What epitomizes Christmas in Kansas City? Is it seeing the Kansas City Ballet’s Nutcracker? What about a visit to Victorian England and Ebnezer Scrooge in the Kansas City Repertory Theatre’s A Christmas Carol? Then there are the strolls around the Country Club Plaza to look at miles of holiday lights, a tradition dating back to 1930.
Whatever the tradition is, Kansas City arts groups know how to also celebrate. One of those organizations leading the way this year is the Heartland Men’s Chorus. To capture the spirit, the group will present Kansas City Christmas Dec. 5-7 at the Folly Theater.
Other organizations are equally devoted to the holidays in Kansas City. Here are a few more traditions and celebrations from various groups throughout the metropolitan area. Also included are traditions from various directors.
While the Folly Theater serves as a host venue for other arts organizations in town including the Heartland Men’s Chorus, the venue also presents its own series including the Folly Jazz Series. This year, Karrin Allyson is bringing in her quintet to perform several tunes from Yuletide Hideaway, her 2103 release with a few old and new favorites mixed in for good measure Dec. 19. Allyson moved to Kansas City in 1990 and her relocation sparked her career and set it into orbit.
Gale Tallis, the Folly’s executive director, shares her favorite holiday traditions. The first, she says, “We are fortunate to have 300 dedicated and truly wonderful volunteers, some of whom have been with us since 1981! One of my favorite Folly traditions is our Volunteer Holiday Party, when we have a chance to relax and enjoy good food, Andy’s special punch (powerful) and exchange gifts with one another. It’s always a very special time in the holidays for all of us, a time when we are not working, and can enjoy the good company of our Folly Family.”
Personally, it’s all about family and the chance to be together and the traditions passed down by the generations. “None of us can completely replicate making Grandmother Juanita’s famous spice cake. However, we do share Christmas Crackers with my 90-year-old mother, who is of English descent, as well as establishing new family traditions.”
FOUNTAIN CITY BRASS BAND
The Fountain City Brass Band has three big holiday concerts scheduled over two days. The annual Christmas concert at the Bell Center on the campus of MidAmerica Nazarene University takes place at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 13. Dr. Joseph Parisi, music director, says the evening show features a mix of secular and fun pieces as well as few reverent works. For families, there’s a version of You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch and the concert ends with Leroy Anderson’s Christmas Festival.
The band, founded in 2002, is a volunteer musical ensemble with members from all over the greater Kansas City area. The next day, the band journeys to St. Joseph and teams up with the St. Joseph Community Chorus in the beautiful Cathedral of St. Joseph to present Christmas at the Cathedral. The united groups will offer performances at 3 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.
Parisi offered up his favorite holiday tradition: “My wife selects an ornament for each family member that represents a significant event from that year.”
While the King’s Singers holiday concert Dec. 20 at the Folly Theater now has a waiting list, the show is full of holiday favorites. In addition to a full program of holiday favorites, The Singers will honor the memory of Harriman-Jewell Series founder Richard Harriman by performing Remembrance, a reflective new composition by Dr. Ian Coleman, chair of the music department at William Jewell College. The music is set to the words of an unpublished poem written by Harriman and discovered among his belongings shortly after his death in 2010.
Executive Director Clark Morris was the one who discovered the poem and first read it in a memorial service for Harriman in August 2010. That is where Coleman heard it first. It’s a pretty cool story. “Ian first set the work on Octarium in March 2012 (a KC mixed octet) and then arranged it for the King’s Singers (six male voices) for our upcoming concert.” Coleman wrote: “ The words of this poem are thoughtfully reflective and certainly leave one with the impression of the poet dealing with loss and the memories that remain. I have also long believed that as a composer there is a great responsibility in text setting. …”
KANSAS CITY CHORALE
The Kansas City Chorale presents several holiday shows. The shows start at 5:30 p.m. Dec. 11 at Rozzelle Court at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. Wintersong celebrates the season with holiday favorites. Over the next two days, the group offers three shows. The Classical Christmas will be at Rolling Hills Presbyterian Church at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 12. The show is repeated Dec. 13 at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church at 7:30 p.m. The youth concert is 2 p.m. Dec. 13 at St. Michael the Archangel.
