Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas!

Hope you had a wonderful day. See you in 2009!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Christmas Catch-Up

I’m very impressed by bloggers who can keep up during the holidays. I go to the events and take the pictures, but getting to the blog phase is sometimes slow going. So here are a few events I’ve attended recently:

Larry Stephenson Band

Bluegrass FM
is sponsoring a concert series of top notch bluegrass acts at Massaponax High School. December’s concert on the 6th opened with Balsam Range, a band we were unfamiliar with, but that had excellent musicians that we enjoyed very much. The headliner was the Larry Stephenson Band. I’ve seen Larry in concert in the old days with Bill Harrell and the Virginians, and with the Bluegrass Cardinals, but this was the first time I’d seen his own band perform. Larry’s group plays in pretty traditional bluegrass style, with Larry’s high tenor voice taking the lead on every number. I like the high tenor voice, so this suits me fine. (Not my photo, by the way)

The next concert will be Jan. 10, and will feature Junior Sisk & Rambler’s Choice, and Kenny & Amanda Smith. I’m not familiar with either group, but the concerts are free (just call the station for free tickets in advance), and there isn’t a bad seat in the house, so you might want to check it out.

St. George Voices at the Griffin

Last Sunday afternoon, I went to the Griffin Bookstore downtown to hear the St. George Voices sing Christmas music. I really can’t get enough of live Christmas music, especially a talented group like this one, at a cozy, casual little venue like the Griffin. And my friends, the Accidentals, sang a few numbers in between sets, and joined the Voices on one number. I even got a little shopping done.

Stafford Regional Chamber Chorale

Last Sunday night, we enjoyed this concert of half holiday favorites, half highlights from the Messiah. The seasonal selections included classical and popular pieces, and the Messiah highlights included a few that the Fredericksburg Community Chorus cut this year, so I got to hear “Lift Up Your Heads” after all. Some wonderful soloists, and a fine directorial premiere by Stafford High choral director, Joe Eveler. We also got to hear Deborah Me, the scholarship-winning pianist, perform a piece by Rachmaninoff. Nice job, all around.

Shopping with Santa

And finally, I found Santa shopping the close-out sale at e.e. smith. I know there are a lot of Santas around these days, but I think this one might be the real deal.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Museum Gala

Just one of the many perks of being a member of the Fredericksburg Area Museum (which, at $40 per family per year, is a real bargain) was getting invited to the grand opening gala for the museum’s newly completed expansion in the renovated bank building. The invitation said “Black tie optional,” an opportunity to dress up and mingle with Fredericksburg’s society set that thrilled me and depressed my husband. So while he went to a UMW basketball game, I got together with a girlfriend to attend the event. I heard that over 700 people were invited, and it seemed to me that everyone attended. The place was packed, with a line at the coat check that at times wound out the door and down the block. In fact, as we waited to check our coats, we watched a rack filled with fur coats come toppling down. Who even wears fur these days? Apparently, the Fredericksburg society set.

The event was really quite nice, if you didn't mind being elbow-to-elbow in some of the rooms. Buffets of appetizers on all floors, a couple of meat carving stations, and bartenders serving up wine and mixed drinks. Plus a little combo on the 2nd floor, a trio of local musicians pretty much drowned out by the crowd. And the museum looks very spiffy. They made good use of the bank’s architecture, even preserving the vault, with an exhibit on currency inside the small room. Plus a two story foyer with a huge chandelier, and lots of interesting corners filled with displays and artifacts. Of course, it was a bit too crowded to get a really good look at it. We’ll have to go back and check it out when we have more time. With free admission for museum members, of course!

Here's the two-story foyer with the bank vault under the clock:

On a second floor balcony is the original neon sign from the old Central Lunch restaurant, where Soup & Taco lives now:

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Handel's Messiah

On Saturday afternoon, we continued the longstanding family tradition of attending the Fredericksburg Community Chorus’s performance of Handel’s Messiah. Things were a bit different this year, with a new director, revised selections, and a new performance schedule. Chris Ryder conducted the piece at a faster tempo than previous years, and cut out some solos and choruses, including one of my favorites, Lift Up Your Heads. This made the whole concert quite a bit shorter. Even the ministers seemed to be in the express lane, keeping the invocation, offertory prayer and benediction (three different names for exactly the same thing, as far as I can tell) mercifully short. And the passing of the basket was done while the chamber ensemble was playing the Pastoral Symphony that begins Part 2 of the concert, instead of before it. What used to be a nearly 2 hour concert was streamlined down to an hour and a quarter. Probably to the relief of all the parents with kids in the audience. (By the way: good job, parents. All those kids were especially well behaved.) So if you ever thought the Messiah was just too long for your tastes, now you can enjoy Chris Ryder’s condensed version.

