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Tuesday evening in Dvorak Hall at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston we nestled in our comfortable seats and enjoyed the EIU Concert Band and Wind Symphony in their “Holiday Collage.”

“Yuletide Tapestry” created a patchwork musical tapestry of Christmas songs under the direction of Conductor J. Corey Francis. This Traditional piece arranged by Gary Parks mixed and blended some old favorites: “We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” “Deck the Halls,” “Over the River and Through the Woods,” “Jingle Bells,” and many other favorites. It ended in a neat bell and drum roll.

“Carol of the Bells,” Traditional (Adaptation by Longfield, arranged by Chip Davis) was led by Michael Began, guest conductor. Began is studying conducting at Eastern Illinois University and made an excellent impression as he led the concert band. I loved “Carol of the Bells” because it seemed like the bells and the drums were truly caroling.

In “Adagio on a Sussex Carol” by Italian-American Composer Luigi Zaninelli (b 1932) the flutes and clarinets stood out for me. This number brought back some memories for Conductor Francis who had attended University of Southern Mississippi where Professor Luigi Zaninelli was a composer-in-residence. This connection made this wonderful piece memorable for the conductor as well as a connection for the audience.

“The Nightmare Before Christmas” by Danny Elfman (b 1953) (arranged by Michael Brown) was taken from the cartoon movie where Halloween characters try to spread the joy of Christmas creating havoc and a scary great time. This was a funny-creepy-Christmastime presentation where one could imagine a Pumpkin King or frightening ghost walking across the stage arm-in-arm with Santa.

“Fantasia in G” by Timothy Mahr (b. 1956) was by the Eastern Illinois University Wind Symphony led by Conductor Alicia Neal. This number was very fast in one particular place. It seemed the winds and percussion had some fun with this one. It was joyful and upbeat.

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“The Sussex Mummers’ Christmas Carol” by Percy Aldridge Grainger (1882-1961) (Orchestration by Carl Simpson) was a delight. I found on the internet the final verse of this Carol which goes, “God bless your house, your children too, your cattle and your store; The Lord increase you day by day and send you more and more.” I had never heard this carol before. Nice.

Perhaps the highlight of the evening was when Patricia Poulter associate dean of the College of Arts and Humanities narrated “Twas the Night Before Christmas.” The music was written by Bill Holcombe (1924-2010) with Clement Moore given the credit for the well-known poetry. It was an extraordinary Christmas story-telling time at its finest as Poulter read the well-loved book to the audience as the Wind Symphony played softly in the background or dramati-cally in-between verse. This unforgettable performance was a remarkable delight.

The evening almost ended with “A Christmas Festival” by Leroy Anderson (1908-1975) which was a medley of Christmas songs: “Good King Wenceslas,” “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” “Silent Night,” Oh Come All Ye Faithful,” “Jingle Bells,” and other favorites. The sounds of bells, sleighs, horses neighing, a snapping of whip filled Dvorak Hall. Totally awesome and the perfect ending of “A Holiday Collage.”

The Wind Symphony encored “Sleigh Bells” for the appreciative audience. It was an old-time favorite.

Carolyn Stephens of Charleston is an arts enthusiast and reviewer-at-large for the JG-TC. Contact her at carolynjstephens@yahoo.com.

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