Executive Director Don Loncasty says, “We always have 7 or 8 area high school honor choirs sing with us during the holidays. This year it’ll be at St. Michael Church at 143rd and Nall. It’s fun because each choir does a couple numbers with their teacher conducting, and then all 200-plus kids get on stage with the Chorale and sing a bunch of holiday music. It’s tons of fun.”
Loncasty and Artistic Director Charles Bruffy enjoy Thanksgiving as the start of the holiday season. “I get up early Thanksgiving, put the turkey in the oven and then sit at the kitchen table, writing our Christmas cards to out-of-town friends and family while the Macy’s parade is on the TV.”
KANSAS CITY JAZZ ORCHESTRA
The holiday season wouldn’t be complete without The Kansas City Jazz Orchestra’s Swinging Big Band Christmas Concert, says Steve Irwin, executive director. This year, the Annual Christmas Concert Celebration is 7 p.m. Dec. 9. This year’s special guests are the Grammy-Award winning vocal ensemble, The New York Voices.
“It’s a tradition that began with the KCJO’s inception in 2003, our very first performing arts season, which was held at Unity Church on the Plaza. When we moved to our new home at Helzberg Hall for the 2012-13 season, the Christmas Concert followed – by popular demand. That year we featured the great Kansas City jazz singer Karrin Allyson and last year Kelley Hunt joined us to make sure everyone had a cool Yule.”
KANSAS CITY SYMPHONY
One of the busiest conductors during the holiday season has to be Kansas City Symphony Associate Conductor Aram Demirjian. His demanding schedule runs at least 10 days in December and stops just shy of Christmas week. He starts with Handel’s Messiah Dec. 5-7 with the Kansas City Chorus, Chorus Director Charles Bruffy and the Independence Messiah Choir. These performances are in Helzberg Hall.
Next is Waltzing in a Winter Wonderland Dec. 10. This program is full of joyful, elegant and lively dance music inspired by the holiday season. On Dec. 12, he leads the Symphony along with Chris Mann and Kansas City’s own Oleta Adams in a benefit concert for Mission Project and First Downs for Down syndrome. The Christmas Festival, the concert with cherished Christmas carols and Yuletide songs, is designed to embrace the whole family. The concerts are Dec. 18-21.
“Of course my favorite Kansas City holiday tradition is the wonderful Christmas Festival concerts that I get to conduct at the Kansas City Symphony!” he exclaims. “But I’d say my most favorite holiday tradition is watching, singing and signing the 1978 classic Christmas Eve on Sesame Street, which my family still owns on VHS, and which my sister and I can quote from beginning to end.”
Chris Munce serves as artistic director of Kantorei of Kansas City. The choral group is getting ready for its fifth annual Christmas presentation. Christmas Around the World is an exploration of the many ways people “hear” Christmas across the globe. The concert features themed settings by Ivo Antognini of Switzerland, Cesar Alejandro Carrillo of Venezuela, Michael McGlynn of Ireland, and America’s own Jake Runestad. The concerts are 7 p.m. Dec. 20 at Country Club United Methodist and 3 p.m. Dec. 21 at Visitation Catholic Church.
For Munce, a family tradition revolves around pizza. “On Christmas Eve, we gather at the ‘Munce Ranch’ in Lakewood , Lee’s Summit for ‘Muncerelli’ pizza night! Every family member starts from scratch to build their own perfect pie. We lay out every topping imaginable so people can get truly creative. The result is usually an insane amount of toppings! The family’s patriarch, Don Munce, serves as the taste tester and judge. He crowns an overall champion as well as several subcategory winners. It is a great night with great food and family fun,” he explains.
