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Boston Solstice 2019 Retrospective

December 15th, 2019
solstice  [html]
This was the second time we hosted the Boston Secular Solstice at our house (2018 retrospective), and my first time running it. I'd been in a "music director" sort of role for Boston Solstices going back to 2013, but with our main organizers now living in the Bay Area I decided to have a go at putting something together myself.

I decided pretty early that I wanted to build something around themes of coordination across boundaries and existential risk. I thought Christmas in the Trenches would potentially be good for the dark portion, either sung solo or read like a poem, as well as maybe reading letters people had sent home from the front.

In September I picked the songs and wrote a new melody for Somebody Will. I recorded rough demos so I could show people how I was thinking the songs would go, and started trying to find people who were interested in helping play and sing. Johnson volunteered to play piano for ~5 songs, we did two unaccompanied, and I did the rest. Unlike previous years I decided not to have a leader for each song, and instead we'd get a group of people to learn all the songs and be distributed around the audience. I felt like this worked pretty well, and made for more of a community sort of feeling. We also got together for a full music rehearsal, something I'd wanted to do in previous years but generally hadn't been able to schedule, and am very glad we did.

About two weeks out I wrote transition words and picked (what I thought) were final readings, and sent around a draft to people for review. Al gave me an enormous number of good suggestions, and in response I completely swapped around the order of songs and wrote new transitions that better showed how everything fit into a coherent whole. Al also found new first-person readings to replace the adapted version of the World on the Brink readings we'd been intending to use. This was incredibly useful, and the to top it off they volunteered to MC, which was awesome.

I tried a new layout, without any board-benches, and I think it worked well:

It helped that we hadn't gotten our Christmas tree yet, so we had a bit of extra space.

Johnson came early and helped set up, which was super helpful. We took the apartment door off its hinges, disassembled the dining room table, moved two futons into the dining room, set up tons of chairs, and generally tried to maximize seating. We put the temporary projector shelf back up, in a different spot this time, and confirmed that the projector was working well.

When it was time to start I realized that my publicity had just listed "7pm" as a start time and not distinguished between "when it's ok to show up" and "when we're going to start". A better way to do this would have been something like "doors open 6:30, solstice starts 7:15".

The program was (plan and words, slides, musician slides):

  • All sing: The X Days of X-Risk by Ray Arnold.
    (mp3)

  • MC: Welcome
    (mp3)

  • All sing: The Wild West is Where I Want to Be by Tom Lehrer, simplified melody.
    (mp3)

  • MC: Introduction to Her Mysteries.
    (mp3)

  • All Sing: Her Mysteries by Allison Lonsdale.
    (mp3)

  • Reading: The Goddess of Everything Else (Abridged) by Scott Alexander.
    (mp3)

  • All Sing: Uplift by Andrew Eigel.
    (mp3)

  • MC: Outroduction to Uplift.
    (mp3)

  • All Sing: We Will All Go Together When We Go by Tom Lehrer.
    (mp3)

  • Intermission

  • MC: Words on Fire Safety.
    (mp3)

  • MC: Introduction to Somebody Will.
    (mp3)

  • All Sing: Somebody Will by Ada Palmer simplified melody.
    (mp3)

  • MC: Introduction to Time Wrote the Rocks

  • All Sing: Time Wrote the Rocks

  • All Sing: Hymn to Breaking Strain

  • Reading: Henry Williamson's letter home.
    (mp3)

  • Solo: Christmas in the Trenches by John McCutcheon.
    (mp3)

  • Reading: Henry Williamson on the aftermath of the Christmas Truce.
    (mp3)

  • Reading: Joseph Rotblat on the development of nuclear weapons.
    (mp3)

  • Reading: Vadim Orlov on how close we came to nuclear war.
    (mp3)

  • All Sing: Brighter Than Today by Ray Arnold.
    (mp3)

  • All Sing: Unison in Harmony by Coope, Boyes, and Simpson.
    (mp3)

  • All Sing: Old Devil Time by Pete Seeger.
    (mp3)

Last time we had little candles that we're pretty hard to light, combined with waiting to start Brighter Than Today until they were all lit. This time we re-lit them during the song, and I got 10-inch tapered candles with holders which were a lot nicer. They're also just bigger, which is nicer. Lily liked setting them up.

The intermission was longer than we'd been thinking (26min) because the plan was for our kids (3y, 5y) to go to bed at intermission, which took longer than we were expecting. But we didn't wan't to start the more serious part of the evening with the potential of loud toothbrushing protests, so we let the intermission run a bit longer than we'd planned while we got them down.

Starting right in with X Days of X-Risk worked well: the song is easy to sing because everyone already knows the melody, it feels light any funny despite the content, and at least this year it was right on theme. Favorite quote of the evening: "If you had asked me yesterday whether I would have enjoyed humorous songs about existential risk I would have said no."

The projector was flaky, cutting out several times during the evening, and partway through the second half switching into a mode where it no longer showed the bottom part of the slides. I had backup slides at jefftk.com/solstice and some people followed along on their phones, which meant the songs didn't fall apart during the times it cut out.

Last year we put intermission food in a side room, which had only one door, which became a bottleneck. This year we put food in the kitchen, which has two doors and let people cycle through.

As with last year, people wanted to hang out afterwards for a while talking, which was nice. One downside of the MIT Chapel had been that we had to leave right away, which tended to break things up.

Comment via: facebook, lesswrong

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