A Christmas Without Snow (TV Movie 1980) - Plot Summary Poster

(1980 TV Movie)


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  • A divorced woman moves to a new city, trying to build her life again. She joins the choir of a local church and is inspired by the choirmaster, a curmudgeonly old gentleman who will accept nothing but perfection from his group. As Christmas approaches and the choir practices for a performance of Handel's Messiah, issues of racism, ageism, accusations against a young choir member as well as a health issue with the director himself, threaten to undermine the performance.

  • A divorced woman moves to San Francisco from Omaha after her divorce. Leaving her young son with his grandmother while trying to build her life again, she joins the choir of a local church. A tough, curmudgeonly, perfectionist choirmaster, is hired and attempts to whip the choir into shape for a Christmas concert. The choir group overcomes issues including ageism, racism, teen angst, small group divas, middle-aged relationships, single parenthood, the plight of struggling low income churches, and replacing the old with the new. Slow-paced, but with issues that still ring true today. A must view for any adult choir group.


The synopsis below may give away important plot points.


  • Zoe Jensen (Michael Learned) is looking for a job as a teacher in San Francisco after having moved from her small-town in Nebraska after her divorce. There are no full-time permanent positions, so the lady in the official bureau of education recommends her to polish off her skills and take up any temporary assignments which may arise until her big opportunity arises.

    Back home, with a haid towel around her hair, after having had a shower, Zoe types and types. It's boring and repetivie. She sighs.

    Later, she attends to a party. She's decided to join her local church and sing in the choir. She tells her friend Inez (Ruth Nelson) that she hasn't found a teaching job yet. Some lady is advising somebody else not to quit the choir altogether, as she enjoys it so much, and she can't stay all day at hospital working. Her friend introduces Zoe to Muriel Moore (Valerie Curtin), who asks about Zpe's civil status. Zoe that she's signed her divorce papers that very same week, and that she's beginning to enjoy the freedom it's brought her. The next day she's going to hit the pavement again in search of a job.

    The new choir master has agreed to come out of retirement for some time. He's dealt with all kind of music, and doesn't expect perfection, so this year is going to be more enjoyable, says the Reverend Matt Lohman (James Cromwell) to all the ladies. Everybody claps when Ephraim Adams (John Houseman) is introduced. Adams' vocation is music. For him, music is difficult, worthy of the effort they are about to make and a crafty activity. He even recommends those people who are looking for a relaxing passtime to go somewhere else. He intends to sing Handel in a quality way. He also introduces to Seth Reuben (Ed Bogas), who will work with him playing the piano.

    The choir is a bit chaotic at the beginning. He recommends them to open their mouths fully. Muriel looks a bit lost. However, it's clear that Zoe is enjoying herself immensely.

    Back home, she is lonely in a dark flat. Her nosy neighbour who lives downstairs asks her about the letter she's just received: it's from her son. She wants to bring him to Frisco as soon as possible. The neighbour tells Zoe about a bachelor, but Zoe says she's not like Muriel, to which she laughs. In fact, Zoe looks completely uninterested when, at the office, a male colleague (Steve Prescott Jones) asks her to have a snack with him. She says she's just had a sandwich.

    Back home, in her almost empty flat, Zoe talks to her mother and to her son. She says that she's paying her bills with her temporary office job, but that there are no teaching jobs in San Francisco. As her mother insists, Zoe tells her that she's dating a "Jack" - referring to the pumpkin she's decorating at the moment.

    The choir member which left returns again, eager to give it another try. Adams offers a job to a tramp. Adams says that even when the song lyrics talk about sheep going astray, the singers did not to illustrate the point. He says that the auditions for the solo parts will be public this year. One of the male singers, Henry Quist (Ramon Bieri) complain, but Admas says that if they wish to sing Handel's Messiah[(i] solo they can get into their own close at home and sing it there, but Adams says that if he can't sing in front of the choir members, he won't be able to sing in the church in front of 100 people.

    Muriel calls on Zoe and recommends herself to help her decorate her tiny flat. They go out to a bar. Muriel wants to go to the cinema afterwards, but Zoe doesn't feel like it. Muriel asks to the hand-in-waiting to bring her something "inside a pineapple", and as she's drinking her piña colada in the restaurant, some people had given her the odd look. It looks as though Zoe feels that Muriel is imposing herself too much.