MARTIN CITY MELODRAMA
The Martin City Melodrama & Vaudeville Company kicks off its 30th season with Santa Conquers the Martins or Claus Encounters of the 3rd Kind. The show is written by artistic director Jeanne Beechwood; this wacky melodrama is followed by the holiday vaudeville revue featuring the ever popular Water Glass Symphony. Musical director Jon Copeland contributes with a grand finale of Elf-is Presley sightings and songs. The cast includes Dianne Brown, Rob Pagenkopf, Shana McCoy, Cody Goeppner, and Martin City favorite Mark Riggs. Costumes are designed by Ellen Beechwood.
“One of my favorite holiday traditions, and a staple at the Martin City Melodrama & Vaudeville Co. is our ‘Secret Santa Exchange’ that takes place every year during the run of our Christmas production,” Jeanne says. “All of our main cast members put their names in a hat, and names are then drawn to find out who is surprising whom this holiday season.This fun tradition runs over the course of one week, with little presents given during the run of the show, and one big present on the final day. Half of the fun is hiding the presents, watching cast members try to find them, and guessing who got whom for Secret Santa this year. The cast loves participating each year, it is a great moral boost, and fun for everyone. This will be our 30th year to continue the tradition of Secret Santa. I can’t wait to see what happens this year at our Secret Santa Exchange!”
MUSICAL THEATER HERITAGE
Musical Theater Heritage is adding to the tradition of Charles Dickens at Christmastime with their production of OLIVER! THE MUSICAL. It plays December 4-21 at Crown Center and will feature “nearly every talented child actor in the four-state area,” says Executive Producer Chad Gerlt. Starring Jordan Haas as Oliver and Kip Niven as Fagin, the show will be directed by Artistic Director Sarah Crawford. Gerlt says they still plan to produce a cabaret version of their annual Christmas show, A SPECTACULAR CHRISTMAS, which this year will be a holiday version of their popular Musical Monday. The show will feature a cast of 7, hosted by Tim Scott. Performances will be Mondays throughout the month of December.
“And if you have seen MTH’s Christmas shows in years past, you most certainly have come to know and love their story by MTH founder, George Harter about the Christmas Angel. It’s about George’s own tradition of hanging 7 tiny little angel ornaments on their family Christmas tree every year. He starts with the days when he was just a boy, then doing the job as a teenager, and as a young man serving in the Marines, and then as a father, loading the family in the car and driving to his boyhood home for Christmas. His mom would lay the angel ornaments out on the dining room table – waiting for him to do it. Today, his parents are both gone and there is only one angel remaining. But he keeps it in a little box. And…after all the decorations are hung…he carefully takes it out and finds the perfect spot for it on the tree. And it’s Christmas again.”
Dr. Krista Blackwood serves as artistic director for the choral group Octarium. This year, the small vocal ensemble offers up three holiday concerts this season. Like others, they are presenting three concerts over two days. First, 4:30-5:30 p.m. Dec. 20, A Taste of Octarium will be at the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art. The free show is a taste of their well-loved holiday repertoire in the beautiful surroundings of the Kemper Museum. At 7:30 p.m. Dec. 20, the group will present a full-length holiday concert at Parkville Presbyterian Church. At 3 p.m. Dec. 21, Octarium presents Lessons and Carols, where proceeds benefit neighborhood outreach programming at St. Mark Hope and Peace. This is the fifth year for this benefit.
For Blackwood, the holidays are a mix of tradition and silliness. “Each year, my husband and son and I tromp out to the Bridging the Gap Kansas City WildLands Annual Red Cedar Christmas Tree Event and cut down our tree, which we then tie to the roof of our 20-year-old Jeep and haul back to Brookside. My husband and I have bought an ornament each year of our time together (starting back in 1990). Each ornament reflects something memorable that happened in that year. We put the ornaments on the tree in chronological order and tell the stories. Usually, there’s an Octarium singer or three in town for concerts, and after they have patiently listened to all of our stories, we sing carols loudly and raucously around the piano. Often there are mimosas involved or perhaps a spiked coffee.”