Christmastime is a pretty special time to be a musician. It's a busy time, yes, but the music has an extra special feeling to it, not to mention the fact that it is FUN to play such a variety of music with my very best musician friends! I try to have most of my Christmas preparations finished in November, so I can just enjoy the experience. Here are this year's concerts I'd like to remember.
December 2-3 Christmas from the Ellen Eccles Theatre When Craig Jessop resigned as conductor of the Tabernacle Choir, he became the dean of the college of fine arts at Utah State. He also organized a 250 member auditioned choir in the Cache Valley, the American Festival Chorus. A handful of times each year, I am invited to perform in the orchestra that accompanies this group. I grab up the chance, despite the nightly drive to Logan, to play under his baton again; he is the personification of the joy of music. His guest artist this year was Mareen McGovern, best known for her Oscar-award-winning songs, "The Morning After" from the 1970's movie, The Poseidon Adventure, and "We May Never Love Like This Again" from The Towering Inferno. Mareen is in her 60's now, but can this woman ever sing! She is quite the inspiration.
December 4 The First Presidency Christmas Devotional My season doesn't really begin until this event held December's first Sunday each and every year. The Conference Center's 20,000 seats are filled with people eager to hear the words of a prophet and his counselors. Not to mention the millions of people viewing it over a satellite broadcast all across the world! These inspired men help us feel and remember the real reason we celebrate this special time.
President Dieter F. Uchtdorf "... Christmas and some of the cherished traditions of the season remind us that we, like the Wise Men of old, should seek the Christ and lay before Him the most precious of gifts: a broken heart and a contrite spirit. We should offer Him our love. We should give Him our willingness to take upon ourselves His name and walk in the path of discipleship. We should promise to remember Him always, to emulate His example, and to go about doing good..."
President Henry B. Eyring "... God knows our every need, that He loves us, and that He watches over us. He gave us the gift of a Savior, His perfect Son, the Lamb without blemish. By personal appearance of the Father Himself and of the Son, and through angels, He has restored the Church of Jesus Christ in the latter days. He has called prophets and apostles to guide us to safety in this life and eternal life in the world to come. Jesus Christ was crucified and resurrected that we may live again, that we may be purified and cleansed from sin, prepared for the glory of eternal life. Those are gifts to us that we can offer to others for Him. We do that by remembering Him and trying with all our hearts to do what He would do and love as He loves..."
President Thomas S. Monson "... Because He came to earth, we have a perfect example to follow. As we strive to become more like Him, we will have joy and happiness in our lives and peace each day of the year. It is His example which, if followed, stirs within us more kindness and love, more respect and concern for others.
Because He came, there is meaning to our mortal existence.
Because He came, we know how to reach out to those in trouble or distress, wherever they may be.
Because He came, death has lost its sting, the grave its victory. We will live again because He came.
Because He came and paid for our sins, we have the opportunity to gain eternal life.
Because He came, we are gathered tonight to worship Him, in bonds of brotherhood and love.
May His precious Spirit be with us, and may He ever be the center of our celebrations and indeed of our very lives..."
December 8-10 A Kurt Bestor Christmas I've played Kurt's concerts for many moons now. This year marks his 24th year, probably my 13th or so, I can't exactly remember when I started. His music is quite delightful to play and he puts on an entertaining show. Each year he composes a few new pieces to add to his holiday repertoire and he invites some fun and interesting guest artists. This year's was Melissa Manchester. Remember her? She's another singer popular in my teens (that means Kurt's teens too) For a refresher course about Melissa, click HERE
December 12 "The Messiah" with Utah Voices What would the Christmas Season be like without this amazingly beautiful music written 270 years ago. It it truly a gift to the world. George Frederic Handel said of it himself,
"Whether I was in my body or out of my body as I wrote it I know not. God knows."
and the music reflects pure inspiration. This concert was a rather tricky one. There were only three of us on the second violin part with only 1 and 1/2 hours to rehearse 2 1/2 hours of music. Most of the musicians have performed this work MANY times, but each conductor is different, so it isn't as easy as it may seem. We just have to concentrate like the dickens and make it look as if we know what we're doing at the same time! I enjoyed the challenge and always love playing this music.
December 15-18 Christmas with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir These are the performances I most look forward to. We practice on Tuesday and Wednesday and perform Thursday and Friday, record all afternoon Saturday with a performance Saturday night and play a mini-concert after Music and the Spoken Word on Sunday. It's an exhausting week, but it is so rewarding. This year's guest was actress Jane Seymour who was beautiful, gracious, and very professional, and baritone, Nathan Gunn who was friendly, down-to-earth, and delightful. This 2011 program will be shown on PBS next December (2012). Christmas with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square "... is the No. 1-rated entertainment program on PBS during the holidays, with more than 4 million Americans tuning in to watch it each year," PBS president and CEO Paula Kerger said. "This program showcases some of what PBS does best, to use the magic of television to showcase music, dance and the spoken word in order to inspire and entertain our audiences."
"For me, this is the gift of Christmas," said British actress Jane Seymour in a news conference Friday, the morning after the dress rehearsal of the concert in the LDS Conference Center."To be doing something that is so heartwarming and so necessary at this time, to be involved in a program that lifts people's spirits up, especially when the year's been really tough for a lot of people" is the essence of the holiday for Seymour, "the universal message of giving and receiving love."
Operatic baritone Nathan Gunn, the other guest artist, agreed. "What is really wonderful about being here, and what adds to that element of giving is that everybody's volunteering," he said. "Everybody who's here wants to be here. You don't have people running away from rehearsal. They're actually showing up early. Every single person I've spoken to, whether they're working backstage or they're in the choir or in the orchestra, have a smile on their face and really giving of themselves. That is palpable, and is something that, for me personally, helps lift up a performance to a higher level."
Snow even fell in the Conference Center! The technical crew made sure that it fell BETWEEN us and the audience as to protect our instruments, but a little bit drifted our way now and again. While playing I accidentally "sniffed" a piece of it up my nose. It tickled and burned. I composed myself as long as I could, but eventually had to stop playing and relieve the itch. I looked up at the jumbo screen and caught myself scratching my nose! I'm certain that little piece of footage will NOT be on the final PBS broadcast!
The very best part of the concert for me, is that I am able to share the entire experience with my youngest, Audrey, who performs in the Orchestra at Temple Square with me. Who would want to keep an indescribable experience like this, all to herself? It is SUCH a blessing!
December 19 The Larry H. Miller Family Christmas Carole Sing-a-long In its 27th year, the Miller Family carries on Larry Miller's Christmas Tradition even though he has passed away. We rehearse for a little over an hour, they feed us a nice dinner topped off with DELICIOUS brownies, then the event is only one hour and fifteen minutes! It's a fun and free event for the community with food and gifts of tickets and coupons. Singer, Alex Boye had people up and out of their seats dancing, singing, and having a grand time. The Jazz Bear and Santa Claus made special appearances too! I sat with Audrey for this one, just because I wanted to! We had such fun!
December 23 The Christmas Music of Mannheim Steamroller My last concert for this season. Local four violins, one viola, one cello, an oboe, a horn, and one trumpet are used to enhance the electronic contraptions they bring along. Despite the smoke machines triggering the fire alarm at Abravanel Hall during the rehearsal, this concert went off without a hitch. I'll have to admit that, though I loved every minute of playing, I let out a sigh of relief and left the hall with a spring in my step knowing that I could now return home and enjoy the next week or so with just my family! But I think as jobs go, mine is THE BEST!