Holiday concerts mean packed stages and houses

At last year's "Collage" concert, UK choirs director Jefferson Johnson led everyone, audience included, in Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.
At last year's "Collage" concert, UK choirs director Jefferson Johnson led everyone, audience included, in Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.

During the next two weekends, Jefferson Johnson and Scott Terrell will be playing musical Santa Clauses in the Singletary Center for the Arts. But it might be more appropriate if they are dressed like traffic cops.

"What a circus," Terrell, the music director of the Lexington Philharmonic Orchestra, says, contemplating his group's "Home for the Holidays" concert Dec. 10, which will feature more than a half-dozen guest artists from the region.

This weekend, University of Kentucky Choirs director Johnson will lead the annual UK "Collage" concert, featuring the university's choirs and numerous guests on the Singletary Center stage.

Both performances are everything-but-the-kitchen-sink shows that seem to be staples of the holiday season.

"Because holiday music is so rich, ... you have the ability to do so many things," Terrell says. "That's sort of the program."

Johnson says, "I can't put my finger on why people love this music so, but they do love it. It probably goes back to the time when we were kids and Christmas, if we celebrated it, was the most exciting holiday."

Since 1998, Johnson has expanded UK's "Collage" concert into a major event that annually sells out two performances and probably could stand to present a third, if the participants could find time on their calendars.

Over its 12 editions, the "Collage" has developed a distinct profile, staying true to its name by blending the performances from one musical act to another, uninterrupted by applause.

Johnson quotes music educator Leonard Meyer, saying, "Affect is created when a tendency to respond is inhibited. ... In a collage context, that means that by not letting the audience applaud, emotion builds and builds until the end when people erupt. And that's one of the exciting things about that performance is they always do erupt at the end of the first half and then at the end of the second. It isn't just, 'We should clap,' it's, 'I've been waiting to do this for 45 minutes. Thank you for letting me clap.'"

Johnson and his crew give the audience plenty to clap for, including annual favorites the UK Steel Band and a show-stopping soloist for O Holy Night.

This year, it will be tenor Gregory Turay, a UK graduate who has performed on some of the world's biggest stages, including the Metropolitan Opera, and is currently an artist-in-residence in UK's voice program.

For the Philharmonic, "Home for the Holidays" is a chance to do something new under the baton of Terrell, who is in his second year as the orchestra's music director.

"I felt Lexington needed a banner event, a 'come get your holiday music fill' event and an opportunity for collaboration and outreach beyond what the Philharmonic had previously done," Terrell says. "The difficulty is actually limiting the number of groups because there are a lot of ways that you can employ people on a program like this."

One group Terrell definitely wants to include is high school students, as he did in October's concert featuring the Lafayette High School Chorus performing music from West Side Story. This concert will feature the Scott County High School Brass, the Lexington Catholic High School Choir and the School for Creative and Performing Arts Chorus.

"This comes from someone who had the opportunity as a high school student to work with a professional orchestra," Terrell says. "I was lucky to be part of a very talented high school program, and that opportunity for me, and for my family to watch me as a participant, was really important to me."

With the school participants and others including dancers from Diana Evans School of Dance, the Lexington Singers and the Alluring Handbell Ensemble — which also is playing the "Collage" — Terrell says, "Over the course of the evening, roughly 300 people plus are going to cross the stage — not all at the same time."

It might be time to trade in the baton for a whistle.

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