Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Continentals—50 Years Later

When I was a kid I never thought I would ever get old enough to use those cliché words “when I was a kid”.   I didn’t understand, back then, why people said “time flies” because when you’re a kid time pretty much crawls.   I hated when old people said “my, how you’ve grown” with a touch of surprise in their voice, because it had seemed obvious to me for a long time that I was grown up.

Now I am one of those old people caught in a mystifying time warp thinking about how life was “when I was a kid” and musing over how “time has flown” and being surprised at how fast the kids are growing up and how old people my age are looking.  I was just confronted with a rush of these sensations a week ago when the Continentals had a reunion and gave a concert.


The Continental Singers were a choir associated with Youth For Christ (YFC) back in its heyday of weekly rallies.  The Continentals were formed in Portland, Oregon in the early 1960’s with talented, wholesome and engaging teenagers who were willing to be disciplined about their music and rehearsals and wanted to be involved in ministry.  My sister Gretchen was a Continental and I grew up in the sidelines of the glamor and fun of it all.  This choir was not a blue-robed staid group; the girls wore beautiful gowns and chiffon dresses and changed outfits several times during a concert. 001009 The guys wore tuxedos and other things I don’t remember because of being slightly star-struck over the girls.  They were directed by Cam Floria who was a gifted song writer and arranger as well as a suave and commanding conductor.    They made road trips and had concert tours and everything. 

12-08-25-12-27-57HThe Continentals made a record album and used my family’s living room for their jacket cover—a large group of teens sitting around together having a sing-along (not to say hootenanny.) If you know what a hootenanny is you understand how time flies.


Anyway, a week ago I went to their reunion concert.  I walked in while they were still rehearsing and saw all these white haired grandparent types on the risers and my first thought was “they look old” (a variation on the “my how you’ve grown” phrase.)

And then they sang, strong and bold “We Are More Than Conquerors”, one of their signature songs from the ‘60’s, and I was thrust into a time warp, a teenager again going to their concerts and playing their sing-along record.  “Life Is A Symphony”, “Sing a Happy Song”, “Pass It On”, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus”.  Their voices still clear and sure hitting the high notes and the deep bass ones, the orchestra members doing the trumpet and flute and horn parts heightening the effect.  I cried, whether from the moment or the compressed warp speed into the past, I don’t know.  Just the power.

When I was a teenager (insert “when I was a kid”) my family took a trip to the New York World’s Fair. 010That summer the Continentals were on tour across the country.  I believe they sang at the World’s Fair and then they had a concert in Boston at a famous old church.  Well, my dad decided it would be fun to be at their Boston event, and we drove our station wagon up to Boston.  As we drove we saw up ahead a big silver tour bus.  Could it be? Could it be?  We pulled alongside the bus honking and waving and hanging out the windows and soon they spotted us and started waving and honking too.  For some reason my sister had not been allowed to go on tour with the group that summer but at least one boyfriend was aboard that bus.  I don’t recall her hanging out of the car and waving (that would be me).  She was probably dying of embarrassment at being caught with her family on a road trip instead of with the cool kids on the tour bus.


It was so stinkin’ hot in Boston  that 7 of the singers fainted on the risers that night.  But the show went on, costume changes and all.  I remember in particular them singing “Ezekiel Saw De Wheel, Way Up in De Middle of De Air” perhaps because they were acting it out and perhaps because I thought it was a strange song.  Anyway, I remember the boyfriends and the fainting and the wheel in the air.  And the heat, oh my.


Last week at the concert in Portland no one fainted but one lady had to be helped down to sit in a pew during the announcements, and another walked with a cane.  The choir didn’t give their names as I wished, but they did all say how many grandchildren they had.  A few of them were essentially unchanged except for hair color, but many were unrecognizable.   As Cam Floria said in the introduction (yes, he flew in from Hawaii to for the reunion), “They are in disguise.  They really aren’t old; they are teenagers in disguise.”  I know just what he meant. 

Cam also shared the growth of the Continentals from its inception and growth in Portland to its move to California and multiple traveling choirs  there.  To me these were never the real Continentals, not like the ones in Portland who started it all.  But through the years in countries all over the world 65,ooo young people have been part of a Continentals group.12-08-25-12-29-04H

One of the songs I particularly enjoyed at the reunion was an instrumental arrangement of  “Beyond the Sunset” done in swing time.  And why not? I thought to myself after the initial shock.  Usually we hear this old (almost forgotten) hymn at funerals but here it was a dance tune.  A vision from the movie The Awakening came to my mind: Old people having been comatose for years and years gradually coming to life again and starting to dance  with fellow patients all in their hospital gowns.  The dance, the joy of newfound life…  How appropriate, I thought, that “Beyond the Sunset” should be a dance.  A jivey dance.  A joyful dance.  The best dance ever!

I enjoy my memories of the past and the future holds no worries for me.  And in the present I  slide back and forth between time zones feeling young and feeling old in turns and sometimes thinking the child I hold is my child and not my grandchild.  My, how time flies.


ellen b. said...

Oh yes, the Continentals really led the way for so many groups. Fun memories!

Connie said...

What a beautiful poignant post! I enjoyed every word. It was so well written and certainly expressed many feelings I have felt these past few years. I find myself looking at the older people who seem to think I am their age, and I go home confused and look in the mirror only to be reminded that they had reason to think the way they thought.

Oh yes, the Continentals were part of our life, as well as Youth For Christ. What a rich heritage for which I am very thankful.

Anonymous said...

nice going Holly...just passed along along to Gretchen that you have blogged this mini master piece of writing...I wonder when I will be old enuf to start experiencing all those things you wrote about?

Anonymous said...

My dad was a Continental and is in many of the photos you posted! Love seeing the old pictures and hearing about it from someone who went to see them!!

Steven said...

Good read, Holly. You do so well. As I recall, it was over 100 degrees in Boston, and the humidity was over 90%, so we just could not cool off!

Duncan said...

Wow, Holly, well said! I got here from Ron Keeling's Web site which has a link.