The University of Kentucky Singletary Center for the Arts is a place where Central Kentucky audiences usually go to watch performances. Tuesday night, the audience became part of the show as the Kentucky Christmas Chorus made its Singletary Center debut.
Musicians accented their black formal wear with red ties or scarves, and some donned reindeer antlers or Santa hats as they led the audience through numbers such as Jingle Bells, Silent Night and Walking in a Winter Wonderland.
Wintry weather tamped down attendance at the event, which last week was billed as sold out. Penny Ebel, events coordinator for the Lexington Fayette Urban-County Government, said several school systems that had planned to come had to cancel when schools were closed because of slick roads.
The Singletary Center, with capacity of about 1,500, was about two-thirds full.
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Christmas Chorus veterans JoAnn Perkins and Julie Doose of Paris came dressed up for the singalong. They gave the new venue a thumbs up, though Perkins said, "I would love to see Rupp Arena filled up with people singing, because it is the most wonderful time of the year."
For more than two decades, the Christmas Chorus was presented in Rupp Arena, usually with longtime Lexington Philharmonic maestro George Zack conducting the orchestra and the Lexington Singers. The last few years have been ones of transition as Zack retired and Singers director Jefferson Johnson led performances.
Audiences also declined, dropping from more than 5,000 in the event's heyday to around 2,000 at recent editions.
That diminishing interest and tight finances at the Lexington Fayette Urban-County Government nearly scuttled the Christmas Chorus this year. But Ebel was determined the show had to go on, even if it meant moving it and making some other changes.
Those included losing the participation of the Philharmonic, which was unable to sign on in the fall, when it was finally determined that the event would take place.
Percussionist James Campbell said Tuesday night's orchestra was about 60 percent Philharmonic musicians, with the rest coming from the University of Kentucky Symphony.
Performers seemed to favor the change in venue.
"I could never hear the brass in Rupp Arena," Campbell said. "Here, it sounds great."
Campbell also thought the closer quarters would enhance the audience participation. "You get more into the spirit of it when you're closer together."
Among those happiest with the setting was Ebel, who said, "The Singletary Center staff has been great. I'd come back here in a heartbeat."