National Symphony Orchestra Holiday Pops

A few years ago, my delightful English Mother-in-Law joined us for the holidays, and I spent some time contemplating what would be typically American Christmas celebrations to share with her.  Inspiration led me to suggest that my Beloved Husband, my Mother-in-Law, and I join my sister to go see the Boston Pops holiday concert.  It was an absolutely wonderful concert, and my Mother-in-Law was enchanted. (My BH and I even spontaneously snuck out to the gift shop during the intermission to augment her Christmas presents with a CD of the Holiday Pops, which was subsequently quite well received.)  The experience also awoke long dormant childhood memories of watching the Boston Pops on TV every Thursday night with my parents, and I suddenly realized that I had actually grown up with the Pops.  I have since been on the look-out to have another Holiday Pops experience and share it with others if possible.

As I scanned the numerous holiday events in Washington, the National Symphony Orchestra Holiday Pops concerts leaped to the top of my priority list.  It might not be Boston, but it was still extremely appealing.  In a parallel to “If you build it, they will come,” I find that my fellow Fellows respond eagerly to, “If you organize it, they will come,” so I was very pleased to be joined by three of my new friends for the evening.

Dressing for the occasion turned out to be a bit of a challenge.  The Senate and the House were not in session on Friday, which meant that we could dress casually, and since we had been in formal business wear all week, that informal option was extremely appealing.  My fellow Fellows and I, all female, shared a conflicting desire to dress up at least somewhat for the concert, but bringing extra clothes was impractical taking mass transit or walking to work.  Resourceful woman that we are, we all solved the problem similarly by pairing skirts or dresses with comfortable footwear.

The horseshoe-shaped galleries in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall did remind me of Boston’s Symphony Hall, and if it was not the golden toned walls I had seen on TV every Thursday night years ago, it was a worthy substitute.  Our seats were in one of the upper galleries, which gave us a bird’s eye view of the whole stage.  I was particularly happy about our seats when they played, “Trepak,” the Russian dance from The Nutrcracker.  I’m not sure I’ve ever had a really good view to watch the percussionist play the tambourine during that piece, but the NSO musician was amazing. I couldn’t even reproduce at slow speed his combinations of striking fingers and knuckles on the tambourine, much less attempt the breakneck tempo of the piece in full flight.

After some consultation with the audience, the conductor established that it was the seventh night of Hanukkah, and he was taking the opportunity to share a bit of his own heritage.  He introduced an arrangement of O Channukah by explaining that he particularly liked the arrangement since it sounded Jewish.  Performed with a clarinet solo, I did find that the familiar piece that I had learned from my teacher in second grade (while my mother and her friend fried latkes for the class) seemed to be crossed with a Jewish wedding dance, and I loved it.


Sleigh Ride was an audience participation number.  Instead of one of the instrumentalists doing the crack of the whip during the middle section, the audience was to clap at exactly the right time.  We had a practice session before the piece began, which proceeded with mixed results.  On the first attempt, instinct kicked in and we all did pretty well with only a few stray noises.  On the second try, people started to overthink the song rather than just watching the conductor, and most of the claps were a beat early.  We practiced several more times, and I was thrilled that during the piece, the audience performed flawlessly.

In introducing Brazilian Sleigh Ride, the conductor proudly pointed out that only three acts have had two number one hits in the same year- Elvis, The Beatles, and Percy Faith, who wrote the piece we were about to hear.  The wide variety of percussion and the Latin rhythm amply supplied the Brazilian flair, and although the melody was nothing like the Sleigh Ride that we usually hear during this season, I had no trouble envisioning whooshing merrily across the snow.  Of course, now that I think about it, Brazilian sleigh rides must happen in July, but that did not diminish my enjoyment.

When Maggie and I had been at the White House holiday tour last weekend, there was a choir providing music.  At one point, the group started singing, “We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” and Maggie pointed out that we had heard the song at the Willard Hotel the previous weekend.  I explained that it’s the traditional song that translates to, “We are done singing for you now, and if you intend to feed us or pay us, now is the time.”  When the vocal quartet at the Pops started in on, “We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” I smirked and thought, “We’re almost done.”  I have found that it is really not my favorite carol, and when they actually ended on “Silent Night,” I was much happier.

It was another splendid DC holiday outing.  I suspect that January will never be able to compare to the whirlwind of December, but I feel I have done justice to this season in the Capital.


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