Woodlands Symphony Blends Christmas with Community

For those familiar with The Woodlands Symphony and its creative Music Director, Dagang Chen, it is no surprise that he continues to find innovative ways to keep the orchestra relevant to the community. Witness the many years of educational pre-concert programs for youth that symphony volunteer, Lana Hazlett, so often organized prior to the symphony’s performances. Then there are the wonderful “Exhibition in Music” programs the symphony has done to highlight both area student artwork and original student musical compositions. Now maestro Chen has scored another community success combining his fine symphony orchestra with the Music Staff and Vocal Team of the Fellowship of the Woodlands Church, with its Music Pastor, Stan Durham. The joint venture produced last Sunday evening’s blockbuster event, The Woodlands Symphony Holiday Pops concert, and featured an enormous number of talented church vocalists and musicians, in addition to the talented members of our treasured Woodlands Symphony.

Blockbuster was an appropriate word for this concert, which clearly aimed at attracting the youth audience in this vibrant, active, and energized church. The enormous tabernacle resembles a Las Vegas showroom with all the bells and whistles, a perhaps too-powerful audio system, and even two running teleprompters to make karaoke-style certain that singers on stage remembered the lyrics to each song. Youngsters who like their music LOUD, and with a rock-n-roll beat, would not be disappointed, as the church musicians would very nearly blow the roof off the building. This was understandable as a draw for young people used to the surround-sound speakers at Cinemark theatres. But I confess my favorite part of the program was the exquisite and beautifully performed “Christmas Festival Overture” that opened the program under the stately grace of Chen’s skilled baton, before countless drums took over much of what would follow. The “Overture” was sublime and touched on so many of the favorite holiday melodies. But for kids who love percussion, much of this concert would be an early Christmas present.

While the many vocalists who performed are too numerous to recount here, allow me to give a sampling of the many Christmas songs offered. The Men’s Ensemble had a rousing “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year. Kim Schrek led a jazzy “Let It Snow,” while an equally jazzy sextet of singers followed with “Winter Wonderland.” Keith Malonson’s fine saxophone solos were a highlight of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” and “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town.” A handsome Craig Adderly seemed to be having a great time, and sounded ready for American Idol during his smoothly confident and rather unique interpretation of “Silver Bells.” And speaking of American Idol, its former star, Woodlands resident, Will Makar, was scheduled to perform “The Christmas Song,” but had to withdraw due to strep throat. Speaking of illness, the “Coughin’, Sneezin’ Blues,” had a cute title but the lyrics were generally inaudible. Our drummers went wild during Daniel Pratt’s vocal for a thunderous “Little Drummer Boy,” that won enthusiastic applause from many in the audience. Meanwhile, more loud audio volumes overwhelmed the vocalist in “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.” Relief followed in the drum-free “Away in a Manger,” from darling little Anthony Mireles Jr.. With his dark eyes shining and his very sweet voice, he reminded us that Christmas is a special time for children. Then there was another elegant performance from the symphony as lovely Lindsay Miller showed her soaring vocal power with, “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” Aimee Thompson had thrilling power of her own with the gentle and joyful moments of “All Is Well,” while Karen Lewis captured the mystical wonder in “Breath of Heaven.” Andrea Smith’s “O Holy Night,” was lovely, and her fine voice had no need of the rock-concert volume that accompanied her. Doc Holiday led a handclapping “Joy to the World,” that closed the evening with a standing ovation.

Now if you missed this symphony performance, all is not lost. The Woodlands Symphony Orchestra will once again present Handel’s “Messiah” on Sunday, December 16th at 7:00 p.m. in Christ Church United Methodist, 6363 Research Forest Drive, The Woodlands. Featured soloists will include:

  • Mezzo-soprano, Sishel Claverie, a frequent performer with the Moores Opera Center.
  • Baritone, Mark Whatley, who has performed in numerous venues, including the opera companies of Nashville, Birmingham, Augusta, Chattanooga, the Opera Festival di Roma, and many others. Whatley has won sizable grants from the Metropolitan Opera to further his studies, and in 1999 he made his Carnegie Hall debut in New York. He is currently pursuing a Doctor of Musical Arts degree at Rice University.
  • Tenor, Joseph Mikolaj, a senior voice major at the University of St. Thomas, who is glad to be returning for his second outing with the Woodlands Symphony, having performed as Tony in “West Side Story” five years ago in the collaboration between Class Act Productions and the Woodlands Symphony.
  • Soprano, Stephanie Jennings, who makes her debut with the Woodlands Symphony Orchestra this holiday season. A former student at La Sorbonne in Paris, she is a resident of Houston and frequently performs with the Houston Grand Opera as a member of the HGO Chorus.

Tickets ( $15 adults, $5 students ) may be purchased at the door, or at the Homefinder Center and local Randall’s supermarkets. For further information call 281-298-4100.

(The Courier    12.7.07)

About The People's Critic

David Dow Bentley III, writes columns about the performing arts which are featured in newspapers from the East Coast to the Gulf Coast. A member of the American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA), The International Theatre Critics Association, and America's oldest theatrical club, The Lambs, he also had long service as the editor of The Lambs' Script magazine. Mr. Bentley may be contacted via e-mail at ThePeoplesCritic3@gmail.com.
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