    After the church service, still wearing their choir garments, Zoe talks to Wendell (Calvin Levels), as he looks worried. It's not because of the choir, because he's always on key. Wendell pretty much would like to be left alone. Three young thugs (Yule Caise, Kevin Harris and Rob Rivers) appear, and they pick on Wendell. Zoe realises the situation. They call Wendell a monkey, which starts a street fight. The rest of the people separate them.

    Wendell is in the kitchen. His grandmother (Beah Richards) enters and rudely asks what he's doing at home. He mutters something about his exams. She asks him suspiciously what he's drinking, but it's only coffee. Wendell wants Grandma to stop paying for everything, but she doesn't want him to go to night school or look for a job: studying is more important, and meanwhile, she'll be the only one working and paying the bills. But she insists that he's her only hope for a better future, so that she'll do as much for him as she wants, in spite of being 70 years old and having to clean offices all night.

    Audition night. Mr Loop (Lou Picetti) refuses to stand up, because he's past it, but he winks at Inez saying that he's not past some other things. Conceited Mrs Evangeline Burns (Anne Lawder) does a good auditon. Shyly, Mrs Maisie Kim (Daisietta Kim) does her audition for the soprano solo part. Obviously, Maisie Kim is much better than Evangeline. Everybody is amazed at her. Evangeline tells her afterwards that she should keep on practicing "among her people", because she is showing real promise.

    Zoe's mother keeps pestering on her through the phone: the son was two hours late back home because he hasn't got his mother to watch him; Zoe won't be able to visit on Thanksgiving due to her lack of funds. Zoe is working in the third office that week. She hangs up on her mother because she keeps on telling her to go back to their little town, where a teaching job could be easily given to her. Zoe keeps on typing and doesn't pick up the phone when her mother insists.

    Terry Lohman (David Knell) is a seventeen-yeared-old cute blond boy who's helping at a wedding party given to the choir members. His mother says that she misses snow during Christmastime as well. Alice Lohman (Roberta callahan) notices - and tells her husband - that Muriel has stolen a piece of silver cutlery, putting it inside her clutch. They comment that Muriel needs a husband urgently, until things get out of hand with her, but they don't do anything to stop her behaiviour. Terry doesn't want to appear on the wedding photograph, but he's forced to.

    Henry and Zoe go hike-hiking to the woods surrounding San Francisco. They dance together at a kind of Oktoberfest. Zoe's feet hurt afterwards. Henry says that she should have gold him sooner. Zoe hugs him. Henry gets too carried away, so Zoe rejects him. Henry Quist leaves immediately.

    Finally, the choir seems to be improving. Will Connolly gets to be the bass soloist; Mr. Jefferson (John Patton) has got the tenor solo. The alto soloist (Gail MacGowan) receives everybody's congratulations. Maisie wins the soprano solo. Evangeline tries to sing as if in a solo during a particular section, so Adams tells her off, stating that there are no solos. Evangeline Burns gets up in a frenzy, tells them that they are a bunch of amateurs, throws the music book to Ephraim and leaves in tears. Ephraim tells everybody that Mrs Burns was right, because they are amateurs, but that doesn't define the quality of their work. Amateurs do things for the love of something, not because of wages or because they are crappy to be professional.

    Hartley Wood (William Swetland) invited some of the choir members to his ship. Wendell and Grandma go with him. She walks with difficulty. They are celebrating Thanksgiving Day. There is an uncomfortable moment between Henry and Zoe. They ask Mrs Curtiss - Grandma - why she doesn't join the choir, as Wendell says she's got a wonderful voice. Mrs Curtiss teaches them a popular song.

    Rehearsals go on. Muriel is told off because she didn't take notes of the numbers in the measures in a particular part of the music. Ephraim asks Mr Goodman (Jay Krohnengold), who has written them, but speaks soft and meekly. Adams' shouting seems to scare Mr Goodman, everybody looks at the music teacher, startled. There are only four weeks before the acting. Another office worker (Carol McElheney) talks with Zoe about her daughter. Terry wants to borrow Lohman's car for Wednesday night. The Reverend asks him whether he's volunteered, and Terry, uninterested, tells him that he'll do so some other time. The Reverend has already forgotten his son and keeps looking onto the bills and documents.

