These days, I find it increasingly difficult to remember the joys of the holiday season with all the commercialism that bombards us starting around Thanksgiving. However, it is not only profit-driven America that thrives on this time of year – thankfully, the arts also receive a boost over the holiday season and will continue to do so as long as the Nutcracker and Messiah remain such an integral part of the Christmas experience.

And there will be plenty of Nutcracker and Messiah going around this year – the MSO has no less than eight performances of Messiah throughout the Milwaukee area. (You can see them all on our December calendar.) But coming up this weekend is something that doesn’t happen every year in Milwaukee – Doc Severinsen is back in town with his Christmas program! I have never had the chance to see one of Doc’s shows, but judging from the turnout this weekend (nearly all four shows have sold out even with extra seating), I am guessing we are in for something special. Of course, whatever he does, he will have the support of the great Milwaukee Symphony Chorus and the Milwaukee Handbell Ensemble which were huge hits at last year’s Holiday Pops Concerts. Consider yourself lucky if you have a ticket to this weekend!

Once this weekend is over, I will take a different holiday program with the symphony on tour to places like West Bend, Cedarburg, and Brillion. The MSO will present this program once in the Milwaukee area: I always enjoy programming these concerts because the first half consists of classical works that remind us of this time of year and then the second half is all holiday pops favorites, including our yearly carol sing-along (I never thought I would have to go back and make sure I knew the words to “Frosty the Snowman”!)

But for the musicians and myself, the best is saved for last. As a musician, there always comes a point in December at which you think you can’t take another “Nutcracker” without screaming or another “Sleigh Ride” without plugging your ears. Fortunately, our final week before Christmas has us bringing a holiday program to the places that need it the most: nursing homes, hospitals, and centers for those with disabilities. No matter how many times we play these programs and no matter how tightly packed we are in gyms and conference rooms, these are the best concerts of the year. As a child, I remembered volunteering music during the holidays, but I never experienced anything like I did last year when I made these trips with the MSO. The look of surprise, joy, and excitement on the faces of children and adults when we piled in with all our instruments was absolutely priceless, not to mention when we opened the concert with a dazzling rendition of Winter Wonderland. Singing along with the children and giving them a chance to conduct “Sleigh Ride” are all moments I will never forget and the best part is that I get to do it all again this year!

Family, music, laughter, smiles… those are the best Christmas gifts and I wish them to you all this season! Thank you for supporting the MSO and our work in Milwaukee!


About Francesco Lecce-Chong

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