Maybe it’s the shorter days, the warming fires or the family gatherings, but few seasons are as musical as Christmas. While the continual cycle of familiar carols streaming from every retail shop and sidewalk sales cart may eventually become tedious, like a rising tide it’s best just to go along for the ride.
Healdsburg is fortunate to have several community music groups, comprised largely of volunteers and able amateurs, who share their love for music and the season with winter concerts. Here is a list of five holiday concerts coming in December.
The Healdsburg Community Band plays its annual Holiday Concert at the Raven Theater on Sunday at 3pm. The Holiday Concert has become a local institution since the group’s founding 41 years ago. From the beginning it has relied on a melding of Healdsburg High School band and orchestra students and local seniors whose marching band days are long gone. It was co-founded by Lew Sbrana, a trumpeter and conductor of the high school band.
Though its numbers have risen and fallen with the years, it now has 38 members, including one from the band’s founding in 1982, Dr. Douglas Pile (clarinet). Among the younger members are Pile’s son, Nate, and granddaughter, Natalie (both also clarinet). HHS musical director John Natelli’s elementary school-age son is also expected to play percussion for the Dec. 3 concert.
“Overall, we skew solidly toward the mature side,” said the band’s president, Stu Matlow. “In support of local music education, we award a scholarship to a high school senior most years, and occasionally purchase equipment for Healdsburg High School. A few years ago we stopped charging admission for concerts, in favor of support from donations. It’s worked out about the same financially.”
Jon Saler is the current musical director, and he has selected holiday compositions “that go beyond the usual Yuletide fare,” said Matlow, including “Jingle Bell Swing,” in the style of Gene Krupa, and the 1954 embouchure workout “Bugler’s Holiday,” by Leroy Anderson. Seasonal favorites include “Adeste Fidelis” and the Appalachian folk carol, “I Wonder As I Wander.”
“We wanted to create a musical program that reinforces the holiday spirit but rises above the seasonal cliches,” said Matlow. “I think we’ve succeeded and then some.” One day only, Sunday, Dec. 3, 3pm at the Raven Theater, 115 North St. Free.
The Healdsburg Chorus is almost as venerable as the community band, having been founded in 1987 by Betty Zukov, pianist Susan Nelson and “a modest gathering of 20 people,” according to group president Doug Nalle. The number grew to more than 70 pre-COVID but then dropped off by almost half, and the group did not assemble together for over a year. Now just over 50 strong, the chorus will perform on both Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 9 and 10, also at the Raven.
The current musical director, David Martin, stepped in as the pandemic receded. “The Healdsburg Chorus is truly an amazing group of people,” he said. “All of the board members are members of the chorus—these people all perform and give their time and talent so freely. It’s wonderful to be a part of a group like that, it represents what the core of Healdsburg is. These are people that live here and work here and love music, and want to keep this group alive.”
Each member of the chorus learns by memory their parts and even the words, which may not be in standard English. This year’s program is titled “Do You Hear What I Hear?” from the holiday standard of the same name, and includes both well-known and more unusual seasonal works. Among these are the Nigerian carol “Betelehemu,” the 16th-century Catalonian Christmas carol “Fum Fum Fum” and the Ladino Hanukkah song “Ocho Kaendelikas,” as well the Rogers & Hammerstein classic “My Favorite Things,” among others.
For the Sunday, Dec. 10 concert only, the chorus will be joined for two numbers by the Maria Carrillo Chamber Singers, a high school group led by Gayle Bowers that specializes in the off-beat style of the Swingle Singers, the 1960s French jazz ensemble. Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 9-10, at the Raven Theater. Concerts begin at 3pm, tickets $20 at the door or healdsburgchorus.com.
Christmas Concert at St. Paul’s will held be on Sunday, Dec. 10, featuring clarinetists Jim McGammon and Jim Gibboney with pipe-organist Paul Blanchard. The program is based on a 1918 Christmas concert, “The Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols,” created by former Army chaplain Eric Milner-White to soothe a war-weary Britain. It has remained virtually unchanged during the century since its first performance at King’s College, Cambridge, and is broadcast annually on BBC.
The program includes holiday favorites such as “Angels We Have Heard on High,” “The First Noel,” “O Come All Ye Faithful,” “Silent Night” and others. The choir will also sing several lesser-known but beautiful works, with short readings to further celebrate the reason for the season. Said St. Paul’s music director Blanchard, “In ‘Lessons and Carols’ there is no Latin, no sermon and no Psalms; but lots of joyful singing.”
Those who cannot attend the concert in person may watch the livestream or view the concert later on YouTube. Details on accessing these formats are available at the church website, www.stpauls-healdsburg.org. Free concert begins at 5pm, held at St. Paul’s Church, 209 Matheson St.
Healdsburg High School’s Winter Band Concert will be held on Thursday, Dec. 14, from 5-7pm. The one-night-only event will include performances by the full concert band, the Prince St. Band and special guests. Half of the proceeds will benefit the Rebuild NorthBay Foundation. Doors open at 4:30pm, show begins at 5pm. $10 per guest, $5 for students with ASB; at the Raven Theater.
The New Horizons Band returns for its annual holiday concert on Sunday, Dec. 17, at Healdsburg Community Church. New Horizons is a national nonprofit organization dedicated to giving seniors an opportunity to make music, regardless of ability or experience. The Sonoma County band had long been conducted by Lew Sbrana, but the indefatigable conductor passed the baton to former Piner High music instructor Michael Milbrath at last year’s concert. The band will perform a concert of Holiday-themed music that will last approximately one hour. Sunday, Dec. 17, 2–3pm, at Healdsburg Community Church, 1100 University Ave.
Know of a holiday concert not listed here? Send a message to [email protected] and we will include it in an upcoming calendar.