    Mrs. Dienhart (Jane Frasier-Smith) is called to have a chat with Ephraim, and she is terrified about it. Ephraim thanks for a jar of marmalade she's given him. He wants to expell her from the choir because her voice has got worse with age. She offers herself to be an assistant of him; she talks with enthusiasm. Mrs Dienhart tells him that she wishes he'd never be told to stop doing something he really loves, like teaching music, because he wouldn't be able to take it.

    The Lohmans go to hospital. The Reverend tries to console his wife because the illness is back in full force, and treatment has only decreased the level of pain. She ends up hitting him in desperation. The Reverend Lohman cries at the church on his own.

    A lot of money is needed to to repair the organ. The technician recommends to use an electronic organ, which would be cheaper. Ephraim Adams opposes the move, but the church has no money or time to repair the organ before Christmas. The seller tells them that they can give the electronic organ a try for two months free of charge. Obviously, when the technician appears to demonstrate it, it's not quite the same thing, although Seth Reuben was the only one who looked eager to give it a try. Seth plays the organ and makes it sound almost as a normal organ.

    During the following mass, there are radio interferences from the organ which interrupt the Reverend's sermon and make the parishioners laugh. Ephraim shrugs and takes it as one more proof that the electronic organ is a bad idea. Later, in the office, his wife tells Lohman that that was his best sermon. Terry is helpint them out. Muriel appears and tells Lohman that it was Wendell Curtiss who vandalized the organ. Lohman doesn't fully believe Muriel, who allegedly saw it happen. Muriel says that the police are questioning Wendell at that police station, and that they have told her that she has acted very responsibly.

    Wendell is very distraught. He says that Muriel is crazy: she saw him leaving the church late at night because he had been practicing. Wendell is worried about how his grandma's gonna take the news.

    Detective West (Tony Dario) thinks that Wendell is guilty, although Lohman is not so sure. Terry appears and confesses. His mother thinks it must have been a blackout, or something, but Terry rejects that easy way out as explanation. He felt with energy, and wonders whether the church belongs to them, as they live there. The reverend Lohman gets frantic because Terry has destroyed all their lives' work.

    Choir members try to repair the original organ themselves. When the job is done, Ephraim Adams is given an unexpected surprise. The organ and the choir sound beautifully.

    Zoe's mother phones Zoe urgently, as Zoe's son has disappeared. Robbie (Matthew Hautau) appears with an angry taxi driver (Joe Bellan), demanding his money. Zoe embraces him and doesn't tell him off. Robbie plays with a yo-yo while his mother rehearses. Robbie says he'd rather have his parents together again, and his father says it was Zoe who wanted the divorce, not him.

    Lohman speaks to Wendell Curtiss, asking for pardon. They invite him to a Friday party. Zoe wonders why Wendell isn't angry, as he's got every right to be. Zoe urges Wendell to get his anger out, because what happened was utterly unfair. Zoe seems to be flirting with a man at that party.

    Adams gives a present to Mrs Dienhart because of her efforts in behalf of the choir. In the kitchen, Muriel tells Wendell that she only said what she saw, but he dismisses her, saying that she should get free of the anger she feels. Ephraim Adams loosens up a bit and sings a ridiculous song. Adams feels bad and has a heart attack. Mrs Dienhart brings Seth, Zoe and the rest coffee at the waiting room. Seth shouts that he's dying while they've having some coffee. The doctor (Mark Anger) appears and confirms that it was a stroke. The simplest option for everybody would be to cancel. Seth doesn't feel up to the challenge of stepping in and taking control. Zoe uses one of her "Nebraska's expressions", and all of them tell it to Seth, who will finally take control, with Mrs Dienhart turning the pages for him.

    The day of the premiere, Ephraim Adams attends in a wheelchair with a blanket over his legs. Terry enters the church later on, with the concert began. The Reverend approaches him.

    Maisie's voice shines on her solo. The concert proceeds on, with Wendell's grandma and Robbie happily watching.

    ---written by KrystelClaire

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