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Take that, Scrooge!

Concert and holiday sing-along short on tacky Christmas sweaters, but big on holiday cheer

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PHOTO BY ASHLEY SCHWELLENBACH
  • PHOTO BY ASHLEY SCHWELLENBACH
Filing into the PAC on Sunday for the Forbes Pipe Organ Holiday Concert and Sing-Along, I hear a kid behind me exclaim, “Wow, that’s a really big pipe organ!” For once, I’m grateful to spot kids in a theater. I figure they will sing loudly and take some of the heat off my own performance.

Everyone I talk to—the audience members tall enough to ride the big rides at Great America, at least—says it’s their first year attending the concert. Louise Maughan came to hear her granddaughter sing with the Central Coast Children’s Choir. Cindy Geins attended at the recommendation of one of her colleagues.

“I’ve taught school for years. I sing with kids,” Geins said confidently when asked if she was at all concerned about the public singing segments of the evening.

My own confidence was diminishing. If Maughan was related to one of the kids in the choir, she could probably sing too. Genetics, right? And Geins was so confident it seemed unlikely her singing voice would resemble the braying or lowing of a barnyard animal (as mine, I was confident, would). There’s no point in lying. The possibility of psychological warfare did enter my head. If I chipped away at everyone else’s confidence, their singing would suffer. If you can’t play at someone else’s playing field, simply bring them down to your own. That’s my motto, at least. But before I could put these plans into effect, the theater doors open and the crowd disperses to find their seats.

There are disappointingly few tacky Christmas sweaters. I did see a woman wearing Santa Claus earrings, but it just wasn’t enough. I wanted misshapen snowflakes and pink-faced Santas and maybe even a manger scene or two.

I’ve seen the pipe organ on many occasions, but never before with a wreath and lighted garland adorning the box around it. The pipes themselves gleamed red and green, both festive and sinister. First on the agenda was organist Paul Woodring playing “Menuet” from the Gothic Suite. He entered the pipe organ box sans Santa hat, much to my disappointment. After his prelude, the audience was up. Accompanied by Woodring, and led by Vocal Arts Ensemble founder and director Gary Lamprecht, we sang “Joy to the World.” That is, we sang a snippet of “Joy to the World.” An excerpt.

Previewing the program before we began butchering all the holiday classics I knew and loved—“O Come All Ye Faithful,” “Angels We Have Heard On High,” “Silent Night,” “Deck the Halls,” “Silver Bells,” “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town”—I realized that the event organizers may have been smarter than I gave them credit for. We weren’t singing entire carols, just a handful of lines that lasted a minute or so per song. 

Then the Vocal Arts Ensemble was at bat, singing three songs including “Ave Maria” and “The Holly and the Ivy,” two of the Ensemble’s audience favorites.

Of course, everyone loved the children’s choirs, led by the Boys Choir singing a traditional Hanukah song, “Hanerot Halalu.” As the children file onto the risers, the audience inexplicably emits a collective chuckle. I think I understand why. The boys aren’t exactly scowling, but they looked as though they had been dragged away from a game of something and forced into formalwear. Then they start singing, “All hanissim ve’al haniflaot/ Al hatshu-ot ve’al hamilchamot” and I have no clue what’s being said, but am impressed by the hours they must have dedicated to learning the song. This choir wasn’t full of kids capitalizing on their cuteness by singing “Frosty the Snowman.”

The four girls’ choirs—Apprentice Choir, Premiere Choir, Concert Choir, and Advanced Vocal Ensemble—were equally talented. Three-quarters of the way through the evening the Advanced Vocal Ensemble sang “The Angel Gabriel” and “The Christmas Song,” and the quality of their soloist was remarkable. Which turned out to be the theme for the evening. Collectively, the choirs and ensembles were beautiful. But it was during the rare solos that the audience got a glimpse of the heights the performers can ascend.

As one of the Vocal Arts Ensemble’s wrap-up songs Lamprecht announces his least favorite (and one of my favorite) holiday songs—“The Twelve Days of Christmas.”

“It’s very predictable. It’s like ‘99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall,” he laments before launching the group into a comical, confused version of the song that has the singers forgetting how to count, correcting one another, and singing segments of such other holiday classics as “Deck the Halls,” and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” The audience is merry, and certainly more energetic than when we were supposed to be singing on our own. The fraternal swell of voices was more muted than I had hoped for, and I began to suspect that everyone else was just as embarrassed of singing in public as I was. Of course, that didn’t stop me. It’s rare that I have the opportunity to sing without someone attempting to stop me; forcibly sometimes.

Volunteer ushers Laurie and Craig Cummings were a little easier on the audience.

“I’m going to give everybody a 10,” said Laurie. “Of course, you can only hear yourself sing.” After the audience members’ butts were safely braced in their designated seats, the ushers got to watch the show, which included joining in the singing. While Laurie enthused about the cute kids, Vocal Arts Ensemble’s rendition of “Ave Maria” and the Central Coast Children’s Choir’s Advanced Vocal Ensemble’s “The Christmas Song,” Craig was a little more serious. His favorite segment of the evening was eating macaroons during intermission.

Despite audience participation that could best be classified as “fair,” the concert served its purpose, best stated in “The Christmas Song” (also known as “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire”): “And so, I’m offering this simple phrase, to kids from 1 to 92. Although it’s been said many times, many ways, a very Merry Christmas to you.”

Arts Editor Ashley Schwellenbach is a kid of 25. Wish her a very Merry Christmas at aschwellenbach@newtimesslo.com.

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