Paul Merluzzi

Paul Merluzzi

It seemed like I needed a kick-start to get me into the mood on this, my 77th holiday season. Though I don’t remember the first few, for the most part the Christmas seasons were always exciting, and at times, frenetic. They were also a time for family and for remembering the little surprises life has for you that you did not imagine for yourself.

This year, I feel blah, like Charlie Brown. Maybe it is the over- commercialization of the holiday, especially this year with the short time span between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Maybe it is the further distancing of the holiday from the religious roots of Christmas and Chanukah, though I am not a religious person.

Maybe this most musical of holidays brings on a tinge of sadness and anger because this, and other concerts I attend, brings to mind the plight of music education due to the philistine attitudes of governments as they hack away at education funding in the cultural arts. Maybe I am just becoming a curmudgeon in my old age.

Or it could be that I just needed a concert of festive delights, household-favorite carols, traditional sing-alongs, the soaring voices of a choral group, the spectacular sounds of a professional symphony orchestra, and even a sprinkling of stardust with good friends to celebrate the season.

Fortunately, the Kennett Symphony ‘Pops Goes the Holidays!’ concert on Dec. 7 at Rustin High School in West Chester provided all of that in abundance. Smiles were plentiful as patrons came out of the cold into a warm and inviting lobby that was buzzing with chatter, greetings, hugs and laughter. Filled with long-time friends, new acquaintances, and loving families, this was truly a holiday gathering rich with kindness, affection and good will. I was starting to feel better already and into the spirit of the season.

At this time of year, we are spoiled by the multitude of choices when it comes to seasonal musical offerings, from the secular to the ecclesiastical, from amateur to professional. At the Kennett Symphony, one has come to expect the very best and they certainly delivered. Music Director Michael Hall provided another fine program that was supported by 61 singers from the Chester County Choral Society, Gary P. Garletts, Artistic Director and Conductor.

Even I, in my temporary curmudgeon state, was moved by the selections including the Robert Shaw and Robert Russell Bennett arrangement of the ‘Many Moods of Christmas’, the ‘Hallelujah Chorus’ from Handel’s ‘Messiah’, Dana Friedman and Robert Wendel’s arrangement of ‘A Chanukah Overture’, selections from Tchaikovsky’s ‘Nutcracker Suite’ that evokes so many feelings and images that I am sure there were visions of dancing, sugar plums, presents, mice, and nutcracker soldiers as the brief extract from the suite progressed. These songs go beyond the original; they define the very essence of the season, and, once heard, bring you (and me) back to the holiday.

Of course Maestro Hall included many more traditional favorites such as Leroy Anderson’s ‘Sleigh Ride’ that transports you to a holiday wonderland, especially when you hear it performed live, Leontovich’s ‘Carol of the Bells’ arranged by Richard Hayman, a medley of ‘Christmas Favorites’ arranged by Bruce Chase, ‘We Wish You a Merry Christmas’ arranged by Gary Fry, and a ‘Christmas Singalong’ that engaged the enthusiastic and lively audience as a true community.

I especially enjoyed ‘What Sweeter Music’ by John Rutter – a tender setting of the traditional carol form, written for the King’s College Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols in 1987. It has become one of Rutter's most cherished Christmas anthems.

The Kennett Symphony under Maestro Hall and the Chester County Choral Society, Gary P. Garletts, Artistic Director and Conductor, were superb in the execution of this wonderful program.

Please consider attending the future concerts for these two Chester County gems:

  • Family Concert, March 22, 2020, 2 pm, Rustin High School, West Chester
  • Reimagined Symphony Experience, April 4, 2020, 1 pm, Mendenhall Inn
  • Ethereal Spaces, April 5, 2020, 7:30 pm, Longwood Gardens Exhibition Hall
  • Symphony Under the Stars, June 14, 2020, 7:30pm, Longwood Gardens Open Air Theatre. Chester County Choral Society (chestercountychoralsociety.org)
  • Handel’s Messiah, December 14, 2019, 7:30 pm, Rustin High School, West Chester
  • Handel’s Messiah, December 15, 2019, 3:30pm, Church of the Good Samaritan, Paoli

Happy Holidays everyone! May your home be filled with music and happiness in 2020! Thank you for supporting the arts in Chester County, especially The Kennett Symphony Orchestra and the Chester County Choral Society.

Paul J. Merluzzi is the past president of The Kennett Symphony of Chester County.
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