We enjoyed the concert just as much as ever. Chris was fun to watch, bopping and bouncing on his podium (see the blur of his hands in the photo at top). They brought back a sign language interpreter, after several years without one, and Rebecca Bennett was so expressive in her movements, it was like watching an interpretive dance. When you are signing singing (type that 5 times fast), there’s a lot of freedom in how you express the notion of the same phrase or word being repeated continuously, or even a single syllable being drawn out over many measures, and Rebecca was a joy to watch.

And of course, there was The President’s Own Marine Band musician, Andy Schuller, back for the 15th year, playing the amazing trumpet solos. “The trumpet shall sound and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.” I love that part. I admit it, I have a soft spot in my heart for trumpeters. Trumpet fans, check out Andy here and here.

But we’re not done with the Messiah for the year. On Dec. 14, our plan is to check out the Stafford Choral Society’s performance at Colonial Forge HS at 7 pm. I’ve got my fingers crossed that I hear “Lift Up Your Heads.”

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Parade Perch

We were lucky enough to wrangle the perfect Fredericksburg Christmas parade viewing spot for the second year in a row, looking out the second story window of a friend's apartment on Caroline Street, near the corner of Amelia. The colder the weather, the more I appreciate being an indoor spectator, and it was definitely cold on Saturday night. I shared my window seat with a 6-year old who was even more excited about the parade than I was, and we had a blast. The lightest possible snowfall, the first of the year, added a little extra sparkle to the air. And I discovered my new favorite holiday drink: Cocoa with Bailey’s. Maybe if I ply my family with enough spiked cocoa, I’ll finally get them to sing Christmas carols around the hearth with me.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Holiday Concerts

It’s the season for holiday musical performances, and we went to two this week. On Monday, we saw the college choirs perform a concert of mostly classical seasonal choral music. Five groups performed, including the newest college choir, Schola Enchiriadis, which is not a skin disease, but a group dedicated to pre-16th century music. A little of that goes a long way. The choirs all did an excellent job, led by Jane Tavernier (uncharacteristically attired in a subdued black velvet top and plain pants. Jane, the holidays are upon us--where are your sparkles, your fringe?). Again, there was the unadvertised half-hour pre-concert program that we missed for the second time. Why do they do that? Is it for the shyer performers who don't like an audience? Note to self: go early next time.

Tonight we went to the always packed Pops Concert by the University of Mary Washington Community Symphony Orchestra, a group in dire need of a nickname. Instead of the usual holiday tunes, the orchestra, under the direction of Kevin Bartram, played a tribute to Richard Rodgers. I couldn’t have enjoyed it more. I am a big fan of Broadway musicals, and grew up on Rogers & Hammerstein. So the music was lively and accessible and well-played.

But the thrill of the evening (be still my heart) was the surprise appearance (well, it was a surprise to me, anyway) of Fredericksburg’s own Daryl Ott performing three songs. I love this guy. He has an incredible baritone voice that fills the hall. BIG voice. He hardly needs a microphone. His voice is just amazing, awesome, magical. In fact, I had to blog right away to let you know that the concert is going to be repeated tomorrow night (7:30, GW Hall, free admission), and if you can go, GO!

There are more concerts on tap for the coming weeks, including The Messiah by the Fredericksburg Community Chorus on Friday night and Saturday afternoon, and another version by the Stafford Choral Society on Dec. 14. Plus every middle school and high school in the area will be having their winter concerts this month. So take a break from the canned Christmas carols, and get in the spirit with some live music.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Festival of Trees

On Saturday, I went to the Festival of Trees, a fundraiser for Hope House that is being held at the Fredericksburg Expo Center. There are over 100 trees on display, each with a different theme, decorated by individuals or organizations. If you see a tree you particularly like, you can bid on it, silent-auction style, and the highest bidder when the festival ends on Dec. 6 gets to take the tree home. There are also booths selling all kinds of holiday decor, as well as a few vendors selling gift items.

This past weekend at the festival, the Rappahannock Model Railroad Club had a large layout with a couple of trains running. My favorite part of the display was a brightly lit amusement park with vintage rides that reminded me of Coney Island. The club packed up the trains on Sunday, but you can catch this setup and more at the Annual Model Train Display on Dec. 13-14 at the National Guard Armory on Rt. 3. We’ve been to see the model trains a few times when the kids were little, and it’s definitely worth the $5.00 admission (only $1 for kids 12 and under).

And I have to give a little shout-out to The Accidentals, the a capella quartet that performed two hours worth of Christmas carols on Saturday. Okay, that’s the real reason I went to the event, to hear my friends sing at their first public gig. Great job!

The Festival of Trees runs daily through Dec. 6. Click here for times and more info.

Here is a sampling of the trees. From left to right, the Mah Jongg tree (which made me think of mom), the Chancellor High School Swim Team tree ("Under the Sea"), and the Ten Thousand Villages tree, with handcrafted ornaments from around the world. (Click on photos for larger images.)

Here are both sides of the model train layout:

Just a few of the holiday decorations for sale: