James Blachly

James Blachly

Joy, mystery, warmth, festivity, generosity – these are just a few of the words that come to mind as we enter the beautiful holiday season.

And as we prepare for our two “Joy of Christmas” concerts on Dec. 14, I find myself asking: What is it about music that helps us experience the magic of this special time?

The past weeks have seen our chorus at Central Park for the Christmas tree lighting on Nov. 22 and at Seven Springs on Nov. 30. We have a new offering at 4 and 5 p.m. Saturday at AmeriServ off of Central Park – where community members will be able to play holiday favorites alongside our orchestras and ensembles. (Please visit our website – www.johnstownsymphony.org – if you want to sign up to play!)

Yes, snow and decorations and lights and parties and cookies all help us remember what this time is about. But the music we perform on Dec. 14 is the kind that lifts the hair on the back of your neck. It’s music that gives me a warm feeling of comfort and joy as it brings me back to family and childhood and the magic that children experience.

And there will truly be magic in the hall as you listen to the combined choirs and all of our youth programs performing together, as the entire audience gathers to sing “Silent Night,” as dancers leap through the air to the wintry music of Prokofiev and our brass shines in virtuosic arrangements by Robert Shaw.

For me, the music is what makes this season feel so magical.

Every time I play through the music and hear our hard-working chorus prepare, I am struck by the way this music brings out the best in the composers, as well as the performers who bring it to life.

Why do you think composers and arrangers across centuries have poured some of their best ideas into these traditional melodies, bringing them out with rich sounds for orchestra and chorus that just can’t be felt any other way than in a concert hall?

Some of it lies in the melodies themselves. As soon as we start to sing “Silent Night,” for example, all really does become calm, and all does become bright. It is a melody that was composed in a tiny Austrian town and first sung for Christmas in 1818, but immediately swept across cultures and landscapes and became an instant classic, and is now sung in 140 different languages.

It’s as if that melody has always existed. 

Much of the magic of the music does have to do with a similar sense of timelessness. 

The chorus will be singing several well-known melodies in their original language – Latin. 

I know there won’t be a lot of native Latin speakers in the audience, but the message will be clear as day from the melody itself: Joy, celebration, mystery all combine. (And the texts will also be printed for you to read!)

Then there are the words themselves, which tell the story so beautifully.

Surely there is something special in the feeling of continuity, as children sing the same melodies as generations that have come before them. How many generations have stood to sing the “Hallelujah” chorus, that unparalleled expression of joy? How many parents have stood in renewed wonder at the miracle of birth and life as their children sing the carols that tell this most miraculous story?

But it’s not just the joy of Christmas – it is also the joy of this season of wide-spread giving, and of Hanukkah, the festival of lights. We will perform a wonderful piece by Michael Isaacson to bring this ancient and powerful tradition to the fore.

Whatever your faith tradition, this season has a meaning that is rooted in something deep and powerful. We’re reminded that we are here on this planet for a brief period of time, and our goal is to help each other as we grow, rejoice, suffer and wonder.

This season reminds us that giving truly is the greatest gift.

There is nothing like the experience of giving a gift that counts. One example is how our symphony chorus provides full Thanksgiving meals to families in need every year. And our audience members can do their part as well by bringing coats sizes 4 to adult, hats, gloves, mittens and scarves, to be donated to The Learning Lamp’s winter clothing drive. 

Donations can be brought to both our 3 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. concerts on Dec. 14.

As we prepare to perform this music for you, we are grateful for the love this city shows for its orchestra, and for having the chance to bring the unique magic of music to you all.

James Blachly is the music director for the Johnstown Symphony Orchestra. He can be reached at 814-535-6738. Connect with him on Twitter 


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