The Columbus Indiana Philharmonic overcame numerous obstacles in presenting “Philharmonics Holidays!” Sunday with musical guests the Wright Brothers and the Columbus Indiana Children’s Choir.
Originally scheduled for Erne Auditorium at Columbus North, a fire there required that the concert be moved to Robbins Auditorium at Columbus East, giving the Philharmonic less than a week to make all the logistical changes necessary to accommodate more than a 100 musicians and an audience of nearly 1,000. Kudos must be given to Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp., auditorium directors John Johnson at Columbus North and Kevin Welsh at Columbus East, their students staffs, the Philharmonic administrative and technical staffs, and particularly production manager Vanessa Edwards, executive director Margaret Powers and maestro David Bowden for pulling off an event of this magnitude.
After a few introductory comments by Santa Claus, the concert began with the appropriate fanfare of a traditional favorite, “Bugler’s Holiday,” composed by Leroy Anderson, followed by “Waltz of the Flowers” from The Nutcracker by Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, which featured harpist Wendy Muston. Both pieces were warmly received by the audience, as were most of the more familiar selections performed during the briskly paced program.
At this point, Bowden introduced his first guests of the evening, the Wright Brothers. Based in Carmel, the band been performing for more than 40 years. Their laid-back stage presence, rich musical harmonies and way of introducing each of their songs with a personal story won the audiences’ hearts. They overcame some balance problems with the orchestra and their own instruments during soulful renditions of Christmas favorites “Winter Wonderland” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and the Ricky Skaggs’ song, “New Star Shining.” Performing the Irving Berlin hit, “White Christmas,” the Wright Brothers and the Philharmonic cleverly introduced the other musical guest of the evening, the Columbus Indiana Children’s Choir.
With artistic director Ruth Dwyer working in a nearly flawless collaboration of coordinating tempi and phrasing with maestro Bowden, the Children’s Choir sang with a pure and pleasing tone. Facing the challenges of singing in Hebrew for “Hanerot Hallelu,” supporting very soft singing in “There is Faint Music” by Dan Forrest and performing the rhythmic intricacies of “The Virgin Mary” by John Leavitt, the Children’s Choir proved up to the test, although occasionally they were covered by the orchestra and their diction on their highest notes was somewhat muffled.
Closing out the first half of the program, the Children’s Choir and Philharmonic led the audience in a sing-a-long of four traditional Christmas carols, “A Carol Festival,” arranged by Hawley Ades.
The second half of the program began with another Leroy Anderson arrangement, “Christmas Festival,” carefully weaving together several well-known Christmas tunes, which the Philharmonic played with great energy and a robust musical intensity. This was followed by a lovely setting of several Jewish melodies, “Chanukah Suite,” eloquently introduced by Bowden.
At this point, the Wright Brothers returned to the stage and the concert took on a mellow tone. An original song by Tim Wright, “Christmas Love,” a musical combination of the Harry Chapin ballad “Mr. Tanner,” vividly portrayed by tenor John McDowell with the traditional “O Holy Night” sung poignantly by baritone Tom Wright, and the steel pedal guitar feature “Christmas Island” all showcased the wide range of musical styles that has been a trademark of Wright Brothers performances.
The Wright Brothers were extremely well supported by their principal accompanist, Greg Anderson, and guest drum set player, Mark Stempel. Also deserving special mention is Daniel Powers, the arranger of the orchestral parts for the Philharmonic on Wright Brothers songs. His sensitive use of the differing orchestral colors available to the Philharmonic greatly enhanced and complimented the musical presentation of the Wright Brothers style.
The concert quickly moved to its close with the familiar Leroy Anderson arrangement of “Sleigh Ride” with the fun addition of solo banjo played beautifully by Tim Wright. He followed that with his folk song-like rendition of “In the Bleak Midwinter,” which the orchestra accompanied with its finest musical sensitivity and nuance under the artful baton of Bowden.
“Jingle Bell Rock” appropriately ended this concert of holiday favorites with the audiences’ sustained applause affirming their enjoyment of the Philharmonic, Children’s Choir and The Wright Brothers in this musical gift to the community.
J. Kevin Butler is a graduate of the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music and was a high school choral director for more than 20 years. He is currently director of music for the First United Methodist Church of Columbus.