The halls of Gasson are alive with the sound of music! Or at least, they were last Tuesday night for “A Christmas Festival,” presented by Boston College Bands. The halls rang with triumphant brass and crashing percussion accented by enchanting woodwinds. Christmas time is here at BC and it sounds great.
The Irish Room in Gasson Hall was packed to the gills with proud parents and grandparents, along with some students, looking to get their Christmas music fix from a source other than a Spotify playlist. There were more would-be audience members than seats, and some listeners took to sitting on the window sills or on chairs placed outside the doors. Clearly, “A Christmas Festival” was more popular than one might initially expect. The main focus of the event was obviously the music, but that didn’t mean that there wasn’t anything to see. Every member of the band was decked out in what was presumably their favorite Christmas sweater. Some musicians had gone as far as to put tinsel on their instruments, and one oboist even wore a headband complete with moose antlers. The holiday spirit was felt by all.
The first part of the concert was a series of five selections of music, put together by various composers. These first five musical pieces—“A Fireside Christmas,” “O Magnum Mysterium,” “A Home Alone Christmas,” “Greensleeves,” and “Sleigh Ride,” and were played by the BC Symphonic Band.
“A Fireside Christmas” got “A Christmas Festival” off to a great start. This selection consists of a few of the more famous light-hearted Christmas jingles. Composer Sammy Nestico, however, puts his own unique spin on the Christmas classics. The song from “A Fireside Christmas” that really stood out was “Frosty the Snowman.” The theme song from the classic animated movie and its sequels, “Frosty” is a Christmas staple. This rendition was triumphant instead of cartoonish. The Irish Room was filled with the sounds of drums and horns. The piece was still quite recognizable as “Frosty the Snowman,” but it has welcome changes of pace and a stronger beat. This version of “Frosty” was much more fitting to be played by a full band, and to be played well.
Moving right along from light holiday songs to more serious and solemn music, the BC Symphonic Band played “O Magnum Mysterium” by Morten Lauridsen. This subject of this composition is the theology of the nativity scene. While there were no accompanying vocals on Tuesday night, the music echoing through the building made Gasson feel even more church-like than it already does. The band did a beautiful job with this moving piece of music and, looking around the room, there were some tears to be seen on the faces of particularly proud parents, and maybe even some students too.
Next there was a piece from a fellow Bostonian, and a very famous Bostonian at that. John Williams’ “A Home Alone Christmas” transported the audience. It felt as if one was experiencing the music again, but also for the first time. Images of Kevin McAllister setting holiday themed traps for Harry and Marv and a tearful reunification between Kevin and his mother floated through the minds of those present. High spirited flutes and chiming bells were the main feature of this film score.
The first half of “A Christmas Festival” finished with one of the most famous and popular Christmas songs there is. “Sleigh Ride,” an upbeat catchy tune about a ride through a winter wonderland, was apparently composed in the midst of a 1946 heat wave. However, the song evokes thoughts and feelings of flying down a snow-covered street in a sleigh of one’s very own. This last song by the Symphonic Band was received to rounds of congratulatory applause. The conductor and the band took bows to very well-deserved praise by the audience.
After a brief intermission, the crowd funneled back in, eager for the second half of the show. The members of the University Wind Ensemble were clearly enjoying themselves as much as the audience. They were smiling and laughing with each other while they warmed up for the second half. If it is clear that the people giving the performance are having a good time and that they love what they are doing, it only adds to the enjoyment of the listener.
The University Wind Ensemble began with “A Christmas Intrada” by Alfred Reed. He wrote this piece to progress through a multitude of contrasting moods that go along with the Christmas festivities. The progressions utilize different sections of the band separately until the climactic swell of the full band to finish off the piece with a flourish.
By far the best piece played at “A Christmas Festival” was “Russian Christmas Music.” It got off to a slow start, full of bells and somber, haunting notes from the woodwinds. It conjured sensations of the liturgical sounds of Mother Russia at Christmas time. The music rose, lifting itself into a climactic height with the blaring of the horns. The music is great on its own, but the atmosphere and the feeling of being inside a warm room on a cold night propelled this specific piece higher and higher. The Wind Ensemble should be highly commended for its work on this piece as it was definitely the high-point of the night.
Wrapping up “A Christmas Festival” in a neat little bow, the Wind Ensemble played a piece similarly named “A Christmas Festival.” An uplifting arrangement consisting of “Joy to the World,” “ Deck the Halls,” “Jingle Bells,” and more, these well-known songs made for the perfect end to the Christmas-themed event. “A Christmas Festival” certainly gets the listener ready for Christmas time, even though there a few more weeks until the big day. One thing is for sure: the music played by the BC bands sounds much better than any Christmas music one might hear on the radio.
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