It started, like most Christmas traditions, in Brazil.
Alltech founder and president Pearse Lyons was in Sao Paulo and wound up at a Christmas Festival. He sent photos to University of Kentucky Opera Theatre director Everett McCorvey, telling him they should put together a similar event in Lexington.
“It’s summer down there at Christmastime,” McCorvey recalls. “So it was an outdoor festival. But what struck me looking at the pictures was how much it looked like Victorian Square,” the shopping and dining complex at Main Street and Broadway now known as The Square.
That was over a decade ago.
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Sunday is the 10th presentation of the Alltech Celebration of Song, an annual holiday event featuring singers from the UK Opera program who have earned coveted Alltech scholarships along with a live orchestra, choirs from UK and the community, guest soloists and, in recent years, the UK Steel Drum Band.
Hey, we said this thing had roots in the Southern hemisphere.
Somewhat like UK Opera’s other signature town-and-gown event, June’s Grand Night for Singing, the Celebration of Song is an event that has grown, developed its own traditions and expanded. There will be two performances this year, at 5 and 7:30 p.m. Sunday, and McCorvey says the time has come to figure out how to expand it again.
“It’s been very, very successful,” McCorvey says.
Also like Grand Night, it has been a venue for spotting talent and introducing new voices to Lexington.
McCorvey recalls a few years ago when Brooklyn Shuck, daughter of former WKYT chief meteorologist T.G. Shuck, performed at the event, “and I thought, ‘that girl is going to be on Broadway someday.’” Less than a year later, she was, as part of the trio of Shuck Sisters enjoying national stage success.
It was also the venue McCorvey used to bring in Zeb Harrison and the Sounds of Praise, a North Carolina brass ensemble he heard in the Tar Heel State. The group came in for last year’s Celebration and ended up returning for the city’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day event and several prominent appearances during Breeders’ Cup activities.
There are traditions, like a grandiose piano solo from Tedrin Blair Lindsay, ending with the Hallelujah chorus from Handel’s Messiah and a solo from star UK Opera alum Gregory Turay, who usually sings O Holy Night. But this year, he will defer that solo to Miss Kentucky and UK voice student Clark Davis and sing another special selection.
The spotlight is always on the Alltech Scholars in the voice program and other UK students and ensembles. And this is hardly the only responsibility for student musicians in December who have other events such as the School of Music’s annual Holiday Collage, which was last weekend, and UK Opera’s production of Amahl and the Night Visitors, which was Friday and Saturday, as well as other work such as church events.
“We do our vocal finals a week early so that the students don’t have to worry about them during all this singing,” McCorvey says. And they want to put their best feet forward as the Celebration is recorded and shown on WKYT over Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
Over the event’s decade, there have been attempts to change things up, including plans one year to make the celebration an outdoor event.
“We made all the plans and got all the permissions we needed to close off Short Street and then we had a big snowstorm,” McCorvey says. “That was our indication that outside is not going to work for this event.”
But something does need to give, he says, as the event packs out The Square for two performances each year.
“I have been excited about the turnouts and all the people who come out to enjoy the season,” McCorvey says. “But we do realize the time has come to expand and ask what that means.”
If You Go
‘Alltech Celebration of Song’
What: Holiday music event featuring students from the University of Kentucky Opera Theatre.
When: 5 and 7:30 p.m. Dec. 13
Where: The Square, Main Street at Broadway