Courtney Lewis, Music Director of the Jacksonville Symphony
The holiday season is almost upon us, a time when we can enjoy being together with family and friends, eat and drink too much and reflect on the year that has passed. I’m looking forward to traveling to London and Belfast to be Uncle Courtney for a few weeks. It’s a time with so many traditions, yet there is one element that binds it all together: classical music. Nothing says “Christmas is coming” quite like hearing the Trepak–a Ukrainian folk dance–from The Nutcracker playing in the supermarket for the first time or catching a fleeting strain of the “Hallelujah” Chorus from George Frideric Handel’s Messiah. Of course, for musicians, it’s not only “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” but the busiest. We often joke that in December, Handel pays the rent.
This year is the fiftieth anniversary of the first performance of the First Coast Nutcracker, the Jacksonville Symphony’s annual collaboration with over 180 young community dancers. This vibrant production of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s mouthwatering ballet is a treasure in the Jacksonville artistic calendar and not to be missed. I will be conducting Handel’s glorious Messiah with the Symphony Chorus and a team of fantastic soloists. And of course, the Symphony presents Jacksonville’s favorite holiday tradition, Holiday Pops.
For me, the essence of Christmas is the music I grew up singing. One of my earliest memories of performing is singing the first verse of the carol “Once in Royal David’s City.” This is traditionally sung by a solo treble (or boy soprano). It can be ferociously difficult to stay in tune by yourself when you’re eight years old, and nothing deflates the spirit like hearing the choir enter in verse two in the right key when you’ve wandered off all alone into the wrong one. Like many Brits, I love to listen to the broadcast of the Service of Nine Lessons and Carols from King’s College, Cambridge on Christmas Eve, which begins with this same tradition.
One of my family’s eagerly anticipated holiday pastimes is rewatching the classic 1990 Macaulay Culkin movie Home Alone. Full of Christmas music from “Jingle Bell Rock” to “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas,” I’m always struck by how one of the film’s most moving movements is achieved through yet more classical music. Lonely little Kevin wanders into a church where he hears a choir sing Adolphe Adam’s gorgeous carol, “O Holy Night.” In the movie, as in life, music offers us consolation, joy and hope like nothing else.
So whatever your holiday traditions, I wonder if you might take a moment to notice just how much classical music comes your way, and enjoy it for the holiday gift that it is.