Gung Ho

Gung ho: as the Oxford English Dictionary puts it: enthusiastic; eager.

The definition falls a little short, somehow. The root of the expression is Chinese. It means ‘work together’, or something along those lines. It came from 1938 and the setting up of the Chinese Industrial Co-operatives, which kept those in the resistance against the Japanese supplied with anything from blankets to uniforms.

Their energy was admired by a Major from the United States Marine Corps, Evans Carlson, and he adapted the phrase from the Chinese original. It spread like wildfire through the US Marine Corps and was used to front a film in 1943.

Somewhere between the Chinese border and England’s green and pleasant land the term has become something different from togetherness, different even from eager enthusiasm. It packs a punch here. It’s a naive physical exuberance.

Tucked in the vast libraries of the world’s celluloid is the most perfect example of gung-ho. And coincidentally, the character portrayed is not a million miles away from my own.

It nestles in an anarchic little film from 1989, directed by Mel Smith, called The Tall Guy.

The plot concerns an out of work actor who bags the lead in a Royal Shakespeare Company London show. The catch? Its plot concerns the Elephant Man, a Victorian called Joseph Carey Merrick, who had congenital defects so that his visage was awful to behold.

Undeterred, he invites his new girlfriend along to the first night. And there’s one more invite: his friend, a frightfully British flatmate-of-ill-reputeΒ called Carmen. She is played by Geraldine James.

She is a gem. She throws herself into everything in life with gusto. And as she watches the show, she buys the whole package: she cries buckets at the sad bits, conducts the rousing anthems, gives the end a standing ovation. There is no cynicism, no criticism: just gung-ho, unabashed theatrical one hundred per cent involvement.

Have a look here. It’s out of sync but it’s priceless. And that woman sitting there, enjoying every note and syllable with rapturous expression on her face – that,there, is me.

Last night I had a chore. I must attend my daughter’s music concert, the first at her new school.It was, as far as I was concerned, going to be a very long night indeed.

Because I have grown up with music concerts, being a flautist and singer myself, and my experience is that they can be long, grim affairs where every squeak of the out-of tune violin is marked by another glance at the school clock; where escape plans are hatched silently and desperately beneath halting piano solos.

We sat down at the end of the row as children filed in. I braced myself.

And then it began: a bawdy, fun-filled rendition of that classic pub anthem from Oliver: Oom Pa Pa.

I sat up. I took notice. The gung-ho light began, faintly, to shine in my eyes.

Then a rising star got up. He was not in school uniform. Rather, he looked like a refugee from the set of Les Mis. Which, in fact, he was: he was about to sing Stars, from the long-running West End show.

He was rather good. I, and most of the female pupils from the third year upwards, made our noisy appreciation quite clear afterwards.

Remember Annie: You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile? It’s a rather wonderful pastiche of ’40s advertising and it came next. With all the acting. It is just possible I may have been miming the words by this stage.

And on it went. Hit after hit, delivered with an astonishing amount of aplomb by college kids with Futures. Vivaldi’s Gloria was sung as the red-haired priest would have liked it, by a girl’s choir – all they lacked were the choral balconies of St Mark’s in Venice – and the programme included a Burt Bacharach version of Close to You.

My face, by this time, must have said it all. Enraptured, it was all I could do not to conduct the proceedings in empathy. My applause was rapturous, my grin wide.

I was gung-ho.

Saint-Saens’ demonic dreamscape, Danse Macabre, followed; the battle anthem from Les Mis, Do You Hear The People Sing: now I was custom-designing a new playlist entitled School Concert on my iPod.

The timpani came out for the finale: a rousing rendition of the Pirates of the Caribbean. I longed to jump to my feet and shout “Bravo!” but Maddie had long since anticipated this, and extracted a promise that under no circumstances should I be embarrassing on the evening of her first senior school public appearance.

Sometimes we are roused to enthusiasm – nay, gung-ho joy – at the most unexpected times. Wonderful, indeed, then, to find one’s enthusiasm virtually unconfined on a dark October evening, at a school concert.


41 thoughts on “Gung Ho

  1. Bravo! What a gungo ho post and way to start out my day. Hmmm. I finished my day with your last post and started my day with this one. Not bad.

    I clicked on the link and was informed that it is blocked in my country. Oh well.

    1. Oh, bother….sorry, Penny; it’s worth a watch just for that character, and for Rowan Atkinson’s contribution as a jaded comedy star. (Although it’s good to be able to fast forward – it does have one graphic scene). Very British, very eighties.

  2. I wish I could have enjoyed the concert! It sounds fabulous! I was always involved with the theatre behind the scenes as a stage tech and lighting person, but one year, as a working adult by this time, I was privileged to work as a performance coach with a youth theatre (I was a performing poet at the time, so I guess they though “why not”). The excitement and glamour of the stage radiated from the kids, and the magic was contagious. I nearly burst with pride at their opening performance! Maddie must have been very pleased to see your gung-ho spirit.

    1. I think she views it with extreme caution, Elizabeth πŸ˜€ What a wonderful thing to do, to work with youth theatre: I’ve done a little of that as a teacher and watching them develop from raw material to a polished performance is a fantastic experience. Performance poet….sounds the perfect job….

  3. What a treat to go to a school concert and NOT be squirming in your seat, willing the clock to take giant leaps forward. Sounds as if these students are a very talented group, and further, that they have a teacher/leader who challenges them.

