By MARTA HEPLER DRAHOS
TRAVERSE CITY — The holiday season officially launches today with Black Friday, but Lynne Giacolone Church prefers a more meaningful start to the season.
"For me, the 'Messiah Sing' here is the kickoff to the Christmas season," said Church, a soprano soloist with the annual community singing event hosted by Central United Methodist Church. "When it gets to the Hallelujah chorus, it gets emotional. I can remember times when I'm on stage and by the end I almost can't sing, I'm almost in tears. It's the power of the work, the season. Handel's music is so commanding."
The 34th "Messiah Sing" takes place Sunday, Dec. 2, at 4 p.m. in the church sanctuary. But first anyone who wants to sing will bring or borrow a score and gather at 2:45 p.m. for a one-hour rehearsal of the abbreviated oratorio.
"People shouldn't be afraid to sing," said Church, who will be joined this year by tenor and bass-baritone soloists John Bragle and Robert Peavler and a chamber orchestra conducted by Byron Hanson. "Its a quick rehearsal, a quick break, then the concert. There's not a lot of time to worry about it. Usually there's quite a few regulars there so you're bound to sit next to someone with experience."
This year singers will get an extra boost, she said. The NMC Grand Traverse Chorale and Chamber Singers will lead the singing from the choir loft for the first time.
The concert is one of dozens area residents will build into their holiday traditions this year, whether as a way to get into the holiday spirit, to take a break from the hustle and bustle of the season, or to reflect on Christmas and its meaning.
Traverse Symphony Orchestra's "Home for the Holidays" is a perennial favorite for all those reasons, audiences say. The concert returns to Lars Hockstad Auditorium Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 8 and 9, with one more reason to celebrate. The program of carols, light classics and Yuletide tunes — yes, "Sleigh Ride" is back — will feature both the adult NMC choirs and the NMC Children's Choirs for the first time in five years.
"I think for many in the audience, that was a really special part of the concert," said choir director Jeffrey Cobb, who will lead the groups with guest conductor Robin Fountain in selections like "Folk Songs of the Four Seasons," "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring," "The Many Moods of Christmas" and "A Musicological Journey Through the Twelve Days of Christmas." "I think for some of the kids, since they have not had this experience yet, they don't realize how cool it's going to be, and how exciting, when they sing with an orchestra.
"I think the 'aha' moment will happen when they're on stage for the first dress rehearsal."
The Interlochen Dance Co. and Orchestra adds a touch of magic to the holiday season with the classical ballet, "Coppelia," Thursday through Saturday, Dec. 13-15, at Corson Auditorium. The lighthearted tale of a village girl, her fiancé and a mischievous toymaker's clockwork doll, features opulent costumes and sets, spirited music and imaginative choreography.
Interlochen and Corson also host Cherish The Ladies, an all-female band of Irish-born and first-generation Irish-American performers, in a Celtic Christmas Celebration Tuesday, Dec. 4. The show includes holiday songs and popular carols interpreted in both music — think sumptuous harmonies and haunting instrumentation — and high-energy step-dancing.
For a different version of a Celtic Christmas, there's "A Leahy Family Christmas," featuring the Celtic-influenced Canadian band of fiddlers, dancers and vocalists. Their show on Sunday, Dec. 2, is one of a trio of holiday programs at the City Opera House that also includes "The Empire Brass: The Sound of Christmas featuring Elisabeth Von Trapp" (brass quintet, guitar and vocals) Wednesday, Dec. 5; and "A Christmas Cabaret" (songs and dancing by Broadway talent and local celebrities) Tuesday and Wednesday, Dec. 18 and 19.
Folk musician Joel Mabus travels back to northern Michigan for "A Parlor Guitar Christmas" Thursday, Nov. 29, at the Garden Theater in Frankfort and Sunday, Dec. 2, at Sleder's Tavern in Traverse City. In a kinder, gentler program designed for listening by the fire or while stargazing on a snowy evening, he'll play tunes from his recent Christmas-themed album. (See related story inside.)
For Interlochen and City Opera House tickets, visit tickets.interlochen.org or cityoperahouse.org.