Celebrate the holidays with Jazz, Holiday Pops, and more

Celebrate the holidays with Jazz, Holiday Pops, and more

Body and soul

Every New Year's Eve, the Church at Mill Run adds an unusual ingredient to sacred music: swing. The Hilliard congregation-an offshoot of Upper Arlington Lutheran Church-ditches the organ for a jazz sextet that reimagines hymns like "Rock of Ages," "All Hail the Power of Jesus' Name" and "Crown Him With Many Crowns," ending the holiday season with one of the most unique religious musical programs in Central Ohio.

The 90-minute Jazz Service, as it's known, begins at 5:30 p.m., with the sextet-including trombonist Vaughn Wiester (Vaughn Wiester's Famous Jazz Orchestra) and trumpeter Tom Battenberg (High Street Stompers, the Columbus Symphony)-playing a straight-up jazz concert ("Night and Day," "All of Me," "Take the A Train"). Then the group dives into the hymns reworked by Capital University music professor Russ Nagy, who also plays piano in the sextet.

Nagy didn't know what to expect when he founded the service 13 years ago. But his program has grown into one of the most popular in the church, drawing big crowds every New Year's Eve, with both Christians and non-Christians relishing the chance to hear jazz in an unusual setting. "The congregation is singing what they know, but they're delighted with the fact that this is a whole different experience than with the organ," Nagy says.

Signing Christmas

The joy of Christmas music comes to life through the hands of nonprofit group "Signs" of Christmas, which aims to spread holiday cheer and hearing loss awareness two weekends every December. With a lineup of 30 shows at various locations around town the weekends of Dec. 2–4 and Dec. 9–11, a choir of 50 to 100 volunteers, some of whom are deaf and many of whom have an interest or background in American Sign Language, sign along to a mix of recorded holiday music played through a sound system. There's no other local holiday tradition quite like this one, says director Andrea Peters. "It's lively and touching and different, and our songs can remind [audiences] of their childhoods." For a list of locations and times, check the website, signsofchristmas.org.

Musicians give their time in the spirit of Christmas

Year after year, tuba and euphonium musicians from near and far come together to celebrate the holidays for a musical performance unlike any other. Tuba Christmas Columbus gives audience members the opportunity to sing along to their favorite Christmas carols while listening to more than 150 tuba players perform some of the season's bests, including "Silent Night," "Oh Come, All Ye Faithful" and "Jingle Bells." It's a fun way to bring people together during the holiday season, says conductor Tony Zilincik.

There are two free performances at Capital University's Mees Auditorium on Dec. 19 at 5:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., and guests are encouraged to bring non-perishable food items to donate to the Mid-Ohio Foodbank.

Holiday Pops: A one-stop shop for holiday fun

Don't expect much elbow room on the Ohio Theatre stage when the Columbus Symphony's Holiday Pops opens in early December. The annual extravaganza includes musicians, dancers, two choruses, classical music, sacred music, ballet, holiday standards, sing-alongs, violinists in Santa hats, Mr. and Mrs. Claus and one lucky kid who gets pulled onstage to lead the orchestra in Leroy Anderson's "Sleigh Ride." "This is sort of a funny thing to say, but the Holiday Pops is your one-stop shopping place for all of the culture you want in the holiday season," says conductor Ronald Jenkins.

Since 1983, a diverse crowd has been flocking to Downtown Columbus for the holiday spectacular, which seems to get bigger every year. It's grown from a single performance in the Palace Theatre to four this year from Dec. 2–4 at the Ohio Theatre, its home for the past 18 years. "Last year, we celebrated our 100th performance of Holiday Pops," Jenkins says. "So we're working on another hundred." Variety is the big appeal of the tradition, which Jenkins likens to a "multicourse feast of music and theater and dance."

A fixture from the beginning, Jenkins has conducted and organized every Holiday Pops concert. He came up with the idea as an alternative to a more modest, lightly attended, children-focused performance the CSO did every holiday season on the Ohio State campus. "I said, 'If it's a symphony event, why are we doing it at Ohio State? This should be Downtown. It should be where we perform regularly, and it should be as much about singing as it is about instrumental music, because when people think about the holiday, they think about going caroling or singing Christmas carols or Hanukkah songs.'"

Jenkins has put together a winning formula. Whenever he asks for suggestions on how to improve it, folks usually tell him to keep it the same. "It's sort of like going to grandmother's on Thanksgiving, and if she doesn't have that homemade cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie, it isn't Thanksgiving," he says.