    Incidentally, I was also unable to open your first link, but that may have been fortuitous. It lead me to discover who Penny (who couldn’t open it either) might be and found that, geographically, she’s actually located quite close to me and has many similar interests. So, I suspect I’ll be peeking at her blog now and then, too. The more time I spend reading these blogs and comments, the more fascinated I am by the commonalities we display.

    Thanks for a thoroughly enjoyable post this morning.

    1. Thanks as always for visiting, Karen! So pleased you’ve found Penny. Her posts are some of the great pleasures of my life: she has put me onto so many authors and illustrators I now count as central; but most of all I love her tales of the people, plants and animals up there on the Cutoff.
      Sorry you couldn’t open the link: if you ever see it sitting lonely on a video store shelf, it’s worth picking up….

  4. I’ve a grin on my face now, too! My first thought was how the children undoubtedly sensed the genuine enthusiasm and can certainly distinguish between patronizing “good job” and out-and-out gung-ho appreciation. This was a reciprocal gift! I’m afraid that had I been in the audience as soon as the Les Mis anthem launched I’d be in tears. This was a joy to read, Kate.
    And the video apparently contains content…blocked in “your” country on copyright grounds. But they were kind enough to add a little unhappy face 😦 Debra

    1. It was genuine fun, Debra, and there’ll be a stampede to attend next time πŸ™‚ Sorry it’s blocked, what a shame: it’s fairly graphic in places, but Geraldine James’s character is worth a look if you ever see it on the shelf of a film rental place…

  5. Kate, I acted for years and dreamed of majoring in musical theater and starring on Broadway when I was younger. (My mother thought I would end up starring in p0rn films and blocked that dream. Sigh.) So, I TOTALLY understand gung ho. I adore live performance and get very worked up when I experience one that is moving. Had I been there, I would’ve been the bawdy American, standing in my chair, rebel yelling for every single one of them. I scare people with my rebel yell. πŸ™‚

    1. Now, I didn’t reply to this! Apologies! It seems you and I would paint the town red if we ever met, and no offspring would agree to be within one hundred yards of us while we did it. Scary rebel yells sound just up my street. If you are ever in Britain for one of these concerts I suggest we issue Maddie with a paper bag in which to hide while we apply ourselves to the task of appreciating these young people’s work properly.

  6. OH I can just imagine your enthusiastic ‘ Gung Ho… ‘ attitude Kate, and as someone else commented, especially as mention of a school concert usually brings to mind a memory of squirming in your seat. … as soon as you highlighted Pirates of the Caribbean….i was ‘gung ho ‘ ing for all it’s worth.. . (I love everything to do with the film series..and the stirring music….um..stirs me.. ) and your night at the School concert sounds a truly wonderful experience.., thanks for sharing… xPenx

    1. I just followed the POTC link, and am now in heaven, looking at my Idol > JD < whilst listening to the music. …. and trying to copy Davy Jones saying.. 'do you feeeeearrrr Deeeeath?' …. OMG I will have to watch all four films tonight… got 'em of course on DVD…. Gung Ho? Me? Never!! πŸ˜‰ xx

  7. It sounds wonderful, just the kind of mix I love to hear in a school concert. Glad it went well, and (given her age) I can well understand Maddie’s injunction to you… πŸ™‚

  8. How exciting – such nights at school concerts are very exciting – so full of hope and promise! Hats off to the teachers who were in charge – they are the, shall we say, unsung stars of the show.

  9. Wonderful, Kate! I know exactly how you felt and still feel. I remember once when we went to see the high school performance of “Brigadoon.” The two of our sons we had with us at the time (Adam had not yet joined us) both had parts. Matt was Mr. Lundie – and he a quite admirable Scottish “chirr!” and Josh had a huge solo as one of the townspeople. We were sp p[roud of Matt – he had the larger part, but I will never forget when Josh suddently stepped into the spotlight and this great, huge booking bass/baritone voice came sailing forth from his mouth. We knew he could sing well, mind you, it’s just that we had never heard him sing LIKE THAT! Talk about projection!

    Anyway, I do hope that the audience at Maddie’s concert was respectful. I wrote a poem some while back about “Manners,” at concerts of this sort, and it stems from an experience I had at one of our youngest son’s (Matt) school concert when he was in 3rd grade. It was so maddening. Maybe it’s only Americans who have become so rude! Anyway, here’s the link:

    BTW – us Americans could not view the video – copyright restraints in this country: 😦

    1. So sorry about that, Paula 😦 The Tall Guy is a little racey in places but it always makes me laugh like a drain. And the Geraldine James character – that’s me. It is wonderful when our children make us proud πŸ™‚

  10. I think there is a rule about Les Mis and school concerts! πŸ˜€ At my first high school concert a group of us had to sing something from it, but I cannot for the life of me remember what it was.

      1. I think it was more like a few nervous looking eleven year olds, with the odd sullen one thrown in who thought they were too good for that place (!), staring out at the audience like deer trapped in headlights, shouting as tunefully as we could through it en masse. But, hey, it wasn’t enough to put me off music!! πŸ˜€

  11. Getting lost in the moment is one of the great joys, Kate. And school concerts are so often an absolute delight. I love that elephant tap-dancing scene in the YouTube clip – rather an irreverent take on the Elephant Man.

    1. Cindy, wonderful to see you again πŸ™‚ It has been so odd without you! Loved that recipe of yours today. I’m going to get some cannelloni and give it ago….the moment I’ve tried my hand at a fish pie for Tandy πŸ™‚

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