I was concerned, to say the least. Meanwhile—as I later learned—she was visiting her ailing husband at the hospital, waiting for me to pick her up and worrying that I’d had a car accident. (If only we’d had each other’s cell phone numbers!)

Ninety minutes to go

I arrived at the Centre, only to discover that the tables, chairs and table cloths, which had supposedly been ordered, were nowhere in sight. I hastened to find the manager–not an easy task, I can tell you. When I finally found him, he said the order had never been confirmed.

Correctly reading the expression on my face, he came to the rescue: the Centre, he said, had an assortment of tables, chairs, and tablecloths, which we could use for free. Only problem, he added, was that the tablecloths were black rather than the red we wanted for Valentine’s.

But their colour was fitting enough, once the overhead lights were lowered, the votive lights were lit, and the red decorations were placed on the tables. Not only did my fellow choristers approve of the result, but we were also happy to save $500 by using the borrowed items—which we have done ever since.


The audience arrived, none the wiser. What had begun as a disaster ended as a victory. But to this day, 4 years later, I still shudder to think what might have happened if the arts centre manager—our Deus ex Machina—hadn’t come to our rescue. Perhaps St. Cecilia, the Patron Saint of Music, was watching over us that evening. All I know for sure is this: I will be eternally grateful that, at our debut concert at this prestigious venue, I didn’t have to ask our audience: “Would you mind sitting on the floor?”